I’ve talked before about replacing a power cord on a transformer, but for whatever reason, I forgot to mention a cheap source of replacement power cords that also provide a safety improvement.
Use a 3-prong computer power cord.
Most buying guides for monitors assume you’re buying a really expensive monitor for gaming. But there’s a lot more to look for than refresh rate and response time.
A good monitor can last 10 years and multiple computers, so it pays to make a good decision when buying one, even when you’re not spending $500. There can be a significant difference even between two $100 models, or between a $60 model and a $70 model, that will save you money in the long run.
Want to repair a Marx 1209 transformer? There are two schools of thought. One is that small, sub-75 watt transformers aren’t worth fixing because they are so cheap. The other is that since they are so cheap, you have nothing to lose by trying.
Marx didn’t design its transformers to be fixed, but the design is extremely simple. The hardest part really is getting the case apart and then getting it back together. If Marx had designed them to be serviced, like its competitors did, they would have cost more, so we wouldn’t have as many Marx trains to enjoy today. So it’s easy enough to forgive Marx for this.
Let’s dive in.
Lionel transformers were built to last. Perhaps the most frequent issue with them is a messed-up power cord. But sometimes the cord is OK but it needs a new plug.
Replacing a power cord is easier than it sounds, but replacing just the plug is easier still.
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.
The Lionel Multi-control 1033 is a 90 watt transformer produced from 1948 to 1956. They are reasonably durable and were popular in their day, which means there are still a lot of them floating around so they tend to be inexpensive. I paid $70 for one about 15 years ago but the price has come way down; today you can get a serviced 1033 for about half that, and an as-is one for $20-$25.
Even someone who has a larger transformer or multiple larger transformers for the layout might be interested in a 1033 for the test bench, as it has all of the functionality someone would need for testing locomotives and whistling tenders.
A damaged power cord doesn’t have to mean the end of life for a tool or appliance. Power cords are usually replaceable with simple tools and minimal expense. Here’s how to replace an AC power cord.
If you can open up the device, do this. Open it up, snip the bad cord off, tie a knot in the replacement cord and splice it onto the remainder of the old cord.
If you can’t open the device, do this instead. Snip the cord off above the defect, splice the replacement cord onto what’s left and insulate it well with heat-shrink tubing.
When I replace garbage disposals, I prefer to use a power cord rather than hardwire them straight into the wall. The thing is, I don’t like paying $12 for the official power cord, which is chintzy looking and, frankly, looks under spec’ed. Instead, I prefer to use a computer power cord on a garbage disposal.
The label on a 1/3 HP Insinkerator Badger says it’s rated for 5.8 amps at 125 volts. I found a computer power cord in my stash that was rated for 10 amps at 125 volts. It’s overkill, but when it comes to electricity, overkill is good. Best of all, it let me repurpose something I’d already paid for and was probably never going to use.
When using vintage Lionel transformers, it’s important to make sure the power cord isn’t broken or frayed to avoid the risk of electric shock or starting a fire. If yours is, here’s how to replace a Lionel transformer power cord.
Replacing a power cord safely is a lot easier than most people make it sound. It’s possible to do the job safely with simple tools and a few dollars’ worth of parts from the nearest hardware store.