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Hey all! I want to forward this post by saying pardon my ignorance - I'm new to the hobby, but I'm willing to learn what I need to so as to get my train to run.

I recently purchased a Lionel 6-51000 Milwaukee Road Hiawatha set, the remake one from 1988. To power it, I also purchased a KW transformer off eBay which, per the eBayer, had its power cord replaced, and was also "fully serviced". However, I'm running into issues now whenever I try to run the train (which, for context, was rated C-8):

  1. For starters, I can tell that the whole set hasn't been lubed/oiled. I know that smell when I smell it, and it's not there, so I'll have to do that for sure (if anyone has a good video for a beginner to watch that's easy to understand and follow on how to do it, please, I'd appreciate the link!). I mention that because when the whole set is on the track, it's slogging to power through. At first, it was going fine for the most part (the speed really wasn't all there, even when cranked to 20v), but then it gradually started to run slower, and slower, till eventually it might as well had stopped. I just purchased what looks like new O-72 FasTracks from trainz.com, so I don't think they themselves are dirty. My regular 10 inch long straight FasTracks might need some cleaning, they're a bit on the older side, but that's just erroring on the side of caution, if only for regular up-keep. I just figured that, if maybe all the wheel bearings/axles were oiled, that might greatly reduce the drag I'm facing.

  2. Now what's interesting is that, when it's the engine only, it zooms on the track at fast speeds, lights on and all. When I added the tender, same positive results. However, when I added the remaining three cars, that's when the issues start up. You can hear the engine giving its all to try and go, and sometimes it will, sometimes it won't, but I just stopped altogether, as I didn't want to damage anything (I don't want to draw too many amps and overheat both it and the KW). At one point, the car connected to the tender actually sparked once, but that was it. But then I noticed that the middle car in the set had its lights dimming when being ran, and actually not at first when the train was, again, for the most part being ran A-OK on the track, just not at the high speeds I was expecting (then again, I know it's a heavy pull of a train, so maybe I'm wrong in thinking it can be fast pulling at 20v on a KW - like I said, pardon my ignorance). To clarify, it's this car in the photo, the one I'm pointing at.

  3. Another issue I noticed is that, whenever I try to use the whistle (I have the power forks from my 6-12016 Terminal Section FasTrack screwed into U->B), and I did this when both just the engine and the whole set was on the track, everything slows down, again almost, and I think once or twice, to a halt, and the lights dim. And no whistle. So I'm not sure if this is an issue with the KW or the engine itself (and I'm not an electrical person, so if I have to crack open that KW, I'll need some guidance of what I'm looking at and would have to do). If for some reason it's my Terminal Section, I did order a brand new one that's coming soon to my house.

  4. Lastly, the 3 position E unit. Right now, I have it set all the way to the right, and I believe that is allowing the engine to go in the forward direction, which is what I want (the set didn't come with a manual for the train, and I'm having a hard time finding a copy of one, so if anyone knows where I can digitally find a copy of it, I'd appreciate it!). I don't know if this is causing any issues related to what I'm experiencing, but I'd figure I'd bring it up, since I'm not sure if I have it set to the correct position, though it seems like it. I was told there was a switch to disable the E unit, but I'm not sure where that is on the engine.

I believe that's all the issues I'm facing at the moment from memory. Thanks to any and all who reply!

Last edited by Big Steve
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If you get a manual for ANY lionel train with a mechanical E-unit of that era, the basic instructions and oiling are the same.   Even a postwar manual will do.

Put each of the passenger cars on the track and push by hand.   If they don't move well start checking oiling, wheel clearances, anything dragging on the wheels, bent axel or truck causing excess drag.   

One drop of synthetic, light grade oil per wheel so they turn easily on the axle.  Drive wheels oil at the bushing where the axle enters the frame, 1 drop only.  I have special oil bottles with a long thin needle tip to get to these areas.

It is 26 years old so check where the wires are soldered to the pickups on the cars.  Insulation and to the light bulbs in the vestibules.   Make sure there are no breaks or shorts.    Light bulbs are tight.   They tend to loosen.

You probably figured out pushing the button down to connect/disconnect the cars to the vestibules.  If the vestibules are not connected just right they will fight turning.

DO NOT oil the center rail pickups.   

Clean the wheels to remove any dirt or old oil.    Center rail pickups also.

Whistle  Usually will not work going slow.   With the cars on and voltage up it should work.  It is normal for conventional locomotives to Speed up or down a little when applying the whistle.  It depends if they replaced the "DIODE" in the transformer if it will work well for whistle or not.   It is applying a DC current to the track.    If going at a good clip and applying the whistle causes the train to stop, there is some problem.    Did this set come with a whistle button?   A box with a button and 2 wires comming out of it.  If so it hooks up to the A on the Transformer with one wire and the other wire goes to A on the track replacing the A connection from track to transformer.   

Run the train and use this button to whistle if so supplied.

The E-unit has 2 settings.  ON Cycle thru FNRNFNR etc at each power off/on.  Or Off stay as is.  You can get the train in Nuetral, Reverse or Forward and switch the E-unit off and it will remain in that mode.

If you put your email in your profile I can send you a manual for the Lionchief passenger cars.  2 pages, but the same thing as your Hiawatha passenger cars.

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Last edited by VHubbard

Let me reply to what I can:

  • Put each of the passenger cars on the track and push by hand.   If they don't move well start checking oiling, wheel clearances, anything dragging on the wheels, bent axel or truck causing excess drag.  

I did this, and they actually move quite well. No resistance or anything to indicate as such.

  • Drive wheels oil at the bushing where the axle enters the frame, 1 drop only.

Can you provide a photo of this specific area?

  • I have special oil bottles with a long thin needle tip to get to these areas.

What kind would you recommend from, say, Amazon?

  • Did this set come with a whistle button?

No, as far as I can tell, it does not come with one. And this is after seeing quite a few photos of the set being sold online. It's just the engine, tender, and the cars, and that's what I got as well. Which leads me to believe, and this is my gut talking, that the whistle issue lies with the KW, not so much the engine, as the engine was tested and was said to have had a working whistle.

  • The E-unit has 2 settings.  ON Cycle thru FNRNFNR etc at each power off/on.  Or Off stay as is.  You can get the train in Neutral, Reverse or Forward and switch the E-unit off and it will remain in that mode.

I guess I'm a bit confused at this part - how do I simply just turn it off?

  • If you put your email in your profile I can send you a manual for the Lionchief passenger cars.  2 pages, but the same thing as your Hiawatha passenger cars.

Updated for you @VHubbard.

Last edited by Big Steve
@ADCX Rob posted:

16-14 gauge wire.

Does Lionel sell a power track with these wires already on them, or would I have to modify my power track and swap out those old wires with these new ones? If so, is that a hard process to do for a newbie like myself, and where online would be a good place for that specific gauge of wiring?

@ADCX Rob posted:

The whistle is polarity sensitive. Try switching U & B at the transformer.

What exactly do you mean? Plug my black wire into B, and the red wire into U? That would be switching them around from what they are now.

So @ADCX Rob, after doing some extensive Googling, I finally found what I hope would be the answer I'm looking for when it comes to getting more power.

I watched this helpful YouTube video, and I came across a solder-less kit over at Harbor Freight. Question is, would that kit have what I would need for the 16-14 gauge wiring and, more importantly, is everything in that kit I would need to be able to connect to a FasTrack itself? I use power fork end connectors, and there are a few in that kit, but I'm not sure which ones would matter, or what color I'd want to use.

Last edited by OGR CEO-PUBLISHER

You have plenty of power, it's just not getting to the track.

Those wires on FasTrack are designed for starter sets, they plug in to the bottom of the track. You can use lamp cord if needed to use larger wire, and .110 connectors found on Amazon to make your own feeder wires.

@Big Steve posted:

Plug my black wire into B, and the red wire into U? That would be switching them around from what they are now.

Correct.

@Big Steve posted:

Does Lionel sell a power track with these wires already on them, or would I have to modify my power track and swap out those old wires with these new ones?

There's nothing special about that "power track" except for the notch in the roadbed, all of the full-size track pieces have the same connectors on the bottom.

Last edited by OGR CEO-PUBLISHER

@ADCX Rob, I switched the power forks around for the whistle, and still nothing. The train slowed down, and no whistle came out. I'm almost at the point where I want to get the KW and set serviced by someone around where I live, because I just want it to work, and I don't feel confident enough in myself to repair these things without causing further issues. I'll buy the 14 gauge wire soon, and see where that takes me. At this point, I don't know if I was lied to by the vendor I bought the train from (who said the whistle worked), or if I have a bad KW, or, if like you said, I just don't have enough juice with the terminal FasTrack (which, according to this post here, is about an 18 gauge). However, when talking to someone else, they said an 18 gauge would be plenty, doubting even something as thin as 22 gauge would be causing my issues. They went on to say thicker wires will only make a difference if my wires are actually getting hot and adding too much resistance, and if that's happening with 18 gauge wires, something is wrong and causing way too much current draw. But, I actually don't know if I agree with that. Where you were coming from makes more sense to me, given the weight and pull of this train and what's required to run it. So, I'll give it a shot with the 14 gauge wire that's both red and black.

@OGR posted:

This topic was moved from an MTH to a Lionel forum which is more appropriate for the topic.

That's weird, I made this post in the Lionel Service Questions forum this morning, I don't know it migrated over to the MTH forum? 

@boomer0622 posted:

Steve,  is the train stopping just on the curves or the straight away also ?

You picture looks like you have a tight radius which can put more drag on the train.  Will the cars roll around the curve easily without the engine ?

I'm not home right now, but from memory, the train runs moderately fast at first, then all around slows down. It was able to make the curves just fine at first, but again, you can tell there's a loss of power happening, and when you stop running the KW and plug it back in to try again, you can hear the engine really struggling to try, and I'd wager that it would not matter if it's on the O-72 curve or on a straight away.

And to that point, when I just drag the cars around the track by hand, they roll right along it like butter. It requires O-72 per Lionel.

Haven't run mine in awhile, but...

The engine is a bit light and underpowered for the train, so it can struggle, especially in curves.  It needs at least O72 curves.  As I recall, it needs to be running fairly fast for the whistle to kick in, and using it can slow the engine down. 

Assuming that there's no binding in the mechanism and the engine and cars are properly lubed, that's just the nature of the beast.

@Richie C. posted:

Basics - have you confirmed with a voltmeter that each section of the Fastrack is getting proper voltage when powered up  ?

I have not. Again, I'm new to the hobby, so I don't have that tool, nor would I know how to use it (but I'd be willing to be shown how and learn).

@Mallard4468 posted:

Haven't run mine in awhile, but...

The engine is a bit light and underpowered for the train, so it can struggle, especially in curves.  It needs at least O72 curves.  As I recall, it needs to be running fairly fast for the whistle to kick in, and using it can slow the engine down.

Assuming that there's no binding in the mechanism and the engine and cars are properly lubed, that's just the nature of the beast.

I bought some oil and lube, since the set needs some, but yeah, I do have O-72s and still nothing with the KW and the whistle. I'm starting to think the transformer might not be as good as I was lead to think, but, again, I could be wrong (and this is my gut talking). We'll see how things pan out once I crimp the new wire and .110's I got to a FasTrack section and see.

@ThatGuy posted:

That’s what Lionel recommends for Fast Track. I use 16 or 14 gauge wire and make my own connection wires. It really is just to light for what it is supposed to do.

They recommend what for FasTrack? 18 gauge wiring? I ordered red and black 14 Gauge wires off of Amazon, so it'll definitely be two separate wires now instead of one that splits.

@ThatGuy posted:

That’s what Lionel recommends for Fast Track. I use 16 or 14 gauge wire and make my own connection wires. It really is just to light for what it is supposed to do.

@Big Steve posted:
They recommend what for FasTrack? 18 gauge wiring? I ordered red and black 14 Gauge wires off of Amazon, so it'll definitely be two separate wires now instead of one that splits.

Recommend? No.

Provide?  Yes, the standard connection wire for FasTrack is 20 or 22 gauge, and is meant for use only with a starter set, provided with 40-80 watts power supplies / transformers.

@ADCX Rob posted:

Recommend? No.

Provide?  Yes, the standard connection wire for FasTrack is 20 or 22 gauge, and is meant for use only with a starter set, provided with 40-80 watts power supplies / transformers.

I guess what confuses me then is, why is there so much juice at the beginning when I run the whole set, but then it slows down altogether, and then, after I unplug and re-plug back in the KW, almost nothing? You just hear the engine giving its all? I understand it's the power distribution to the track, but still, to the uninitiated like myself, it would make sense for it to be consistent.

And on the same note, why is it that the engine and tender can chug along just fine on their own (but still no whistle, assuming the whistle issue lies with the KW and not the tender)? I guess the FasTrack gauge wiring is just fine for them two, but when you add in the other cars which have lights, it gets too much to handle (probably just answered my own question there)?

Last edited by Big Steve

So all the little pieces and parts finally came to make the 14 gauge wiring replacement, and... bust. Still the same issue. However, this time, the train ran a bit longer than before, but still, when the whistle was actuated on the KW, the whole thing just slowed down to a stop, and then it gave it its all to get back to some speed before teetering out.

I found a guy in my area who services Lionel's, and he's going to look at both the train and the KW next week. He thinks it's the transformer giving me the issue, so we'll see. That's what my gut is telling me too at this point.

So sorry that you're having trouble Steve.  I'm not convinced that your transformer is the culprit.  I think part of the problem is the joints between your various individual sections of FastTrack.  Make sure the track is connected snugly, and use two or three pairs of feeders wired in parallel.   Doing this should make for more reliable operation.  If you have an opportunity to run your train on traditional tubular metal track, that would be a good way to test my theory that it's  your track.  The metal track might not look very realistic, but it's quieter running, and in my experience a better conductor of electricity.

The motor in your Hiawatha is a traditional design that benefits from regular maintenance.  This includes lubrication and also a scrupulous cleaning of the commutator, brushes, and brush wells.  Erratic operation, excess power draw, and slowing down during or after use can be the sign of a dirty commutator, worn brushes, or weak brush springs.  The brushes and brush springs can be replaced.

Part of this hobby is working on your trains and you'll eventually learn the basics.  There are some newer trains that are more "maintenance-free" but I personally find them less rewarding.  Good luck, let us know what you find out.

Last edited by Ted S

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