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Hi to all,

I did mention this in my post about Lionel motors but I figured I would start another specific post to ask this.

My recently obtained 397 coal loader that tends to have the coal gather on one side.

Unit is lubed and running well. I tried adjusting the cam as described in the service manual by tapping the cam follower but even with a very light tap the side did crack from old age. Luckily it was a tight crack in one piece that did not break completely out so I was able to repair it with superglue.

After the crack repair I did measure the distance from the one side of the flat of the cam followers to edge of the tray and they are equal. I also measured to the top of the flat of the cam followers to the bottom of the tray and both are also equal. Within a reasonable tolerance for the day I believe the cam followers will it the cams evenly.

I read on an old post about shimming one side of the 397 loader tray to help with balance out the loading action. Anyone heard of this? If so which side do you shim and what is a good material to use ? The post referred to is no longer available.

Any other suggestions or tips would be welcome. I hope to be able to use this on the Christmas layout this year.


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To all,

I did go down and play with the loader a little bit. An interesting thing I found if I put light finger pressure on the front of the scoop pushing back towards the rear on the side that does not load the coal  well it starts working better and the coal will start going up towards the back. I'm talking LIGHT pressure.

Its' almost like the side that's not sending the coal up the shoot is not getting enough pressure to give a good recoil effect. I hope I'm making sense. I checked the spring for tension and also swapped the cams around to see if it made a difference and went to the opposite side  .It did not. I also check with a ruler again the location and alignment of the cam followers . They appear to be as close as 1950s tolerance would expect, maybe even a little better

Any thoughts,suggestions or help would really be appreciated!

Again Thanks

You "checked the spring for tension."  The spring, like the rest of your loader, is probably over 60 years old.  It might not provide the tension it did in 1955...

Try the light finger pressure right at the center of the scoop (not off to the side) and see if that also helps move the coal evenly toward the conveyor.  If it does, you might try a new spring.  Part 397-23.

Another thought; the bottoms of the cam followers can get gummed up with a coating of oxidation and crud from the base plate.  Try a gentle cleaning on the bottom of both cam followers, as well as the surface of the base plate underneath.

Again Thanks to all that have been trying to help.

In regards to the coal loader issue I’m working on (see photo) loading on one side. I found an interesting thing thanks to a suggestion from Jeff at the Train tender. He suggested that the loading bin might be warped from age. I took the bin off and put in on a piece of plate glass to check this. I would believe that the bottoms of the 2 cam followers should touch the plate along with the front of the bin. What I found was when the bin was allowed to sit on the plate of glass the cam follower on the side where the coal wants to load was sitting quite a bit higher!  I’m not sure if this could be the issue or not.  Is there a way to un warp the bin or shim it to balance it out?  Hoping to find a way to get this working for the Christmas layout I’m building. Grandpa made the mistake of mentioning it so I’m worried I might be the one getting the “Naughty Coal” this year.  

Any thoughts, suggestions, or help would really be appreciated!coal loader397 height


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Thanks for the reply!

So your recommending replacing the cams instead of trying to file the cam followers? I appreciate the offer of sending it to you but I would really like to try and get it working. It's frustrating at times but it's also fun to learn something new with the help of others. I'm getting back into the hobby after a long time away from it. It's nice to see that their are still hobbyist  willing to help others.            If I can still file the cam  would it be on the side where the coal is bunching at or the side where the coal will not load? If filing the cam follower notch is still an option I would figure it would be needed to be filed at point B instead of A. Is that correct?

See attached. And again thanks for everyone's help

All the Best!

Can follower


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Hi Chuck, Thank you for the reply and clarifying what needed to be filed. I did want to be sure that I'm not installing the cams incorrectly!  I have both cams installed so that the flats are in line with each other. (If i took a ruler with the cams installed on the shaft the notch on left cam would align with the notch on the cam on the right side). If I turn the rod assembly 180 degrees  the same would be found. Does that sound correct? Thanks again!

Hi Dan, Thanks for the reply on this. I just wanted to be sure I had the cams right!                                  An interesting thing I did find out is if a put a .015 shim under the bearing, (shaft support that slides in the base) on the motor side (the side where the coal is piling up) it loads a lot better. By putting in the shim I believe I'm raising the cam on that side. If I'm following everyone's thoughts since raising the cam helps that would be the side that needs to be filed .015 or so.  Its difficult to tell which cam is hitting first. Even at slow speed. I would just leave the shim but I'm concerned that its putting an extra load on the motor since it would be slightly misaligned.  Hope I'm making sense. It's been a LONG time since I have worked on my trains. Again thanks!

There is a rubber flexible coupling between the motor and that bearing.  The motor is mounted to the base with two screws, and the gears in the gearbox are pretty stout.  The flexible coupling is in place to take a beating so the motor doesn't have to.  If in doubt, get a new flexible coupling (part 397-29, available from Jeff Kane @ The Train Tender).

Thanks for the reply. One thing I'm still curious about is which one of the cams would need to be filed? Would it be the side were the coal is going towards? Also I would imagine that I would need to file both sides of the cam flats the same amount to get it to work.  Since raising the bearing .015 with a shim on the motor side helped would that be the High cam? Thanks again !

Good Morning. I was hoping some one may still be able to answer my question  on  whether both sides of the cam flats would need to be filed and if the shim side would be the side that needs to be filed. I went and ran the loader again with the .015 shim  under the motor side  bearing and it does a lot better. It still does migrate that way but both sides now have the coal going up to the top. I believe that this might have to do with the scoop being warped and angling down towards that side even while running. I may still pull it off and light clamp it flat for a while to see if it straightens out   Again thanks to all. I know I have talked to several folks from the forum by email that are watching this post and seeing what ideals come up to get theirs running correctly too. Best Regards!

Using your picture above, the faces of the cam, opposite your blue circle are critical.  As the cam turns the cam follower on the bid rides up then drops that high point on the cam.  That drop is what causes the tray to snap and move the coal up.  You want both side of the bin to drop off simultaneously.  On your bench, push the 2 cams together on the shaft and make sure that the drop off point on both cams are identical.  Turn the shaft and do the same thing to the oppose cams.  Also check that you have minimal play between the shaft and the cams; if the cams have a lot of play, you will get erratic operation.

Hope this helps.

Hi Dan,Thanks for the reply and the explanation on this! I didn't post the photo you mentioned but understand now what to look for.

Do you feel it might help by trying to get the tray to sit a little flatter? I was thinking of taking off the tray and clamping it to sit flat for a while hoping the plastic tray will reset to have both of the cam followers sit flat. It's out quite a bit (About an 1/8" ) from the other side. see photo. Thanks again!


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Hi to all, Thanks for the replies on this.

I do have a question for Chuck in regards to which cam to file.  It's really hard to tell which cam hits first ,even at very slow speed. If I use the old Lionel recommendation would I file the cam opposite where the coal is piling up? I know they say to tap the cam follower but with the age of the plastic as you mentioned that would be a "no no".

Thanks for the reply Chuck  ! Could I get your thoughts (also others) on trying to get the warp out of the scoop? I was thinking about clamping the scoop on a flat surface and letting it sit clamped for a while. Not using any heat just the pressure of the clamps. Have you ever had any luck using this method to unwarp Lionel plastic ? Again thanks to all of you for sharing your expertise to this.

Hi Rich, Thanks for the reply .  I currently have the bin off the loader and clamped flat. Don't know if that will help but I plan on leaving it that way for a while to see if the plastic will reform back to a flat state. I also found that the cams do seem to have some play on the shaft. I took some .005 shim stock and inserted it between the shaft hole in the cam and the shaft. It seems to take up the play.  Luckily I have a lot of shim stock from being a string  and percussion repair person for the last 35 years.  I'm still trying to figure out why the placement of a .015 shim under the motor side shaft bearing (the side where the coal is going to) helps a lot without doing anything else.Not totally even loading but a lot better!

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