Lionel 2026 Operation

Hi, this is my first post!  My young son has progressed from wooden trains to a couple of o gauge starter sets from Lionel and loves them.  We recently purchased a small collection of post-war Lionel items, including a 2026 (the 2-6-4 variety).   I've read most of what I can get my hands on about this engine, and it was not running.  I had a couple of questions.

I took the shell off and generally cleaned the e-unit, including the commutator and brushes, checked the wiring, and reassembled it.  The e-unit lever is extremely loose, and I did not mess with it.  This clearly causes issues because it will not maintain contact, although the engine is running (at least while the lever makes contact).  I've read here and elsewhere about solutions, but my first question is more general:  how is this switch intended to operate the train?  While making contact, the engine runs one direction, and while not making contact, the engine is in neutral? Then while making contact again, it reverses from the previous direction?

My second question is the smoke unit.  It was done.  The gasket was toast, and saturated with smoke pellet residue, and the smoke pellet reservoir lid was caked, and the wires inside the reservoir looked burnt.  My second question:  should I disconnect the smoke unit wire until I can get a replacement?  Since there isn't a switch to turn the smoke unit off, will it hurt anything running it as-is?

Original Post

Mechanical E-Units from the postwar era modify circuit paths of the field and armature windings to switch direction (forward/reverse) via rotation of the drum.

The lever on the E-unit engages and disengages the direction changing capability. When enabled, the locomotive will cycle through F-N-R-N as power is cycled or the direction button on the transformer is pressed.

When the E-Unit lever is disengaged, the locomotive will remain in the current state and not change through F-N-R-N.

As for your second question, disconnecting the smoke unit seems smart to me - it is one wire.

The auto reverse has the lever so the operator can turn it off and run it in one direction only. The lever should be snug. If nothing is broken such as the fibre contact board, you can try to crimp the eyelet holding the lever on by using a very thin needle nose pliers and gently wiggling them into place enough to crimp the eyelet. The only other solution is to totally remove the e-unit, completely disassemble it, then separate the frame so you can remove the coil and use an eyelet crimping tool. If you break the fibre board or the spring washer or eyelet are shot, you ban buy a rebuild kit.

There is no need to disconnect the smoker. If its burnt out, its not using any power any way. If it is, then after some time it will start producing smoke. In any case, it should be taken apart and cleaned. You can get the original ceramic style hot plate and the gaskets from Jeff Kane. Or, if you wanted to use liquid smoke fluid, you can purchase a complete conversion rebuild kit.


You can do a temporary cure for the E unit lever contacts, by moving the lever out of the way, and clean the contact on the board, where the lever makes the contact. Take some solder, and put a small dab of solder on the contact, so that it is raised up enough to make a better connection when the lever is in position, to control the cycling of the drum.  This is a quick and simple cure, for a loose lever, not making a good connection.  Other than that, it would be better to get a replacement E unit, to fix your problem.

Try tightening the small rivet that holds the lever to the board that the contacts are mounted too. Be gentle though as its probably very brittle.

I have a 2026 and upgraded the smoke unit to  new liquid smoker. It works great and only took a few minutes to change. The original still worked but I didn't want to deal with the pellets. I bought the kit on DaBay.

Its a great old engine. Your son (and you ) should get many years of enjoyment out of it.

2017-07-09 08.09.16

Three Rails Are Better Than None 


Photos (1)

Thank you so much for the replies.  I think I understand this better.

So, without the lever engaged, the train should run in its current direction.  This indicates I have another issue as the train will sometimes run a complete circuit around the track, and other times it stops-starts-stops in a jerky fashion.  I suppose, since the e-unit lever is loose, it could be swinging around and bumping the contact.  I may try taping it out of the way to see if it will just run in one direction (I'd rather order all the parts I need in one go!).


Thanks again for the very helpful replies.

harmonyards posted:

The reason why it's jumping in and out of sequence is because the loose lever is constantly making and breaking contact, everytime it makes contact, it's gonna cycle the e unit and move to the next sequence 

That makes sense now.  The weight of the short arm will always make it jiggle in that direction and bump the contact.


Thanks for the replies, once again.  This one will be good practice as we also have a 2025 waiting for Christmas

My 2026 has been running great since Santa brought it for me in 1951.  I don't have much to add to what's already been said, except that you needn't necessarily assume that the smoke unit is shot just because it's cruddy with smoke pellet residue.  When first I got back into 3-rail trains in the early Seventies, my own 2026's smoke unit was a mess, and I figured it was a hopeless case.  But once I cleaned out all the decades of built-up waxy crud, it worked fine.  And with some fresh shredded fiberglass stuffed into the now-clean smoke chamber, it worked like a charm with smoke fluid.  Same with my other PW steam locomotives.  I've never had to install a new smoke unit just to use liquid instead of pellets.

Your 2026 should be good for another century's worth of running.  Just make sure your young son understands that running it full throttle through tinplate curves will result in it leaving the rails at high speed.  I learned that particular lesson when I was four years old.  Fortunately, there was a thick carpet to prevent any damage, but I never tried it again!


Another E-unit trick is to hold the contact arm tight with a pair of needle nose pliers after moving the lever 90 degrees to the left so the short part of the arm is above the coil bracket and the bent the arm inwards so there is a slight bow to it. this will put more pressure on the arm against the fiberboard and the lever will not be so sloppy.

There is no need to replace the element with a liquid smoke kit. The original style elements work great with liquid smoke fluids.    And as some of the above posters have indicated......any kind of shim that will fit behind the lever will tighten it up. Styrene. cardboard, thin washers etc. I, for one, never move the levers. I prefer the option of getting all the "gears". So, that shim will never move.


Thanks again!


I tried running it with the lever taped so that it wouldn't jostle around, and it runs around the track!  So I will tighten or shim the lever to correct that issue.

We are running it on Fastrack with a Lionel CW-80, with O-36 curves.

I did notice that it does not run all that fast with the CW-80 at full throttle, and that it does seem to have spurts of high speed here and there on the track, so maybe the gears need some grease.  It is LOUD!!  The loudness sounds like a mechanical noise, not an electrical buzzing or humming, too.  But she is running!



Jim 1939 posted:

It shouldn't be loud. Look behind the drivers and find the armature shaft ends. A small drop of oil on each end should quiet it some and don't forget the axles and gears.

Agree completely.  The 2026 is normally very quiet in operation.  Make sure the moving parts are properly lubed (but not over lubed).


There could be another issue lurking here. That engine does not have rollers, it has sliding shoes which can be a real PITA over switches and UCS tracks if they are worn or maladjusted. If they are grooved out, I'd replace them and at the very least, bend them upwards a bit to make better contact with the track.

ROGER1 posted:

There could be another issue lurking here. That engine does not have rollers, it has sliding shoes which can be a real PITA over switches and UCS tracks if they are worn or maladjusted. If they are grooved out, I'd replace them and at the very least, bend them upwards a bit to make better contact with the track.

Depends which version he has.

MattR posted:
ROGER1 posted:

There could be another issue lurking here. That engine does not have rollers, it has sliding shoes which can be a real PITA over switches and UCS tracks if they are worn or maladjusted. If they are grooved out, I'd replace them and at the very least, bend them upwards a bit to make better contact with the track.

Depends which version he has.

We have the 2-6-4 version with rollers.

when I took the shell off, I did not disassemble the train enough to see all of the gears, nor did I specifically oil or grease the parts.  I did oil the axles and the side rods (pardon me if the terminology isn't correct).  Will try oiling and greasing the armatures (will need to locate them) and the gears.

2026,  I  have one of those since I was 3 or so , many fun times running  them and racing them with other kids in the old hood !!!

The 2026 never lost, well, maybe once...or twice. ..., if I remember she won a very good amount of the time. the bangs and dents are many even know we made good use Franks moms sofa seat that was there to soften the crash ending .  

If our parents knew we were running  the family Christmas trains there would belts flying all over the hood.   

I know where I have been, I know where I am at, I am hopeful I know where I am going.(The devil and God are talking it over).

may take a few minutes...put about a half a dozen or more drops, and with the engine in neturl, crank the juice up, and if it's going to work, it will then, if it does, put the engine in forward and see if it puffs. Might want to make sure the piston moves freely.





The Standard of The World


I'll just add a comment similar to John's. I have had this engine (with the slider shoes) since I was 5. First set that my Dad purchased for me and I treasure it.  I now have a combination of vintage and modern mostly Lionel rolling stock, but my "go-to" engine has always been the 2026.  I did do a liquid smoke conversion.  Also spread the slider shoe a bit to avoid some starts and stops over switches.  Have maintained it over the years (e-unit, grease and oil a bit), and it runs quietly and at all speeds.  Still have its original tender and that classic whistle sound is always a winner.  Your work on this will result in years of fun for your son...and you!  Enjoy,


Thanks Michael!  The tender that came with this set did not have the whistle, but it is already my son's favorite engine (he has the Polar Express and the John Deere LionChief sets).  I still need to do the smoke unit repair ( I really would like to add a switch for this as a 7 year old may be prone to forgetting to add smoke fluid periodically).

I also spent the weekend cleaning up a load of o gauge track, 4 switches, and a decoupling rail that came with the purchase.  The track was in rough shape, but by last night we had a loop set up with two switches (operated manually at this point), running on an old Lionel 1033 transformer.  The lot we bought also came with a KW transformer that I need to go through next!

We put two drops of smoke fluid in but it did not generate smoke or heat up.

Postwar Lionel smoke units are fairly durable.
The two most common problems with them are:

physical damage caused by someone sticking something into the stack


When pellets are used, the left over material remains in the smoke unit, even after years and years.
People would get out their trains and start playing with them..... what's the first thing they would do..... add a pellet.
And sometimes people would add more pellet(s) in an attempt to get more smoke.

The smoke unit would wind up so full, that the piston vent hole would clog, and eventually the heater wouldn't be able to generate enough heat to melt the entire mass.

If you want to determine whether the element is good, the best way is to remove the smoke unit from the loco, and use a vom to determine the resistance of the smoke unit. One probe on the metal case of the smoke unit. The other on terminal where the smoke unit power wire is attached. If the element is good, you should get a reading somewhere around 12 to 18 ohms. If it is bad, you should get infinity.

As far as a switch goes: Postwar smoke units don't need them. You can run them dry without damage.

C.W. Burfle

Re: Slider shoe.  Sorry can't attach photo, b/c I'm out of town for the summer.  It's a small tab on the bottom of the engine that rides the middle rail for power.  It is sort of springy to put pressure on the rail.  If the pressure is not great enough, is loses contact and the engine gets no power.  When the engine is moved manually or if it blasted through the dead zone and power is restored, the e unit then moves to the neutral position.  Annoying.  I read somewhere that if this happens, just spread the shoe away from the body a bit (pull on the end of the tab).  Bingo - the little engine keeps on going! 

Hope this helps.


That's definitely a more complete answer so thank you. I have the 2-6-2 2026  and an older 2-4-2 #666 with a shoe also.  Run great but this one switch sits just low enough I guess to lose contact going through.

I tried getting a running start, which is fun but doesn't work. When it gets to the other side it's in neutral. It is a good time but not very prototypical.

I have two loops around an L shaped layout. The outside is 54" and inside is 42". It runs around the outside great including through switches. There is something about this one switch on the inside it doesn't like. I bent the shoes down a little but same result so something to that switch is happening. I may pull it out and redo it. Something a little funky about it.

I thought there may be a bump or hump where it loses contact but don't think so now.

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