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Hi.  I am a 100% disabled Agent Orange vet (not looking for sympathy, just advice to save me some time and money) and need some help in troubleshooting my Lionel rotary coal tipple.  Bought this sucker "new" off eBay many years ago.  Finally got around to incorporating it into my layout...and it does not work, right out of the box.  Bummer.  (Given my problem, and finding one binding post knurled nut missing from the gitgo, I suspect that the original owner may have had a similar problem, and dumped it on the eBay market to make it somebody else's problem.)   I  have been in this man's hobby for many years (50+), and have extensive electronics and mechanical knowledge, so am not afraid to tackle this repair.  But I have found that it is always best to check with others who have gone before.  So, any words of wisdom as to how to proceed?   BTW, Given Lionel's track record for taking their time fixing (or not fixing) stuff like this, I am electing to repair it myself, because I could be dead and buried (I'm 77) before I ever get it back from Lionel.  Thank you for your interest.  Jim Partridge

Original Post

We would need to know the issue.  But no parts are available for the tipple, so Lionel would not be able to help.

Most common issue is people accidently apply power to the wrong terminals and fried the board.  

Would need a detailed description of what's happening with it.  Does it do nothing?  Does it make any noise?  

There are shipping stops that must be removed before operation but you would of heard it try.

Let us know.




@Alan Mancus posted:

you might also get in contact with Ben Fioriello he a good member of new jersey Njhighrailers club and they use your coal tipple on there layout! contact him threw this forum!

Alan Mancus


Are you sure that's the one NJ High-Railers has?  Unless they've added another, I think they have the AAA Precision Turntables model, not the Lionel one.  They are very different.



  Could be a few things that go wrong.  The first is the cherry switches on the deck where the car would depress that switch.  That may need replaced, if the red light doesn’t come on.  Also there are contacts on the side of the drum under the Lionel logo.  You have to take the sides off to check that.  Also the pinion gear that turns the drum could be broken, but you would get noise if it were that.  Other then that if we had more info we could narrow it down.  

Jim - I just realized the link Alan Mancus posted is for a fellow forum member's website.  Her name is Susan Deats and her forum name is the same.  Her email is in her profile.  I believe she is a master electrician by trade but regardless, she has extensive knowledge regarding the hobby and I'm sure would be able to provide guidance if you reached out directly.


Last edited by Greg Houser

Thanx, guys, for all your replies.  BTW, this is my second time writing this, as something I did (or the Forum website did) sent my first reply into hyperspace.  Anyway, I now realize that I should have stated at the outset that I was an electrician and research chemist in my former life, and for many years kept seven G-Scale restaurant layouts running in the Greenville/Spartanburg area in W SC.  Plus an N-scale restaurant running in Johnson City, TN.  Plus built at least five O-scale and HO basement layouts over the years.  And am now converting all my O scale and some S & HO Scale engines to Dead Rail (battery) power.  Not bragging; just letting you know that I am far from a newbie in this hobby.  I apologize for not making that clear at the outset.

Given the above, I would like to bounce something off you folks (as sort of a sanity check):  My plan for going forward with this rotary tipple project .  Here goes:  If I cannot get the thing running properly (that is, as advertised by Lionel), with your collective help, then I plan to gut its electronics, and use a momentary, ON-OFF-ON, two-pole toggle switch to supply forward and backward DC power to the rotary motor...manually stopping it when all the coal is dumped. 

At this time, I also feel trying to incorporate the car-centering micro-switches, altho do-able (i.e., using a relay to allow motor circuit power only when both MS's are closed), but also a tad unnecessary (maybe even 2-3 tads).  Why?  Ms Deats in her great tipple repair article, showed how to use plastic shimstock between the rails to accomplish the same thing.  Thanx, Susan!

Guys, thanx again for showing interest in this project...and inspiring me to press on.  Actually, I feel I have no choice, as I paid way too much for something that does not work at all right out of the box.  And here's the really sad part:  If I cannot ever get it to work, I can't even use it as a boat anchor because 1)  The dang thing is so light and rickety, it would probably float,  and 2)  I don't own a boat!  So please help me get thru this ordeal.

Last edited by OGR CEO-PUBLISHER


Given the above, I would like to bounce something off you folks (as sort of a sanity check):  My plan for going forward with this rotary tipple project .  Here goes:  If I cannot get the thing running properly (that is, as advertised by Lionel), with your collective help, then I plan to gut its electronics, and use a momentary, ON-OFF-ON, two-pole toggle switch to supply forward and backward DC power to the rotary motor...manually stopping it when all the coal is dumped.


Don't forget about the clamp downs.  I have no idea what the proper voltages are or any other details, but the Lionel Tipple needs to clamp down on the bathtub gondola before you start to rotate, or the car will leave the rails.  I suspect the chances of it landing back properly on the rails when rotated back into position would be very slim to none if it's not clamped down during the ride.  

Depending on the needs of that mechanism, it's probably another double throw switch of some sort to activate the clamp and then release it when done.

Good luck with the project.


Last edited by Dave45681

Dave, I did not forget the clampdowns.  I took a cursory look, and seeing no relay clamping actuators, I figured they were totally mechanical in nature...with clamping initiated when car unit first starts rotating. I will revisit these actuators and, if needed, as you recommend, will add another simple ON-OFF switch to toggle these buggers 'ON' when needed.  I may also try to incorporate some sort of timing interconnect circuit that will energize these relays automatically when the 'Rotate' Toggle switch is first activated...but that may come a bit later, as I want to get this thing installed and operating.  Of course, all this depends upon whether these clamps are indeed electro-mechanical.  Either way, I'll let you know.  Fair enuff?

Of course fair enough

At this point, you've been examining the workings and had it disassembled far more than I ever did.  I can't easily check mine right now to review operation (stored away at the moment - sorry!), but I suppose it's possible it's an elegant mechanical system that uses the same motor and the clamps just naturally come down before rotation starts. I possibly had an incorrect assumption that it's a separate electro-mechanical actuator to move the clamps.


Hi Again David,  After taking a more careful look, I have determined for certain that the four car clamping devices are not solenoid actuated, but instead work off a gear train driven by the one motor thru the geared large rotary tipple end wheels (or whatever they are called).  Since they are 100% mechanically driven, the only concern I have with them is getting them and their spring-return assemblies back into proper alignment when this unit is reassembled.  But you are correct in stating that these four critters are absolutely essential for the proper operation of this accessory.  So thanx for your heads-up.  Please be assured that I will give them my best attention from now on.

BTW, David, my advice is that you do not take this sucker apart if you can possibly avoid it, as it is going to be a bear trying to reassemble it.  If/when the time comes when you install your rotary dumper on your layout, and it doesn't work, please feel free to check with me and I will give you the benefit of my experience.  BTW, so far, it has been horrible.  Here's an example:  Susan says, after unscrewing all pertinent screws, "gently pry up on the railing ***'y to get it to come loose".  Nope, not mine.  Those four posts were glued in place, and I had to break each glue bond, which was not at all easy, as I did not want to wreck the piece in the process.  I feel this is the kind of thing you need to be aware of before you tear into it.  Just thought you'd like to know....

Thanx, David and others, for your kind words.  This is my first time writing in a Forum about what I am trying to fix/modify, but, trust me, as I have stated before, this is not my first rodeo.  BTW, maybe this is not the time or place to mention this, but if I don't get it out now, I'll not remember it again for many moons.  To wit: 

After I retired from the G-scale restaurant scene, my son Jon took over, and the first thing he did was to re-motor several G-Scale engines with a much more reliable, low-cost drop-in can motor, and he has yet to change a motor in these modified engines.  And it has been several years.  That in itself doesn't mean much until you learn that the typical stock G-Scale motor running all day, seven days a week, lasts only six months to a year.   I don't know whether this is the kind of thing the G scale guys would like to hear, but if it is, have one of them get back to me and we can pursue it thru the G-scale Forum link.  Meantime, I've got a nifty Lionel rotary dumper to fix!


Success! Sort of! Found the problem!  After taking advice to use apply HO DC power from a small (crappy) Lionel 8W power supply, which did not even result in a spark when first connected, I built my own DC Power Supply with four 10 amp diodes and a Lionel ZW .  Now, with plenty of power, all I got was a spark...but no motor rotation.  Suspecting the motor was working against a jammed or frozen (this accessory sat around in its box for over 15 years) clutch, I disassembled the clutch housing, only to find, are you ready for this?, fourteen gears, all on two main axles and the motor axle.  Which means most of these gears are free to rotate around these axles, that is, when working properly, not locked on to them.

At this point I am thinking that the axle grease dried out enuff in several of these unattached gear-to-axle locations that Lionel's crummy high-speed, low-torque motor just could not overcome the unwanted frictional forces associated with these several gear-slip-on-axle dried grease high-drag locations.  That's all I know for now!  More later.  But I am super-happy to have at last found the problem!  Which, BTW, I could not have found without completely disassembling the unit and taking the whole drive train apart.  Bummer.

One last thought: If anyone cares enuff about this repair project to ask for pictures, now is the time.  I don't ever take pics for myself, because I hope what I need to remember is locked away somewhere in my squash, but I will be happy to gin up a few pix as I go forward trying to repair and re-assemble this plastic, toothy monster.  Just let me know.

Good news!  Sort of.  While laying in a bazillion pieces, I got the thing to work!  For those wanting to understand how to get one of these sick puppies to work, here's what I did:  After getting the clutch gears unlocked, and figuring there is usually only one thing that goes wrong at a time with stuff like this, using clip leads, I shorted out all the micro-switches and put 16VAC power to the unit.  Nothing.  Then, remembering that the rotating part with its red LED was not in the circuit, I figured that the two car-positioning micro-switches must be in series, and, when both are closed (that is, the bathtub gon is in its correct position for dumping), this part of the electro-mechanical circuit, along with four spring-loaded connectors that provide power to and from the circular metal strips on the geared, rotary end-pieces, form a giant dark web of series-connected parts to get continuity up to and back from the rotating part of this unit.  Very clever...but mighty complicated!  (BTW, a fifth spring-loaded connector, with it's own circular metal strip on just one of the rotary end-pieces, sends ground to the LED, and also feeds the outer track rails...but I digress.)

So when I attached another clip-lead to the two side points on the base, to bridge the up-and-back part of the circuit (the actual part the rotates), and powered up the unit, still nothing...until I bridged the 'Start Switch'. terminals.  Then...PRESTO!...the unit came to life!   Which is another way of saying that the motor turned on, and maybe more importantly, when I removed the micro-switch clip-leads, it also reversed itself at the end of its trail.  I then removed the clip-lead bridging the "SS" terminals, and then bridged them momentarily with my screwdriver, the unit started up, and ran until the 'forward turn-off micro-switch was engaged.  Another quick screwdriver bridging and the unit reversed itself and ran again until its "reverse turn-off" switch was closed.  Finally, the unit now worked as advertised...while still in pieces!  So now, the next major hurdle (actually, the part I am dreading), is putting this hummer back together again.  More on this later.  JP


Thanx, Greg.  I really appreciate you.  Can I bounce this thought off you, as sort of a sanity check?  Here goes:  Because I feel I am plowing new ground here, I have been documenting my progress thru this ordeal, so that others can learn from it.  But I may be fooling myself, that is, maybe others don't really give a flip about learning how to troubleshoot and repair this very complicated accessory.  I say this because not one person has asked me to document my progress with "how to" maybe I am just kidding myself.  So...should I keep on keepin' on with my long-winded explanations that are only useful to those facing what I have faced, or should I just reassemble this electro-mechanical plastic monster and call it a day?  What are your thoughts? 

Pictures = Good!

I did see your mention of asking if anyone wanted them, but with the speed you are going I thought I might have read it too late.

If it's still taken apart enough, a few pics would be very much appreciated.  I certainly would not ask you to take anything back apart if you've begun re-assembly though. 

That's always a risky proposition, not matter how good you are.


Thanx Dave and Craig, I also appreciate the two of you taking the time to get back to me.  I had decided early on that, if even one person took the time to let me know they thought a set of pictures would be worthwhile, I would take the extra time and trouble to provide them.  I don't mean this to sound arrogant or haughty, but I have dealt with tons of picture-taking and all things photographic in my former life as a senior photo-engineer at Polaroid and DuPont, and, to put it bluntly, the last thing I want to do now is take a mess of what we called 'happy snaps' (which were an integral part of our image evaluation routine), as nothing shows up a film or camera defect better than a good picture image. 

And anyone involved in that sort of work also knows that generating those pictures never stops, as they are the backbone of all film and camera development programs.  BTW, as a Field Test or Beta Site Test engineer for much of my career, I also had my fill of technical writing.  Evidently some things in life just are never meant to here I am once again, in my twilight years, talkin' shop and takin' pictures!  I just pray that all this effort someday will be worthwhile to one of my toy train compadres who finds himself face-to-face with one of these rotary dump beauties that needs some serious help.

George, you are a prophet...or very experienced with this unit!  I started putting this accessory back together today (yes, taking pictures), and got as far as remounting those two clamping springs you mentioned.  I knew I had stretched them a tad when I disassembled the unit in haste. But a more careful inspection revealed that they were stretched, not one, but several tads, rendering them totally unfixable and therefore beyond use.  What a Bummer!  

Ah, but not to worry!  Years ago, I bought a large assortment of about 250 new compression and extension springs for just such an emergency.  So, no problem.  Yeah, right.  Would you believe, out of about thirty sizes of extension springs to choose from, none were anywhere near small enuff to work.  What is with this project?  What a headache!  $%#&@.  Grrrr!

So, this project will be going on-hold for a few days (or weeks) until I can locate the correct-sized springs for a proper repair.  And yes, once located, I will buy several of these hard-to-find little jewels so that anyone needing these same springs can contact me with their sad story of also having to re-spring their torn-apart unit, and I will gladly send them a  See you in a week or three.


  Make sure the motor gear marks are lined up.  If not you can align them by moving the gear wheel to get the marks to line up, just pull up on the pinion gear arm slightly and turn gear to align marks. Also if your cherry switches on the deck, where the car sits isn’t activated this might be a problem as well.  You should see the red LED light on. Hope this helps.  

Last edited by laz1957

George, if these springs fit, I promise to send you the first two I give away.  Fair enuff?

Robert, while I am no expert, I now have a fair amount of troubleshooting time on this unit.  So from that perspective, here are my 'two cents':  You either have a jumping clutch (located inside that 14-gear gearbox, or a gear misalignment problem, or both.  Pull the rear panel "trap door" off the unit, and look for a set of white lines in lower left corner.  When unit is now in 'waiting' mode, after completing its return electro-mechanical duty-cycle, and is ready to go again, those two white lines should line up horizontally.  If they do not, that is probably your problem, because all those gear micro-switches need to be 'synced' to that line. 

BTW, the so-called "clutch" appears to be a novel pair of special bevel gears that face each other horizontally, and with too much of a load, are axle-mounted such that they can move away from each other laterally to relieve the over-stress on the motor.  This happens, for example, when the large external rotary unit gears are out of sync with their switches, causing one of the micro-switch rotary gear tabs to not engage soon enuff...thus jumping gears and activating the clutch. 

If I am correct, the fix is should be fairly easy.  Page 10 in the Lionel Owner's Manual shows how to align those two white lines.  Simply lift up the long-axled motor drive gear, and realign the movable white line on the rotary gear with the fixed white line.  BTW, if that doesn't fix it, call George!  (He's the only other guy who I know of who has taken one of these suckers apart.)

Update for coal tipple repair:

After reading and testing the above comments, here are the results. The Tipple works fine electrically. We removed the car carriage from the base and the motor and switches work as they should with jumper wires installed to complete the circuit for the micro switches under the coal car trucks. The gear box was disassembled, inspected, reassembled and tested and it is fine. With the car carriage reinstalled on the base with out the material funnel installed, from the motor side of the tipple, we activated the tipple and the right side of the car carriage seems to rotate in the dumping motion approximately 1/2 "and the left side only 1/4". When activated a second time, the carriage returns to the home position and the timing marks realign as they should. We disassembled the machine and with machined v blocks, gage blocks, and a height gage, tested the motor drive shaft and car carriage for a twisted issue. Items are in perfect alignment. 

I am wondering if the car carriage track bearings ( U shaped pieces with steel ball bearings enbeded into the plastic  which hold the carriage to the base ) need some sort of lubrication to prevent the carriage from binding? I am also wondering if the car clamps might be binding causing the issue?

Suggestions for lube and and any other ideas are welcome. We are stumped.

Robert, Knowing this machine as well as (or as poorly as) I do, I guess I am not surprised that our simple little fix did not "fix" anything.  BTW, I assume that after the unit rotates approx 1/2" (at least on the right when looking from the rear) it then quits?  Does anything 'click' before shutdown?   From your description of what's happening, it sounds to me that the left side is trying to work but dragging. Your idea to lubricate those one-ball bearing blocks, especially the left one, might do the trick.  (BTW, So as not to induce any drag, I would recommend using a plastic-safe oil rather than grease, because most greases dry out a bit (or a lot) with time, especially if the unit sits awhile before reuse.)

Here's another thought:  Have you checked each of the the long axle, small end, drive-gears for total looseness (or partial looseness), especially the left one?  I've seen gears that will slip around a bit before re-engaging the axle, and the partial loose rotation would cause the left side to lag behind the right side a distance of a gear-tooth or two.  Of course, total looseness might also cause a serious lag problem.  That's probably why the car carriage ***'y has to be driven from both sides.  Either way, a "loose" left drive gear would cause the car carriage assembly to twist a the process causing a serious left-side gear mesh problem, enuff so as to prevent going forward....but in reverse things would work just fine.  Just a hunch, but I'd sure check for a loose drive gear.

Here's another idea even more way-out than the last one:  While  I do not know enuff about the mechanical workings of the two geared vertical plastic columns that activate the four car clamps, I can think of two reasons why they may be involved: 1) I have no idea why the two return springs are needed, but maybe one of your springs is weak or broken, or somehow came detached...and the unit won't work properly without it.  2)  I'm also thinking that any side-to-side lag twisting of the carriage piece, even a little bit, may be just enuff to wrack the left clamping column out of alignment, causing it to jam, rather than freely sliding up and down as it should.  Remember, it too is gear-driven, so it wouldn't take much travel in a wrong angular direction before it jammed against its housing channel.   So, check your springs!  (I know, that is way out there, but at this point it also might be worth looking into.) 

Finally, knowing that you have a platform 'twist' problem is a really great observation, so keep looking until you find the source of the left-side drag.  Remember Occam's Razor?  To wit:  When something quit's working that was working just fine, it is usually something simple that caused it to quit, not something complex.   So...Any chance there is still a piece of your 'coal' still lodged in the gear mechanism somewhere?  

Robert, I'll stay with you on this problem until you either fix the thing...or take a sledgehammer to it!  BTW, it is my strongly held contention that only we weenies that have had a go at trying to fix this little aggravating gem of a toy could possibly understand what true frustration is all about.  Right George?  (I really wonder how many others are silent members of our exclusive club?  Maybe we should initiate and become charter members of the "Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to The Really Great But Non-Running & Maybe Non-Fixable Lionel Accessories Club".)  No parts available, no circuit diagram, no Lionel help, no more to be made. from Just a thought...


One more thing I can think of is when you put it back together, the two sides that have the gearing teeth, they are gray with the Lionel logo on the sides, are they aligned?  Make sure they are against the stops before starting.  Also on more thing the clamps that pull down and hold the car are they on the tab that activates the clamps?   

Thanx George, for the reassembly tips.  Good to know.  Of course, I cannot budge, that is, lay a screwdriver to this unit, until the springs arrive.  BTW, Here's something I have been thinking about for the last few days:  If it wasn't for my hobby, I don't know how I would have gotten thru these past few weeks (ok, few months) "sheltering in place" during this nasty Coronavirus thing.  Being a Type A, I would have gone nuts a long time ago. 

I live in Florida, now the nation's COVID-19  Petri dish.  Just yesterday, this thing infected over 15,000 people here in Florida alone, and in Manatee County where I live (Bradenton, just south of Tampa/St Pete), we now have well over 4000 cases.  My point:  It's really healthy to be staying home with my trains! 

BTW, my wife calls my hobby "The Other Woman".  So, when the phone rings, and it's for me, she says, "He's out back with the other woman".  I've told her a thousand times, "Model railroading is not a hobby, it's a disease!"  But she still just doesn't get it.  To be sure, it is at least a mild addiction:  I'm 77, and have been "playin trains" since I got my first Lionel train at five years old.  Well, at least it keeps me heart.


  Glad you are doing fine sheltering in place.  I live north of YORK, about an hour away, in Millersburg, Pa.  we are in farm country and the virus has hit our local adult care center hard.  But besides that we are doing ok, just being careful and doing what we can and aren’t really going anywhere but locally.
  Yes this hobby is good for all of us during these times.  Yes I too have been hit by this disease of model railroading.  And yes it is a neat way to really start to understand how these big boy toys operate.  Me being a retired Industrial Arts teacher (wood shop), I like to take things apart and try to figure out what’s going on inside.  Sometimes I do find out and other times I make more troubles for myself.  But it is in my philosophy of learning by doing.  Not making the same mistakes and learning from those mistakes.  I was very hesitant on taking this apart but once I did and put part after part in trays so I could reassemble it became second nature.  I too have a very understanding Wife and she does support me in my hobby.

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