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Your opinions please.

Someone told me that if the level of smoke from AF steamers diminishes after a minute or so, it is because the wick is hard and stiff. He said that the cure is to soften it by putting 7-8 drops of mineral spirits down the stack and letting it soak in for an hour. Then 3 drops of AF smoke fluid and enjoy running the train with increased smoke levels.

Does this sound legit? Has anyone tried this?

I currently have no smoke issues with my 3 AF steamers, but would like to know for future reference.


Last edited by Lionelski
Original Post

John - it is true that the smoke box wicks can get 'baked' and hardened over the years, especially when the engine is run with no smoke fluid.  I'm not sure using mineral spirits - or as others have suggested, WD-40 - is a good idea.  Both are flammable so I think mixing a hot nichrome wire and a flammable liquid might not end well.

The wick material is readily available - Portlines is certainly one source and there are others you can find on eBay.  I've replaced the wicks on a couple of Flyer engines and its pretty straightforward.  The hard part is getting the smoke box apart without damaging the gasket material.  It can be done - and there is replacement gasket material available from some of the same sources.  Another maintenance issue is the occasional need to replace the nichrome wire which can break - also available.  It used to be that Tom Barker - author of one of the best Flyer repair manuals - would send you a piece of wire for the cost of the postage...  He has a tutorial on repairing/maintaining smoke boxes, as does Portlines (IIRC).

Note added:  Ray, I assume the automotive fuel system cleaner is flammable?  Do you try to dump out the cleaner/smoke fluid mix first before adding more smoke fluid and then running the engine?  I dunno - do you still have all ten fingers?? -- Rich

Last edited by richs09

Tom 'n Ray - gentlemen, I've long admired and have benefited from your Flyer wisdom -- and in this case, I won't say you are wrong, but this is one of those safety conundrums -- "product X, when used safely, is safe".  I looked up the MSDS for gumout (the 'ordinary' kind) and its mostly (60-100%) light distillate, 1 to 5% middle distillate, 1 to 5% naphtha and < 1% naphthalene (they don't give you the exact fractions, claiming trade secret).  The latter two are certainly flammable, with the flash point for naphtha at -7 F (that's a minus sign) and for naphthalene, its 176 F -- the distillates are likely harder to ignite, but in the presence of naphtha, I'm sure that ignition isn't a problem.

So letting the mixture sit probably helps reduce the amount of naphtha in the mixture, still... 

I wonder if something like gumout keeps enough of the deposits in a smokebox dissolved long enough to be volatilized or whether, at the end of the day, they simply redeposit after the gumout is gone (unlike the case in an automobile, where the gasoline containing the stuff the gumout has dissolved goes into the combustion chamber).

I make no claim about being enough of a chemist to be very certain about what the margin of safety is for this but I did spend a career as a scientist at a National Lab and these were the kinds of 'McGiver' approaches that would sometimes give lab safety folks apoplexy...

- Rich

Rich, we are only putting about 12 drops into the cold smoke unit. I first tried this about 25 years ago and it will revive some of the flyer smoke units. I have tried spraying Gumout down the stack of a hot Gilbert smoke unit. I could not make it ignite, but there is no point to using it that way since it needs to sit to soften the wick. The mix Ray is using would be completely safe and might work better than what I do, I had not thought of the mixture he uses.

Using fuel system cleaner is certainly less work than the way I do it.

I have done this.

-Remove the smoke unit from the loco.

-Remove the bottom cover from the smoke unit.

-Submerge the smoke unit on its side in acetone for several hours.

-Dry it off overnight and assemble/reinstall it.

This technique works for the ones I have done. You can see the acetone turn yellow as it dissolves the old smoke fluid.

I'm dubious that the pure mineral oil trick will work because smoke fluid is basically mineral oil anyway.

Last edited by RoyBoy

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