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At present, I have no Lionel original post-war coal to use in my grandson's 397 loader.  We tried the Lionel coal tipple coal that I happened to have on hand but it doesn't want to play nice and move up the ramp.  I even tried cutting the rounded pieces in half, but they still don't work.  I saw some modern era Lionel coal on Evilbay, but if I recall it's cut up pieces of tubular plastic which I don't think will work either.  I don't want to pay the prices some sellers are asking for original Lionel coal.  

Are there any other readily available materials that could work ?

Original Post

Dan, I don't have a direct answer to your question about what particular coal works with the 397 coal loader, but will share my experience with Postwar Lionel coal loaders.

As a child I had a 397 coal loader with the coal that came with it, and always had trouble getting the coal to work. It would also get stuck under the red belt and screw things up.

As an adult I got the Postwar 97 coal loader that has always worked like a charm. Here it is:

20180829_131223

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Arnold D. Cribari posted:

Dan, I don't have a direct answer to your question about what particular coal works with the 397 coal loader, but will share my experience with Postwar Lionel coal loaders.

As a child I had a 397 coal loader with the coal that came with it, and always had trouble getting the coal to work. It would also get stuck under the red belt and screw things up.

As an adult I got the Postwar 97 coal loader that has always worked like a charm. Here it is:

20180829_131223

Interesting, Arnold.  I was thinking of replacing the 397 with a 497 that I have.  I think my grandson will get more enjoyment out of it and not get frustrated trying to make the 397 work.  He's ten and has many interests, which doesn't allow for too much tinkering time.  And I don't want him to get discouraged.  

eddie g posted:

I don't understand why you call it EVIL Bay. You want pre & postwar Lionel coal, buy it on Ebay,  it's cheap, it is what your supposed to use with the 397 & 97 coal elevator.

Evilbay is like Big Brother, controlling everything.....LOL.

As for the cost of post-war coal, have a look at these listings;

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Vinta...5:g:XGMAAOSwwf1bc-nm

https://www.ebay.com/itm/2-Dif...sIAAOSwScJa8kGbStill think it's cheap ?

There are some listings for post-war coal that are running in the twenty-five to thirty dollar rage for a single bag.  It's still too much to pay for something that may wind up in the vacuum cleaner.

Then there's this listing;

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Lione...1:g:etUAAOSwrklVSX5p

At the BIN price of $390.00 it works out to $1.89/bag.  Now that's cheap.  But I'm not about to spend almost $400.00.  Of course I could buy it all and resell it to make a profit.  Maybe not.....LOL

At the BIN price of $390.00 it works out to $1.89/bag.  Now that's cheap.  But I'm not about to spend almost $400.00.  Of course I could buy it all and resell it to make a profit.  Maybe not.....LOL

That is 39 dollars a bag. I doubt he'll get any takers. Folks can ask whatever they please.

Doesn't Lionel offer coal any longer?

The only drawback you MIGHT experience with using aquarium gravel for coal is having pieces that are too small. When the pieces are too small they can get underneath the belt and foul the mechanism.  Same goes for the 97 coal elevator.


Is the # 397 loader the one with the red conveyer belt and red plastic tray that a side dump car unloads into ? If so I had one that always jammed,stuck, or not go up the plastic tray. Then I was told by a Lionel, MTH repairmen to use the MTH coal.  And that fixed it, worked perfect every time

I had the coal loader that was the more simple one, the open conveyor belt (the one that had the piece of plastic at the end to make sure the coal deflected down into the hopper car). I used clay cat litter, and some cheap black gloss spray paint I had, to saturate the litter, then made sure to break up any clumps. It worked well for me, and being on a very limited budget as a teenager, it worked pretty well 

C W Burfle posted:

At the BIN price of $390.00 it works out to $1.89/bag.  Now that's cheap.  But I'm not about to spend almost $400.00.  Of course I could buy it all and resell it to make a profit.  Maybe not.....LOL

That is 39 dollars a bag. I doubt he'll get any takers. Folks can ask whatever they please.

Doesn't Lionel offer coal any longer?

The only drawback you MIGHT experience with using aquarium gravel for coal is having pieces that are too small. When the pieces are too small they can get underneath the belt and foul the mechanism.  Same goes for the 97 coal elevator.


Wow, did I have the math wrong.  I read it as 206 bags of coal, figuring he was only showing a sampling.  I guess he figures if he shows it against the wall and it doesn't come back, he's $390.00 richer for something that probably sold for $.25 per bag back in the day.

I have a Postwar 397 coal loader and 3469 dump car on my layout. The dump car came with a bag of Postwar coal. It works pretty good. The only issue is no matter what after running the 397 about 10-12 times a piece or two of coal get under the belt and it stops moving. The trick to fix that is to remove the 397 from the layout, tip it upside down, and stretch the belt a bit. The offending piece/pieces of coal will pop out and the 397 is back to working great again. 

I have found that my 397 likes about 12 volts. It operates smoothest and throws the least amount of coal around at the voltage. 

Hi Dan,

I get these posts on a weekly digest, so just saw this today.  I had the same problem with my vintage 397 coal loader and solved the problem as follows (credit given to sources as noted):

1. First, be sure to cover any openings on the beam with scotch tape or masking tape.  See photo of outside of beam and under the belt.  Read this little tip in "Toy Train Repair Made Easy" by Ray Plummer.

2. I can't locate the thread on this forum, but I'm sure I read over a year ago the recommendation to purchase aquarium gravel at Petco, and a cheap, plastic collander to strain out the small pieces of coal.  I purchased both.  I attached a photo of the collander, and drilled out the bottom holes to the size I wanted as suggested on that thread.   The smaller pieces represent what went through; large pieces are what I use on the 397 without jamming.  Penny added to show reference. 

3.  I would also suggest to replace an old conveyor belt. After I did the above and then had some belt slipping, a new belt solved that problem. 

And BTW, I have several vintage Lionel operating accessories that need constant attention - but the grandkids just love 'em!!   I have fun with them as well despite their weird scale size. 

Hope this helps.

Michael

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I just put my old 397 coal loader back into service and while it works pretty well I’ve always wondered about alternatives to the standard Lionel coal. After a search found this thread which as usual offers some great suggestions. 

Question: How about the “coal” that is sold with the coal tipple? These are larger pieces and sort of rounded off like beads. Wondered if anybody has had success using them in the their 397? May also explore the aquarium gravel idea as that’s been mentioned a few times.

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