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I was preparing a friend's Lionel 2037 engine (no tender) for auction sale when I discovered a nightmare!  The E-unit cycles, the smoker smokes, the headlight beams brightly...but no go.  I manually rotated the drivers looking for a bind...none, free-rolling.  Oh, it would start to run if I manually coaxed the drivers under power, but then she stopped cold.  One time, in fact, it took off (on the rollers) for about 5 seconds, but then slowly came to a dead stop.

Took it apart down to the motor/driver/E-unit block, put it on the rollers and tried again.  And that's when I discovered the mayhem!

As I tried coaxing the drivers there was a slew of tiny sparks throughout and within the motor block.  I looked more carefully....

And discovered that someone (my friend bought it at a flea market) had been using steel wool to clean (?) or whatever the engine. BAZILLIONS of steel fibers inside the block in the grease/oil, standing up magnetically proud from every steel surface...frame, axles, drivers, gears, ...everything having acquired a magnetic charge!  Embedded in the oil and grease!

So, before I declare this one DOA, I thought I'd ask: Does anyone have a special technique for a thorough de-wooling (steel, that is) of the innards of a Lionel engine such as this??

I mean, it's not like you can de-magnetize the whole engine, clean it as you would a thorough degreasing/delousing/defilthing.  Power washing (May the Force be with me?) comes to mind...and we have such a device...but it's not a Michigan winter sort of outdoor project.  And maybe it's too risky even for a summer job!??  Anyone ever tried it?

And, careful extraction of each steel wool fiber one-by-one with tweezers is NOT an option!

The irony of all this is that for more than 20 years behind the Trains counter at our LHS I told customers  to NEVER BUT NEVER use steel wool on their trains....for this very reason.  I also remember as a youngster that  Dad had even warned me about the incompatibility of electric trains and steel wool.  And, until today, I can truly say I have never seen an engine so 'infected' as this one!  Incredible!

Any thoughts, ideas, similar experience?


Last edited by dkdkrd
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Masking tape.  I use masking tape to pull small metal particles off of magnets and magnetized metals.  Any other good, sticky tape should work, too.  Rip off a piece of tape and start blotting.  Just keep blotting it until either the item is clean, or the tape is loaded up with particles, or the adhesive loses effectiveness.  Then grab another piece of tape and repeat as necessary.  I have pretty good luck with this method.

Degrease (and dry) everything FIRST, however.  Tape doesn't stick good to greasy or oily items.

@david1 posted:

The easiest solution is to find a trash can and drop it in. I had 2026 years ago with the same problem, never did get out all the steel wool. When I told dad all those years ago about the problem he took it from me and dropped in the can, problem solved!! Lesson learned!!


That is the easiest way Dave!, thanks for the chuckle. We'll see which route he goes. Some good suggestions above.

Thanks for all of the suggestions.

Well, I think I'm inclined to go the power washer route...later in warmer weather (23 degrees F outside today!).  Since starting this thread I've further disassembled the locomotive, thoroughly cleaned the loose parts...pilot/trailing trucks, smoke unit (excellent original pill heater!) and puffer, drive/main rods, E-unit, boiler, etc..

As for the remaining motor/driver block, I removed and cleaned the two motor armature plates, but the armature itself won't come out unless two sets of drivers are removed...and that's not gonna happen w/o proper tools.  So, I believe the remaining block assembly...drivers, frame, field coils, loose armature assembly, center rollers/ ready for power washing.

My plan is to first liberally spray the assembly with degreaser, let it stand for a while, then starting with the lowest power washer setting, increasing as necessary, aim the wand downward through the assembly.  I plan to use plastic tie-wraps to hold the block to a screen-top table while power washing to keep the motor block from flying across the driveway/lawn.  If I'm lucky to have a nice warm sunny day, I'll let nature dry her out.  If not, I'll use the oven @150 degrees.

I'm encouraged this beastie will again race the rails.  I'm pretty sure I found the main reason it was too stubborn to run: Wool fibers had jammed one of the two brushes so that it wouldn't freely make contact with the commutator.  The brush spring just didn't have enough oomph to overcome the wedged woolies!  Like I said, someone had really done a deed on this poor engine!!

I think it's going to work well...I'll let y'all know.



Dave: Crossed my mind when first I saw the mess!  But, after a lifetime in the hobby, it's not in me to relegate these things to a landfill.

Last edited by dkdkrd

You can always go to a carwash and do it. Put it in a milk crate so it doesn't blow away. I am in upper Michigan and own an excavating company so I know all about power washing.... And Michigan weather. I use purple power degreaser. And I would definitely use the oven or wood stove. I used to wash complete engines ( shell off) running gear assemblies in hot soapy water and cook them dry on wood stove. Worked excellent.

Last edited by MattR

Just get a can of carb cleaner or MAF cleaner from the auto store and blast the **** out of it - the stuff comes out with good velocity and should carry away the particles. Do it over a large foil pan or in an old pot, but use eye protection. It will degrease the whole loco and probably powerful enough to blow out the steel wool.  The solvents will dry out in a short while. Then relube everything.

I would not use water on it.

Water is no problem as long as it is dried very warm and soon after. And starting from scratch relubing etc. Getting metal shavings and such off of magnets is very tough. I have cleaned many magnetic screen strainer on heavy equipment transmissions for example, they collect all the metal fuzz in the system. I have used every solvent you can think of, including starting fluid, along with compressed air. Didn't work very well. But of course those magnets are stronger.

I think it would benefit to pull all the wheels. I bet there are fillings in around the wheels and axles also. Last one that came to the shop had to have that done. Used multiple methods to clean it out. Try a stronger magnet first, then a wash of CRC followed by some dawn soap and water a tooth brush  After that try putting some grease on a Q-tip and try to get it to stick to the grease. You may not get it all but try to get it out of the motor and axles and any moving parts in the engine. Good luck.

Guys, I appreciate the continuing suggestions/encouragement...

MattR...Call me cheap.  I already own an excellent Honda power washer.  It strips paint at its highest setting.  Since there's no urgency from my friend (engine owner) to have this done ASAP...he's willing to wait for warmer weather.

Jim Waterman, Gene H...I've tried my cans of pressurized air (keyboard dusters) and contact cleaner (for the R/C crowd).  A few weak woolies came out, but the vast majority are 'steel' there.  Not enough pressure, IMHO.

Mallard 4468...I don't like to sell problems.  If it came to that, I'd simply sell off the parts that I could thoroughly clean and put the rest in a recycling container (There's some pretty diligent folks around here that scrounge metal on trash day.  They apparently have the time to go through the trouble of taking it to a junkyard for some $$.  Not on my own retirement agenda, though.)  Besides, my wife, an Ebay trade assistant for 20+ years, sez it's not worth the trouble.  As for measuring my time in $$...I enjoy problem solving, finding out what others in the same pickle boat have done, trying something new.

Obuckler, DanR...I have no idea how to de-mag something the size and complexity of the 2037 motor block??  There may be a commercial establishment somewhere who could do it, but I'm too cheap to do that for now.

KOOLjock1...The armature itself is not the problem.  It seems to be in good shape.  Actually, with the exception of the armature axle ends, there doesn't seem to be much inherent magnetism in the armature assembly to attract the woolies.  Besides, as I said, unless you pull the drivers on two axles you can't remove/replace the armature.

Forest...And pulling the wheels is not something I have the tools and inclination to do.  Besides, at this point the woolies don't seem to be binding the axles in the bearings.  Manual rotation of the wheels is quite free.  After power washing, I'll check that again.  If, at that point, the axles are bound up, it may be the end of the road for this project. I DO know when I've been beaten, when to call it quits on an adventure like this.

You know, when I've given this my best shot, and perhaps while scanning the motor block innards while wearing my Optivisor I still see a wooly or two hanging on defiantly,  I'll lube/oil her up, put her back together, and if she runs, cycles, creates a bouquet of ozone and smoke oil in the workshop, I'll smile, call it "Good-to-go!".   After all, I've pulled about a pound of cat and dog hair from steam and diesel engines through the years.  Never got it all, I'm sure, but enough for JLC's finest to power through for many more years.

But, believe me, I appreciate all the ideas, experiences, encouragement herein!


Last edited by dkdkrd


i heard you could use a vhs head degausser but who has that?  I did once!


just hammering it with light steel hammer on the top of the motor frame should do it.  Most locos that lost their magnetraction did so from sharp falls. Don’t overdo it and not so hard to deform the frame.  If you hit it on edge should be doable. Then just clean it up normal.  Power washing scare me especially around windings. Beats tossing it.

To be sure you know somebody with a half decent air compressor and a blow gun,...if not, your local mechanic should have one,...( I’d hope) .....snatch off the brush plate and blow that rascal out,....everybody is kinda overthinking this, ain’t that big of a deal,.....I’ve blown out hundreds of manga traction locos filled to the brim with god knows what stuck to the magnets, and wheels,......this is about a 20 second job,......


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