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.