Various Lionel trains over the years have featured what they call a Pullmor motor. But what is a Lionel Pullmor motor? Let’s look at the surprising origins of this motor and what you need to know about it, especially if there’s anything you can do that breaks it.
Born of American Flyer
Lionel introduced the Pullmor motor in 1970. This was right after the bankrupt Lionel Corporation sold the rights to the trains to General Mills. Yes, the cereal company. Kids eat cereal and they play with toys, so cereal companies decided to try diversifying into toys in the 70s.
The new Lionel needed to shake things up a bit, and this was one of the ways they did it.
Prior to selling out itself, Lionel had acquired its rival, American Flyer, from the AC Gilbert company. One of Gilbert’s marketing gimmicks for its American Flyer trains was something they called Pullmor technology, introduced in 1953. It was a fancy word for a rubber traction tire. A rubber traction tire does indeed help an electric train to pull more, and I guess that sounds better than talking about your exciting new rubber traction tire.
Lionel decided to recycle the name, but to apply it to the motor itself. There was nothing especially new about that motor, at least not at first. It was based on the motor Lionel had been making for decades, and most of the changes that happen over the course of the next decade or two were cost-cutting measures.
So the Pullmor motor is essentially the post-war motor with cost cutting measures. And a bit of marketing to play up how it could pull more than a Marx train.
And yes, I am aware that the trademark filing states that it was first used in 1979. Somebody mistyped something. The word was used over and over in the 1970 catalog. The zero key is right next to the 9 key, so it’s an understandable mistake.
Advantages of the Pullmor motor
That’s not to say that’s entirely a bad thing. The Pullmor motor was based on a design that Lionel produced very successfully for two and a half decades. And for that matter, that motor was based on what Lionel learned making electric motors since sometime around 1901.
It was a universal motor, so it worked fine on either AC or DC. The only drawback to running it on DC is that the e-unit can eventually become magnetized and will need to be demagnetized in order to work again. That’s not an expensive procedure, it just requires someone to have a bulk tape eraser.
If you’re like me and you don’t have one of those, and you need to use DC, I recommend that you change the polarity occasionally to slow down that magnetization process.
But unlike later can motors, there isn’t a lot you can do to break them. Oil them occasionally, change the brushes when they start to act up, apply a bit of grease to the gears, and they will run for decades.
Disadvantages of Pullmor motors
Pullmor motors, like their post-war counterparts, do not run very smooth at slow speeds. If you like to run trains really slow, you will be happy only with a modern can motor. The market in 1970 wasn’t hobbyists running trains at scale speed so much as it was the children of baby boomers. They liked buying all trains when they were kids, so they wanted to buy Lionel trains for their sons. And kids run their trains fast.
But they work essentially the same way as their post-war counterparts did, and given the decline in popularity of trains during the 1970s, chances are if you find a Pullmor motor today, it has fewer miles on it than a post-war motor would. It was probably used less heavily in its first few years of life, and has fewer years of Christmas tree duty to its name.
1970s Lionel was a bit of a mixed bag. As the decade wore on and sales didn’t return to 1950s levels, they experimented with cutting the cost, hoping that moving down market might improve sales. The cheaper trains were not as good. The Pullmor motor was the hallmark of the better ones. The DC powered starter sets sold cheaply at stores like Kmart just weren’t as good. Well, they ran better at slow speeds, so they had that going for them.