When repainting or restoring post-war Lionel locomotives, many hobbyists used and recommended a Krylon product. That part number was 1613, and it was available at many hardware stores. Unfortunately, Krylon no longer sells it at retail. Fortunately, there is a substitute you can use today for Lionel semi flat black.
A modern Krylon 1613 substitute semi flat black for Lionel
The old fashioned Krylon 1613 is still available through some specialty suppliers, but you can’t buy it at retail anymore. When you can find it today, it is a lot more expensive than it was when you could get it at an ordinary hardware store. Prices range from 10 to $30 per can.
You can get a cheaper alternative at an auto parts store. It turns out some automotive parts are semi flat black from the factory, so auto parts stores carry a semi flat black so people can match it.
The formula is probably a little different, but to my eye at least, the modern auto part store equivalents are also a good match for what Lionel used, the price is pretty reasonable at around $8 per can, and it’s probably no harder to find an auto parts store than it is to find a hardware store. Where I live at least, it’s easier.
Restoring a post-war Lionel locomotive
For a proper restoration, you need to remove the old paint, then repaint. There are two schools of thought on priming beforehand. One school of thought is since Lionel didn’t use primer, you shouldn’t either. The other school of thought is that the old paint flaked off for a reason, and using primer will help the new paint job last longer. You will also need to get a set of decals, dry transfers, or a rubber stamp to restore the numbers.
The results can end up being better than new. The paint is more durable, has no lead, and if you notice any imperfections at any point during the process, you can file or fill any problem spots. Lionel had pretty good quality control, but these were toys.
Respraying a postwar Lionel locomotive
Alternatively, if the locomotive is a little worse for wear and has some dings and scratches, but the paint is still holding on, you can respray it. The results won’t be as smooth as a full restoration job, but from a few feet away, it’s hard to tell a difference. I used this method on my dad’s Lionel 1110. Yes, it’s a lowly Scout, but it has sentimental value.
If you are going to respray, be sure to cover the numbers. Rather than just sticking a piece of masking tape over the numbers directly, I recommend cutting a small piece of paper or index card to cover the number, then place a slightly larger piece of masking tape over the card. That eliminates the small possibility of damaging the numbers when you remove the tape.
With the numbers protected, drop out the motor and the rest of the running gear. Wipe down any bare spots with some alcohol to eliminate any oils that might interfere with the paint. Then take the locomotive body outside and spray it, holding the can about 10 in from the body. Apply thin coats. Thin coats blend in better with the original, and you’ll probably find after the first coat, you really only need two or three light passes over any imperfections.
The result doesn’t look factory fresh, but it does dramatically improve the appearance of a beat up engine, and it’s not a lot of effort. The prep and disassembly takes no more than 30 minutes, and so does reassembly. The majority of the time is just waiting for the paint to fully dry. You need to wait between 15 and 60 minutes between coats. Double check the wait time on the can, then let the engine dry overnight. If you can leave it sitting outside in the Sun, that tends to help you get a stronger finish faster.
I wait 24 hours before reassembly regardless, and I know some people who bring their engines inside after 24 hours, then cover them with a plastic shoebox, then wait a week before reassembling.
What about satin black for Lionel?
The key to all of it is getting a suitable paint. And while it seems like everyone knew about Krylon 1613 as a substitute Lionel semi flat black in the first decade of the century, I’ve never seen anyone mention finding a modern substitute at an auto parts store.
And yes, a semi-flat black does make a difference. Lionel post-war paint had a very slight sheen. It wasn’t dead flat like American Flyer black was. Semi flat black has a little bit less shine than satin. I know some people use satin black since Krylon 1613 isn’t available anymore, but now you know where to get a closer match.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.