If you have an A.C. Gilbert-manufactured American Flyer steam locomotive made between 1939 and 1967 that still runs but has seen its better days appearance-wise, there’s an easy way to touch it up to make it look better. Here’s how to touch up American Flyer paint.
A full-on restoration involving stripping off the old paint and repainting it is frequently overkill, not to mention time consuming. It can be a costly project if you’re only interested in cleaning up and running one or two trains that have been in the family for generations. It’s not hard to spend close to what the locomotive is worth acquiring paint stripper, new paint, the correct rubber stamps and the rubber stamp ink.
So here’s a more practical approach, at least on a small scale.
First things first: Brush away any dust that’s on the train with an old paint brush. You can’t assess what you’re working with until it’s clean, and paint won’t stick to a dirty or oily surface.
If the locomotive body is still dirty after the brush treatment, washing it will make it look better. Wipe it with a slightly damp cloth. For stubborn dirt, dampen a cloth with water with a small amount of Dawn dish soap. Don’t use anything stronger than Dawn. Follow up with a cloth dampened with plain water to remove any detergent residue. You may find at this point, now that it’s cleaned up, that you don’t need to do any more. Sometimes cleaning it up makes the other imperfections more tolerable.
How to know when to touch up and when to leave the train alone
From a value perspective, touching up the paint doesn’t help the value and in some cases may actually decrease it. If you know a train is particularly rare or valuable, don’t do this. If you don’t know, then check values first. An easy, free way to do this is to use Ebay. Once there, search on your locomotive number, then scroll down and check the box next to “Sold listings” on the left. If you have something valuable, don’t touch the paint.
But the most common postwar American Flyer engines, particularly the small 4-4-2 steam engines, are worth less than $100 in top condition. A beat-up one doesn’t have much value to lose. I can vouch that it’s more fun to watch a nice, cleaned-up train running around the Christmas tree than a beat-up one.
Touching up American Flyer paint
If you decide to proceed, let the locomotive dry. Once it is thoroughly dry, use a Testors flat black paint marker to touch up the scrapes and scuffs. Be sure to use flat black, not satin or gloss. To cover large areas missing paint, you may find it a bit easier to use Rustoleum flat black paint applied from a can with a very small foam brush or even a cotton swab. And yes, Flyer used common flat black and not the less common semi flat black Lionel used, so Flyer makes this easier on you.
Practice in the inconspicuous areas first. Start on the underside of the locomotive to get a feel for it.
Work slowly, and don’t be afraid to set it aside and come back to it. The paint doesn’t match at first but after it’s had a chance to dry, it tends to blend in very well. Be sure to give it plenty of time to dry, ideally overnight.
If your track is past its prime, you can refurbish American Flyer track fairly inexpensively as well.