A cheap and easy replacement for insulators on American Flyer, Lionel and Marx track

When you’re dealing with vintage toy train track, sometimes the insulators on the track will be damaged or missing. This will cause a short circuit and keep the train from running. This is one of the most common problems with vintage track.

But there’s a cheap and easy repair using material from an unlikely source: 2-liter soda bottles.

Cut a long, straight length of plastic from an empty bottle about 5/8 inches wide. Then cut the strip into squares. It’s OK if they end up a little long. Using a slotted screwdriver, pry up the tabs on the rail enough to allow you to slide out the damaged insulators. Remove the damaged insulators. Fold the square of soda-bottle plastic over the rail, then slide the plastic so that it fits under the tabs. Double check to make sure there’s no contact between the rails and the metal ties, make any necessary adjustments, and then squeeze the tabs back down. You don’t have to cinch it down all that tight, just tight enough to hold the rail in place. If you cinch the tabs down too much, you risk damaging the new insulator and having to replace it again.

Sometimes you can tell by looking which insulators are damaged, but if you can’t tell, you might as well replace all of the insulators in a suspect piece of track. It’s usually easier to replace three insulators than to figure out which of the three is bad.

The plastic from the soda bottle is stronger than electrical tape and, most likely, stronger than the fiber insulators that the track came with from the factory. Not to mention it’s essentially free, being something you’d throw away or recycle anyway. We pay for it anyway, so if we can reuse it, we might as well.

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