Someone asked me how to estimate the required wattage for Marx accessories. Although I don’t recall Marx ever issuing any specific guidance, it’s easy to do yourself.
Someone asked me recently for a cost comparison of MTH Realtrax vs. Lionel Fastrack. Both are similar O gauge track systems with plastic roadbed. MTH’s system has been on the market a few years longer, but Lionel’s is more popular, in spite of being more expensive.
Let’s figure out just how much more expensive it is.
Lionel produced several 35- and 45-watt transformers through the years, including the 1010, 1025, 1015, and 1016. Lionel MPC produced a similar 4045 transformer in the 1970s. They’re small, but cheap when you can find them, and can be useful when you string them together with other transformers. The problem is the markings don’t tell you what you need to know in order to do that.
Sakai trains were made in HO and O gauge by a Tokyo-based manufacturer and sold abroad, particularly in the United States and Australia after World War II. Sakai’s O gauge product bore a curious resemblance to Marx. I have read speculation that Marx once used Sakai as a subcontractor, and Sakai used the tooling to make its own trains rather than returning it to Marx, but there are enough differences that I don’t think that’s the case.
What I do know is that Sakai’s O gauge product was a curious blend of cues from Lionel and Marx and the trains worked pretty well. They’re hard to find today, but not especially valuable since few people know what they are. They turn up on Ebay occasionally.
Someone asked me recently why their Lionel train won’t slow down, and when I asked for elaboration, I learned the train wasn’t responding to the throttle on the transformer.
Usually I see the opposite problem, but this one is an easy mistake to make. Fortunately the fix for it is also easy.
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.
On many Marx trains, the driving gear extends to the full width of the drive wheel, making that wheel effectively wider than the other one. This causes interoperability issues with other manufacturers, especially on switches and crossings.
A very common question, therefore, is which Marx trains lack the dreaded fat wheel.
Disassembling a Marx 999 locomotive isn’t too difficult, and it’s easier than the Marx 666, but it helps to have some instructions.
The nice thing about the 999 is that if you can disassemble it, there’s a long, long list of Marx locomotives that disassemble in pretty much the same way: the Commodore Vanderbilt, the Mercury, the tin Canadian Pacific 391, and the tin steamers 592, 593, 594, 833, 897, 898, and 994.
Marx designed its trains so that a father or older brother could service them, so it comes apart with simple household tools, and you can get most of what you’ll need to service it at the nearest hardware store, with the probable exception of the bulb for the headlight.
A common question is whether Marx trains will work with Lionel crossovers, or vice versa. The answer is not well, but with a caveat. A big caveat. Here’s what to look out for with Lionel crossovers and Marx trains.