A frequent, sometimes heated topic of debate is upgrading to LED lighting in the headlight of vintage American Flyer, Lionel, or Marx trains. It shows how sometimes a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. You have several options for LEDs in old electric trains, and not all of them are expensive or difficult.
Specialty retailers like Town and Country Hobbies sell screw-in replacement LED bulbs with an E10 base for vintage trains. It’s also possible to wire up your own circuit. You can also take your chances on cheap 12V E10 LED bulbs from Ebay.
K-Line was a manufacturer of O gauge electric trains and accessories from approximately 1980 to 2010. Its scrappy, value-oriented approach to the hobby endeared K-Line trains to many of its customers.
K-Line Electric Trains and Lionel tended to target one another in their advertisements. They referred to one another as “Brand K” and “Brand L.” In 2005, the rivalry turned to litigation, which eventually resulted in K-Line admitting wrongdoing, going out of business, and Lionel licensing and selling products under the K-Line name from 2006 to 2010.
The Lionel KW transformer was the second largest transformer Lionel made in the postwar era. It delivered 190 watts of power and provided two handles to control two trains. Internally, the design is very similar to the ZW. If the ZW was Lionel’s Cadillac transformer, the KW was the Buick. I always thought Lionels were overrated until I ran a 675 locomotive with a KW.
There was a time when nobody made modern transformers the size of a KW or ZW. Now that they do, the ZW and especially the KW cost a lot less. I remember when a reconditioned KW cost $200. Today you can get one for under $100. An as-is KW with minor issues will cost half that. These days, the KW is a bargain.
“Why have Marx toys dropped in value?” you ask? Blame Millennials. Well, actually, my generation bears more of the blame for this one. Blame Gen X. The value of vintage toys tends to follow trends, and those trends don’t necessarily pass from generation to generation.
Why do Lionel trains have three rails? After all, real trains usually have two. This unrealistic feature is a legitimate drawback for Lionel and other makes of O gauge trains, but the decision made sense at the time.
When it comes to wiring a Lionel LW transformer, there’s more to consider than just which posts to use. The size of the wires also matters. If you derail a train, 5.5 amps of power can run through the wire for 10-15 seconds before the circuit breaker kicks in. An LW has enough power to melt wire and make it smoke or even catch fire.
Proper wiring for the LW transformer is a bit of a safety issue. It’s not just about preventing voltage drop to keep your train running smoothly. A smooth running train is nice, but safety is a must.
Marx made several variants of its Girard station. One was just a tin building. The better one had lights. The best one had lights and a train whistle. Here’s how to wire a Marx Girard station with both lights and the whistle. This works on the Oak Park station too.
I wire it a little bit differently than Marx did in its instructions. Marx’s way works, but can cause the light to dim when you push the whistle button. My way doesn’t dim the lights.
When it comes to wiring a Lionel KW transformer, there’s more to consider than just which posts to use. The size of the wires also matters. If you derail a train 8 amps of power can run through the wire for 10-15 seconds before the circuit breaker kicks in. You don’t want the insulation to melt and catch fire.
Proper wiring for the KW transformer is a bit of a safety issue.