How I freshened the paint on a Lionel RW transformer

I have a Lionel RW transformer that I would like to put on Christmas tree duty next year. I had a KW on that duty last year, which is a nice transformer, but it’s overkill, and my sons find it easier to operate the whistle with a button like the RW has than with the KW’s handle.

Lionel RW
This Lionel RW transformer doesn’t look pristine after my paint touch-ups, but it certainly looks presentable.

I repaired the RW last year, but I didn’t do anything about the paint. The original paint wasn’t in too bad of shape, but it had some scratches and dings in it, as you would expect a well-loved 60-year-old toy to have. But since the paint wasn’t perfect, I could repaint it without offending anyone, which is what I wanted to do, seeing as the original paint dated to before 1978, and therefore might contain lead.

The job didn’t take long. I didn’t do a full disassembly, and I didn’t do anything resembling a professional restoration. My goal was to make the transformer presentable and safe, and I think I succeeded at that.First, remove the handle from the top, then flip the transformer over and remove the four sheet metal screws from the bottom. At that point, the cover lifts off. You’ll need to paint both the cover and the base.

I used Rustoleum enamel. Satin is probably the best match for what Lionel used, but you can use whatever sheen you want. I had flat black on hand, so I used it. I painted the base without removing the transformer core, so I had to do that part with a brush. I used a small disposable foam brush, the kind that come 10 to a package for a couple of dollars. I painted the bottom and the edges, only concerning myself with the parts of the transformer that can be touched from the outside. Since that’s mainly the base, which will be sitting face down, there’s little need to worry much about brush marks, though I did do my best to make sure all of my strokes ran in the same direction. I didn’t concern myself much at all with the parts that are covered, but if I saw any chips in the paint, I touched it up. The transformer hadn’t rusted at all in its first 60 years, but I wanted to make sure it stays that way.

The top will probably look better if you mask off the nameplate and paint it with a spray can, but I painted that part with a brush too. When working slowly and not glomming too much paint onto the surface, it’s possible to get acceptable results with a brush.

Paint both parts, set them aside for a couple of hours to dry, then paint any parts that you couldn’t get to before without touching wet paint. Be sure to cover all of the edges.

One the parts are thoroughly dry, reverse the disassembly process.

As bad as flat black paint applied with a disposable brush sounds, it actually looks considerably better than it did when I started. Clean, uniform paint looks better than beat-up paint. Ultimately I decided the flat black paint was too dull, so I applied a coat of–believe it or not–Pledge Floor Care Multisurface Finish to it. This product used to be known as Future Floor Finish, which hobbyists of many stripes have been using for years because it’s an inexpensive high quality glossy acrylic clear coat and it’s easy to work with. SC Johnson changes the label on this product every couple of years and they’re on their third name in about five years. Hopefully they’re about done.

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