In the 1950s, Lionel started putting magnets in the axles of some of its trains to increase their pulling power and help the trains stay on the track as they highballed around tight O27 and O31 curves. They called this feature Magne-Traction.
In time Magne-Traction was replaced with rubber traction tires, but needless to say, if your locomotive has Magne-Traction, you probably want it to work. Here’s how to make sure it works.
Check your track
Lionel made sure their track worked with Magne-Traction but of course they were less concerned about other makes of track. If you have tubular O27 or O31 track, Super O track, or Lionel Fastrack–yes, track that can rust–it will work. If you have track that isn’t made by Lionel, see if a magnet will stick to it. If it doesn’t, Magne-Traction won’t work. The train will run, but the magnet doesn’t have anything to attract to.
The other thing you need is for the outer rails to be connected magnetically. So if you have non-Lionel track, a magnet sticks to it, but your Magne-Traction doesn’t work, connect your outer rails with a thin steel wire or bar. Be sure to insulate the middle of your piece of steel so it doesn’t make contact with the center rail and cause a short circuit. Gargraves tinplate track is a classic example of this.
Check your engine
The other thing to check is to make sure your engine has Magne-Traction. During the Korean War, Lionel discontinued Magne-Traction, and as the 1950s wore on and train sales started to die down in favor of other pastimes, Magne-Traction sometimes got eliminated to cut costs in hopes of increasing sales. Try sticking a piece of steel bar to the wheels. If it won’t stick, your engine doesn’t have Magne-Traction.