Looking for a tutorial on locomotive repair

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by Santa Fe Jack, Dec 21, 2007.

  1. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    All -

    I've had a rash of locomotive issues lately. One Athearn was repaired under warranty (they did nice quick service). An Atlas is in their repair shop in NJ now: $42. Two more Athearn locos are in need of service. One has a grinding noise, and the other I think is driving only one of the two trucks.

    One way to do this is to send them in for repair by the manufacturer.

    Another approach, I suppose, is to learn to do the work myself, and simply order parts from the manufacturer.

    What do you experienced modelers do? Are you confident in making your own repairs? I think I could do it with a tutorial or something. After all, I repair my old VW and work on computers all the time. It couldn't be trickier than that.

    So - any sources for a tutorial on general loco servicing that you could recommend? Or should I stick with the manufacturer's repair service?
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    If it's under warranty, stick with the repair service. Otherwise, try it yourself. You may find some pointers here by wya of the search tool.

    I'd offer the following general tips -

    Read any and all instructions that came with the loco.
    Take photos or make drawing at each step of disassembly.
    Use a bunch of ziplock bags labelled with a Sharpie marker to kep all the parts organized.
    Wear an apron, and attach it to your workbench to help catch any fly-away parts.
    Make sure your lighting is good.
    Use a magnifier if necessary (reading glasses are good too).
    Some specialized tools may help - jewellers' screwdrivers, screw picker, and others based on the kind of repair you'll have to make.
    NorthWest ShortLine (NSWL) has lots of different replacement parts.

    Hope that helps. Good luck! Fortunately,

  3. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    One of the problems with servicing locos, particularily the more recent offerings, is figuring out how to take them apart. Save the diagrams that come with new locos, and if you buy used ones that don't have the diagrams included, you may be able to get copies from the manufacturer.
    As mentioned, make diagrams when disassembling, and add notations where required. A jeweller's loupe is a useful tool even for those with good eyesight, especially for finding split or otherwise damaged gears. The NorthWest Short Line catalogue has lots of useful tips and information, along with a good selection of parts useful for some repairs.
    I keep a log for each loco, showing any modifications or repairs made, and the dates of any service performed, including cleaning and lubrication.
    Because all of my locos are modified in one way or another, nothing goes back for warranty work unless it is in original (in other words, brand new) condition.
    Other useful tools for working on locos include a selection of plastic-compatible lubricants, a set of jumper cables so that you can apply power to a loco on the work bench (particularily useful for steam locos that would otherwise need the tender for power pick-up), a well-lit test track, and some way of holding locos upside-down while running on the bench.
    A list of manufacturers' addresses (for parts) is also helpful, and if you come across magazine articles on troubleshooting locos, save them. These aren't as common as they used to be, as the do-it-yourselfers are a vanishing breed, but the techniques of the '50s, '60s, and '70s are as valid as ever.

  4. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    Two more useful tools:
    A piece of extruded foam that you can put screws and other bits in in roughly the place that they came off the loco.
    A digital camera on a tripod to take photos of all the steps as it comes apart. Very handy when you put it all back together. And useful when you write up your article for Model Railroader.
  5. santafewillie

    santafewillie Member

    If you can fix old VW's, you can fix most Athearns. Mostly taking them apart, looking for (and replacing) worn or broken parts, general clean-up, and reassemble. Andrew, Wayne and David have all given good tips to use depending on your skill (or memory) level. P2K's and Kato's are a notch higher than Athearn, but shouldn't be difficult once you have done a few. I have only one Atlas and have not had to do any repairs on it yet so I can't comment. Good luck!
  6. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Actually most locomotives share the same type of drive based on the Athearn drive.That is to say a centered motor,2 flywheels,drive shafts and gears a very simple and straight forward mechanical work.
    My suggestion is to study the schematic that comes with every locomotive and then take one apart.

    As you can see there isn't really anything to the Athearn drive..


  7. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member


    I dont mean to hijack this thred but I have two athearn RTR locos and they both make horendus screachng sounds when they go somewhat fast. Has anybody had this problem or would anybody be abel to point me in a direction to fix them. They were $100 a piece and one has already been in for repair (my own fault:cry:).
  8. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Kevin, the first thing that I'd check would be to see if the strap which conducts electricity to the upper motor brush is rubbing on the flywheels or some other part of the drivetrain. These straps are best replaced with wires anyway, as they are probably the weak link in the design, the rest of which is very rugged and dependable. There was a thread recently on this topic, so I'll be back shortly with a link.

    Here's the link: Athearn contacts

  9. Kevinkrey

    Kevinkrey Member

    Funny, thats my thread from a different athearn loco. A DC loco. ​
  10. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Hey, I figured that I was doing well to be able to find it!!:p :-D:-D And you did opt to keep the steel contact strip. ;):-D In your last picture, above, the contact patch between the strips at the right end of the loco looks to be very minimal - perhaps the noise is coming from the decoder, screaming for more power. :rolleyes::p:-D:-D
    If my original suggestion about the source of the noise was incorrect, check to see if any of the flywheels are rubbing against the end of the motor or part of the frame.

  11. Santa Fe Jack

    Santa Fe Jack Member

    How about diagnosing stuff?
    For example, I have an engine which seems to run one truck but not the other. Should I just open 'er up and look for a loose wire or something?
    I should just use my diagnostic skills and not be afraid of messing it up, I suppose. Like replacing my first clutch in a VW bus, I guess the thing to do is just dive in with confidence and get through it to earn that confidence. :)
  12. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Jack, some older models are powered only on one truck, although on most of these, the motor is mounted right on the truck itself. What make is the loco to which you referred?
    I think that jumping right in is a good way to learn, although that first leap can be a bit daunting. Make diagrams or sketches as you take it apart, and when you're done, even if you're unable to repair it, you will have learned something. ;)
    Anybody who can work on a Volkswagen should find loco repair a snap. Years ago, I blew an engine in a Kharmann Ghia, and my old man rebuilt it in the driveway. After that, he always called any VWs "Hitler's Revenge". :p:-D:-D

  13. yellowlynn

    yellowlynn Member

    one truck

    SFJack, I am not into DCC, so I stay very simple in everything. If one truck is running and one not, there is one thing to look for, but in several places. One is a gear slipping on a shaft. That has happened to me a fair number of times. Or a gear shifts out of alignment and doesn't mesh with another. When this happens, I clean very, very good, then touch super glue to the proper spot and slide it back in position. That has worked for the tiny gears on the end of the Tyco armature shaft to the knuckle connector on Athearns. I have a Riverossi Challenger that I haven't torn into yet but I belive that is the problem.

    This may help and may not. Just my experiences.


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