All about the Lionel LW transformer

The Lionel LW Trainmaster is a 125 watt transformer that Lionel produced from 1955 to 1966. They are reasonably durable and Lionel made them for a long time. That means you can find them easily on the secondary market. They can be expensive if they have their original box and paperwork. But if you just want to run a train and don’t care about the paper, you can get a serviced LW for $50-$60, and an as-is one for under $40. At 125 watts, it’s the most powerful single-handle transformer of the postwar era.

The LW is a quirky transformer so there are some things about if you need to be aware of if you have other Lionel transformers, but as long as you keep those in mind, it’s a fine transformer that will serve you well. The quirks have nothing at all to do with reliability. Lionel just designed its layout a bit differently than many of their other models. In some ways it’s the ideal accessory transformer. We’ll cover that later.

One thing to keep in mind: Unplug the LW when you’re not using it. It doesn’t have its own power switch. I plug my transformers into a power strip and turn all of them on and off with the strip’s on/off switch.

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How to attach wires to the posts of a Lionel train transformer

It took me 20 years to find out I was connecting the wires to my train transformer wrong–and this applies to American Flyer and Marx just as much as to Lionel–and I don’t want the same thing to happen to you. I was making it far, far too difficult to attach wires to the posts of a Lionel train transformer.

Modern transformers have a groove in the post to accept a wire, but vintage transformers don’t. If you’re having problems with the wires coming off your transformer while you try to cinch them down, here’s how to connect to a vintage transformer in three simple steps.

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Testing electric train track

I have a method of testing electric train track from Lionel, American Flyer, Marx or any other brand. The key is to test it one piece at a time, so you know any problem you found is isolated to a single piece of track.

Here are a couple of different ways to test, depending on what tools you have available.

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How many Lionel CTC lockons you need

You usually need at least two Lionel CTC lockons, but most Lionel O and O27 train sets came with a single CTC lockon connector.

If your train slows down as it gets farther away from the transformer, that’s the biggest tell-tale sign that you need at least one more lockon.

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How the Marx 1249 transformer connects to track

There are four posts on the Marx 1249 transformer, but don’t fret if you’ve lost the instructions. Connecting it is easy. But first, you’ll probably want to check it out for safety before plugging it in.

There are two sets of posts on the transformer, but don’t let that confuse you. One set of posts powers the train, and the other set powers any accessories you might have, such as a station. If you don’t have any accessories, you can simply ignore the second set.

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Fight voltage drop with copper anti-seize lubricant

If you have issues with your trains slowing down on the far reaches of your layout–and judging from my website hits, many people do–there are a couple of things to do about it. The first thing is to run additional feeder wires. Going by the book, you should go every third track section. Do I push it a little? Sure. Sometimes I can get away with a little less than that, and sometimes every three sections isn’t quite enough.

But over time, the conductivity between track sections can wane a bit, as moisture and oxidation creep in. Coating track pins with copper anti-seize lubricant keeps the moisture out, which keeps oxidation out, which makes the layout more reliable, especially if the layout is outdoors, in the garage, or in the basement. Read more

How to make a Lionel train whistle

How do you make a Lionel train whistle? Well, you need a whistling tender and a transformer with a whistle button or handle. If it’s all wired correctly, pushing the button or handle while the electric train is moving will make it whistle.

And if it doesn’t, let’s try to figure out why.

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Frequent questions about setting up toy trains and trains and Christmas trees

Here are some train-related questions I’ve received that I really don’t think I ever answered adequately elsewhere. Hopefully this will help. Read more

My $8 secondhand Lionel

I hear stories all the time about the Lionel train that someone found at a garage sale for $10. Or sometimes it’s a Marx. The one that bothered me the most was the story about a 65-year-old American Flyer locomotive for $10, and the guy who got it didn’t even like O gauge.

Whatever. Today was my day. I found a Lionel starter set from 1999. The price marked on it: $8. I didn’t haggle. I handed over Alexander Hamilton, scooped up the train set, grabbed a couple of Washingtons, and headed to the car with a train set under my arm.For $8, I didn’t expect much. But I knew the locomotive alone was worth that. I got it home this afternoon and looked it over.

It was a set Lionel made for Keebler: The Keebler Elfin Express. Nope, no real railroad names on this set. The locomotive was cast from the same Scout mold that Lionel has been using for its starter sets since the early 1950s. But this one had a 4-wheel truck up front, making it a 4-4-2 Atlantic.

The cars are traditional 6464-sized: a boxcar and a flat car. The boxcar advertises Keebler products, and the flat has a cardboard load of, you guessed it, Pillsbury products. Nope, more Keebler.

The same traditional SP-style caboose that Lionel has been using since the early ’50s brings up the rear.

It didn’t look like the set had seen much use. The instructions were long gone, but a lot of the accessories are still on the plastic sprue. The lockon was on the track and the transformer was wired to it, so I knew it had been used a little. I set it up on a loop of O27 track and let it rip. It ran nicely. To my surprise, the locomotive has smoke, and the tender has a whistle, so the train smokes and whistles. Not bad for 8 bucks.

A couple of the track pieces were bent, as if they’d been stepped on. I can fix them. For the price I paid, I’m not going to complain. I’d be able to get clean used O27 curves for a dime or a quarter each at the Boeing Employee Model Railroad Club show in September. But I’ve got plenty of O27 curves in my basement. Those things breed.

It took me forever to find the lockout switch for the reverse on the bottom of the locomotive. At first I figured it had no reverse, but looking at the underside, I noticed it had a lot of electronics in it–far more than would be needed just to convert the AC current from the transformer to the DC current the can motor needed. (Yes, Lionel builds a lot of inefficiencies into its modern equipment to keep it compatible with the old stuff–and that drives up cost.) Finally I found the switch, unlocked it, and the locomotive gained neutral and reverse capabilities.

I don’t mess around with modern-issue Lionel much. I like the old stuff. But for 8 bucks, I won’t be picky.

How to get that dusty old train running again

It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving. The time of year when nostalgia runs high and ancient toy trains come out of the basement or the attic and get set up again until sometime after the new year.

Well, hopefully they make it that long. Here are some tips for getting old Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, and similar electric trains running again.

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