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@harmonyards posted:

So let me get the facts straight, as I’ve never even heard of this safety recall. Im guessing it was you that got the recall rolling?……I know you fellas got itchy trigger fingers, but I’m just looking to understand, ……so your daughter was running trains under the Christmas tree, with an old postwar ZW??…correct??..and she was running some Kline Heavyweights, and there was a derailment, which led to a fire. ( first and foremost, thank the lord & your quick thinking she’s safe ) ……if this was an antique ZW, was anything done to it to mitigate a short before this happened?……I mean, I could see this happening to many components on locomotives, and cars alike, ….I’m just curious as to why the Kline cars were absolute to blame, …..if they were, then ok,….


exactly . creating a problem from a non-problem.

First we’re talking about an 8 yr old playing with trains under the tree, something that has been repeated hundreds if not thousands of times, continues today, and hopefully continues for decades into the future. When this occurred in 1995 the ZW was a perfectly functioning transformer with a properly functioning overload breaker. In all the derailments my 3 children and myself have had, up until that point (I’ve been collecting trains since 1954), with any other manufacturers trains and this particular transformer, did a condition occur that created so much heat to cause something to combust. In addition, this same ZW never failed to trip with any Lionel, MTH, or newer K-Line cars before and after that recall event occurred.

I for the life of me don’t understand why any of you would want to question or downplay a national safety recall. Obviously K-Line agreed it was an issue otherwise they wouldn’t have come up with a fix in just a few weeks after my initial contact with them. If you doubt this issue exists, which based on responses many of you do, take a heavyweight, remove the fiber/plastic washers from both sides of the centering spring, apply power, create a short, and bask in the glow of a cherry red spring. As for the transformer, ZWs will continue to be used and a majority of them will never be modified with new breakers because people just don’t know nor are there readily available services to modify them. Do you really think a newbie or seasonal hobbyist knows that a ZW and a wire coat hanger can weld?

We all need to be ambassadors for our hobby, sometimes that means looking at things with fresh eyes not with dozens of years of experience, providing ACCURATE information to anyone seeking to enter this hobby or it will indeed die, that includes communicating the bad with the good.

This is the text from the 1996 recall 

Recall Details


December 24, 1996

Release # 97-053

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), MDK Inc. of Chapel Hill, N.C., is recalling about 20,000 model trains. If the train derails, the coupler coil spring could overheat creating a potential fire hazard.

CPSC and MDK Inc. are not aware of any injuries involving these model trains. This recall is being conducted to prevent the possibility of injury.

The trains involved in this recall are The Heavyweight line of O scale passenger cars, sold under the brand name K-LINE Electric Trains, which were produced from 1991 through 1995. These cars are 1:48 scale models of railroad passenger cars from the early 1900s and are designed to operate on a three-rail, O gauge track.

The following types of cars are part of this train product line: coach, pullman, baggage, railway post office, diner, and observation car. All cars are individually boxed and include an end label listing the model name and number.

The following cars were sold through hobby wholesalers and distributed to hobby and specialty retail stores nationwide:

Railroad Name
Car Numbers

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad
K10-0004, K10-0045

Erie-Lackawanna Railroad 6-Car Set (K-44251)
K25-0001, K25-0002, K25-0098, K25-0316, K25-0469, K25-1813

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey
K83-0072, K83-0073, K83-0080, K83-0093, K83-0094, K83-0095, K83-0096

Southern Railroad
K86-0004, K86-0042

Southern Pacific Railroad
K88-0112, K88-1918, K88-5124

Union Pacific Railroad 6-Car Set (K-44911)
K91-0100, K91-0101, K91-0102, K91-0103, K91-0104, K91-0107

These additional cars were sold through the following listed outlets:

Railroad Name
Car Numbers

Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad 6-Car Set (K-44151)
K15-0110, K15-0385, K15-0727, K15-0827, K15-0972, K15-2500
K-LINE Collectors Club (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Lackawanna Railroad 6-Car Set (K-44381)
K38-0001, K38-0002, K38-0003, K38-0004, K38-0465, K38-1812
The Train Station (Mountain Lakes, N.J.)

Toy Train Museum Cars
K85-1884, K85-1896, K85-1870, K85-1899, K85-1877
Toy Train Museum (Strasburg, Pa.)

Train Collectors Association Cars
K85-1992, K85-1993
Train Collectors Association (Strasburg, Pa.)

Texas & Pacific Railroad 6-Car Set (K-44891)
K89-0718, K89-1018, K89-1109, K89-1402, K89-1658, K89-1818
Collectible Trains & Toys (Dallas, Texas)

Pasadena Mutual Funds Car
Pasadena Group of Mutual Fund (Greenwich, Conn.)

The model trains were sold from late 1991 to the present for about $75 to 125 per car.

Consumers should immediately stop operating the recalled cars, and call MDK Inc. at 800) 866-9986 for information on receiving a free repair. Consumers can write to K-LINE lectric Trains (MDK, Inc), P.O. Box 2831, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515

It sounds like there's 2 issues here. The roller shorting out on the axle, and the antique transformer not cutting the power in time.

Once again when there's smoke,and or fire there's a "cool affordable classic transformer"lurking in the background of the layout.

Either add a fast acting fuse, or switch to a modern transformer. They had cloth covered extension cords and Christmas lights back in the 40's and 50"s too. You wouldn't dare use them today.

Last edited by RickO

Last weekend I put my K Line 28th Anniversary heavyweights on the layout. After reading this thread, I looked at the trucks and found all the coupler springs have plastic washers. However, all the pickup rollers, if pressed at the correct angle, will contact the axles. Before running them anymore, I will put tape on the axles, and will also inspect all my other K Line heavyweights and correct these issues if needed before running them again.

Thanks Ben for posting this.

Hey Ben,

Those Heavyweights that I bought from the hobby shop, now out of business, are the same # as yours. Yeah! I like Lackawanna too. Anybody who might have lived in Montclair, N.J., knows that Lackawanna R.R. had a terminal, at Grove St. & Bloomfield Ave. (If I remember right) My stomping grounds as a young shaver, grew up on Glenridge Ave. There was a walk crossover beginning/ending at Pine St. to Bloomfield Ave. in Montclair (now gone). Back in the 50's, Pine St. dead ended at the corner of Pine St. & Glenridge Ave. but with all the changes (tracks gone to the terminal, new apartments, Pine St. extended to Bloomfield Ave. with the crossover gone). The N.J. Transit R.R. Co. took over the R.O.W. of Erie ( back then) up by Pine St., brought the tracks through Sherman St. & Bay St.( station was placed there also at Bay St.) and reconnected around Bloomfield Ave. to Lackawanna R.R. R.O.W. The trains were MU's back in the 50's and as a kid they really fascinated me, especially the signals. I believe I heard as a youngster that the trains in Montclairs terminal were known as the "Millionaires Express" since there were a lot of Wall Streeters who lived in Upper Montclair. Naturally we were considered "to be from the other side of the tracks" and I believe there is still catenary there, just newer catenary.

Anyway, I'm glad everyone chimed in on this topic to help out others and I gained a lot. I'm also glad that the 8 year old child is o.k. Hopefully the joy of running trains is long term.

I Googled: "How long does it take a ZW transformer breaker to trip when shorted". Feb. 16, 2017- The Lionel Test specs for the ZW transformer is that it should put out 30 amps for 11 to 40 seconds before the breaker trips. Wow! I never knew that! I heard from a Lionel service station guy named Jay, that he had told me it could take up to 23 seconds. I never doubted him, but never knew that this transformer could put out 30 amps! That is dangerous! Although being with the N.J. Hi-Railers and The Raritan Valley Hi-Railers (Modular), we always used PSX circuit breakers (both groups). In the Raritan Gang we used the old ZW's along with the PSX and I backed up the protection with a fuse since this was the original safety at 10 or 15 amps, in series with the PSX, just in case the PSX failed. You never know! Before the PSX's we only used the fuses and I can tell you when the 15 amp fuse blew because of a derailment, you can hear it across the layout plus the train came to an abrupt stop! All in all, consider putting a fuse (fuses were before circuit breakers and they did the job in homes as long as one didn't try to "modify" the fuse-larger or putting coins into the socket for what the circuit was rated by the wire size [yeah as an electrician, you wouldn't believe how creative people can be]  into your center rail line if you want to use the old ZW. The size of the fuse is something for the operator to figure out because the loads will be different from train to train. I suggest a 10 amp or slightly smaller, to start with, unless you have an ammeter to measure the amps. Check out all of the Googled info about the ZW.

       Steam Forever



I have a friend who, on one of his older postwar-style layouts, had a double-track arrangement that looped across itself at one end with a double-track 90-degree crossing. One leg of this crossing led into a wide uphill 072 curve that led up to an upper level. Because trains ascending the grade needed additional voltage, this segment was isolated and fed from another set of terminals on the ZW feeding it higher voltage.

He tells me during one run session, a train pulled by a MTH Proto-1 locomotive experienced a derailment in the loop that caused the loco to stop across the two power districts. Full grade-climbing voltage was now running into one end of the locomotive through its wiring and out into a short circuit. As he was moving to his control panel to shut off the power (duckunders had to be navigated to do this) , the stopped loco, which did not have a smoke unit, suddenly started doing an impromptu imitation of a smoker .

By the time he was able to lift the errant loco off the rails, most of the internal wiring's insulation was quite thoroughly roasted. The ZW took its sweet time tripping, presumably because the one axle that derailed didn't present enough of an amperage draw to trip the breaker. He was able to  replace the ruined wires one by one and at the end, the unit came back to life (also subsequently passed inspection by an MTH tech)

In a similar vein, I had one of those first-gen K-Line F3's (the six-motored KCC C&O) derail on another friend's ZW-powered layout. This incident managed to roast the coil spring inside the T-bar coupler on the leading A unit. I only noticed this after I ran the set at home and noticed the front coupler would no longer open. When I took it out to check the mechanism the spring literally crumbled. Must've gotten pretty hot to do that. That wire certainly wasn't large enough for the ZW pumping current through it to sense a short. While I never saw the thing glowing, I imagine it would have to have gotten pretty hot to damage the spring to that extent. I later replaced it with a spring cut from a retractable ballpoint pen.


Last edited by RailRide
@RickO posted:

It sounds like there's 2 issues here. The roller shorting out on the axle, and the antique transformer not cutting the power in time.

Once again when there's smoke,and or fire there's a "cool affordable classic transformer"lurking in the background of the layout.

Either add a fast acting fuse, or switch to a modern transformer. They had cloth covered extension cords and Christmas lights back in the 40's and 50"s too. You wouldn't dare use them today.

My PH180 bricks trip on any short, and I'm sure they'd trip in a flash for those K-Line cars.

@OddIsHeRU posted:

While the PH 180’s enjoy a reputation for having fast circuit breakers, what about the PH 135’s? Do they have the same or equally fast breakers? While running no more than two trains at a time, my PH 135's breaker has seemed instantaneous with the very rare derailments that have occurred.

No, the PH135 have ordinary thermal circuit breakers.  They're not terrible, but nothing like the PH180 electronic circuit breaker.

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