Getting rid of some rust on old toy trains

I’ve seen some old tin 6-inch Marx cars in nice condition, but I sure seem to have a talent for finding Marx rustbuckets too. I also have a set of very nice Lionel tinplate–nice except for their rusty couplers.

Professional restorers remove rust by bead blasting. How do you deal with rust if you don’t happen to have a sandblaster laying around?A number of products exist catering to auto restorers. They claim not even to damage paint in some cases. I’m told that Oxisolv works safely on toy trains, or at least on Marx trains. Finding the stuff is another story. Every place I’ve looked wants as much to ship it as they want for the liquid.

As I was poking around under my kitchen sink this evening, I came across a household cleaner intended for removing rust stains from bathtubs. But the label also said it would remove rust stains from tools. Not seeing any difference, chemically speaking, between soaking a pair of pliers in the stuff and soaking a Marx train wheel, I broke out my rustbucket Marx 553, removed its wheels, put them in a plastic container, and dribbled on enough cleaner to cover it.

An hour or so later, there was visibly less rust on the wheels and axles.

Most of these products use a mild acid that readily eats away iron oxide, but has little effect on plain old iron. If you’ve heard the legends about Coca-Cola dissolving rusty nails or freeing rusted bolts, it’s the same principle.

I’m not quite brave enough to try it on the painted surfaces, and different brands will almost certainly vary, but this is a cheap way to at least improve a car’s wheels, especially if you happen to already have the stuff on hand.

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8 thoughts on “Getting rid of some rust on old toy trains

    • September 2, 2004 at 1:05 pm

      Do clean train wheels rank higher on my priority list than clean toilets? Steve, I’m not walking into that trap you cleverly set for me.

      I went back and read that entry. I think that must be my personal record for the longest time it’s ever taken me to make a point.

      What’s a professional author do when he’s promised a certain page length and he comes up about 30 pages short? Read that entry for a classic example.

      And pray your editor doesn’t you.

      • September 2, 2004 at 4:45 pm

        Doh! My plan is foiled….

        I went back and read that entry. I think that must be my personal record for the longest time it’s ever taken me to make a point.

        Well, at least on paper. Reading that story again does make me want to grab some Whities on the way home from work.

  • September 2, 2004 at 8:40 pm

    Dave… an ancient expedient (first came across it in a story abou cleany rusty swords):

    Get a quantity of sand, builders is OK because it will have sharp edges. Put some in suitable plastic bag with the rusty part, and shake patiently until sufficiently abraded. Mind you, this takes off the paint as well — but one can’t have everything :~}

    Cheers… /Mike

  • September 3, 2004 at 9:23 am

    So, I’m guessing you might have had some "Bar Keeper’s Friend" under the sink? Oxalic acid is wonderful stuff, isn’t it?

  • September 3, 2004 at 10:18 pm

    Indeed it is. The stuff I have isn’t available in St. Louis anymore from the looks of it, but hopefully I can find some more Oxalic acid-based stuff. I’ve got lots of rusty wheels and axles…

    • September 3, 2004 at 11:00 pm

      Dave, I’ve got a can of Bar Keeper’s Friend under my kitchen sink. Does a great job cleaning the sink and my stovetop. And it’s pretty easy to find around here. I saw a three-pack of it at Costco tonight for $1.97, and I’ve seen it at several of the "bed/bath/kitchen" stores, too.

  • September 3, 2004 at 10:21 pm

    Thanks, Mike. I’ll probably end up giving that a shot on some non-painted items. The upside to that method is I get some exercise, which is always a good thing. And no green film left over if I leave it soaking too long!

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