Skip to main content

I became mindful of this issue with my early MTH engines, before Proto 3 and before I heard of BCRs.

Back then, I knew I could have problems with my MTH Proto 1 and 2 engines if they were not run for a long time. So, I made a point of running them at least once every few months. Doing so saved me money, helping to avoid otherwise unnecessary repairs.

Now that I've replaced all of the original batteries with BCRs in my Proto 1 and 2 engines, I know it is no longer essential to run those MTH locomotives periodically. It's my understanding that you can let them remain on the shelf for years, and they should still work OK. Do you agree?

Maybe it's because I am primarily an operator as opposed to a collector, like to run everything I have, and am in the habit of doing so fairly frequently, but I apply this regular running to all of my locomotives. Does this make sense to you, or do you think I'm being overly cautious?

At the risk of personifying my trains, in the back of my mind I believe that I can keep my trains and layout "healthy" by making a point of running everything at least once every 2 months.  I do this with all of my locomotives, including my numerous Postwar engines as well as everything modern.

My technical knowledge regarding maintaining and fixing trains is very limited, but, over the years, thanks largely to this Forum, I have the notion that regular and reasonable running of all things mechanical, and even digital, is a good thing; that when something squeaks, I oil it (a little dab will do ya); and whenever I run anything, it's just for a few minutes, at most. I believe this  helps avoid wearing out traction tires, general wear and tear on the locomotives and their parts, and problems with what I believe is most fragile: smoke units.

Do you agree?

Since I don't clean my track that often, I believe short regular runs of everything keeps my layout healthy too. Does this help corrosion from developing on the tops of our rails, thereby keeping them cleaner than they otherwise would be.?

I would love to know your thoughts about everything I've raised here, and anything else you can think of relating to these issues, and I'm particularly interested in your reasons for your thoughts.

Don't hold back! If you think I'm an idiot for any of my above thoughts, say so and your reasons why.

LOL, Arnold

Original Post

Replies sorted oldest to newest

Hi Arnold,

Like you, I rotate my locomotives and rolling stock periodically.  As a Mechanical Engineer I learned that thermal cycling (heat up, cool down; heat up, cool down; etc.) is tough on rotating machinery, but letting it sit idle for long periods of time can be rough as well.  I follow the old adage; Use it or Lose it! 


Thanks Snkbittin and John for your input.

Would love to know how various locomotives typically do when left idle for a year, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, etc.

With Postwar, my guess is they are usually fine if not run for a long time and kept in a dry and moderate temperature environment. However, as a precaution I would lubricate after not running them for over a year.

What about MTH Proto 3, Legacy, TMCC, Williams, K Line, etc.?


I run mostly postwar conventional locomotives.  For 30 years I ran some engines over a 6 week period of time when the layout was down on the floor.  The rest of year the layout was in a garage, leaning on a wall and the trains were on shelves in a hall or spare bedroom in the house.

I would take the 6 to 8 engines I wanted to run each fall and give the armature bearings a small dab of oil and maybe the wheel bearing  and let them go.  I did the same to any others I decided to run.  No problems in most cases.  Engines setting up in a normal house hold environment did them not harm.

I do the same with engines from my train shelves now as the layout is set up all the time.  I have 50 plus engines.


Last edited by Choo Choo Charlie

I had all my Lionel trains from the fifties and accessories stored in my attic for a lot of years.  The temperature up there can get to 120 degrees + in the summer.  The only engine I had was a 2026, but I had the coal loader, cattle car and corral, and a few others.

I only became interested in trains again two years ago when my little grandson became obsessed with trains.  So I dug them out of the attic after baking up there for 30 years or more (my mothers attic before that wasn't as hot).

Everything worked with a little maintenance and service.  None of the plastic had melted, etc.

Now I have some modern electronics equipped locos and cars and would never store them in a place like that.  Newer trains would never survive and I run them periodically to protect parts that can't be replaced.   This is a different era.


I agree with @Arnold that we need to run our engines fairly often, older engines with pul-mor motors, and grease drying up, but, for sure our modern era TMCC/Legacy engines need to be kept in dry non humid areas to protect the expensive components inside these pricy pieces of equipment. I try to keep my basement in the high 60 degree mark, winter, even higher in the summer, with the dehumidifier running constantly. The replacement boards are high priced, sometimes not even available. Great thread Arnold. Happy Railroading Everyone

I vote for running too for all the reasons stated.  Plus, I like smoke and it keeps the batting from drying out too much.  Although creeping beyond locomotives, I also suggest running accessories frequently.  Otherwise, the drive belts take a set, cows get lazy, logs get stuck, and the movements seem to get cranky. Bubble tubes in the oil field also seem to like to bubble but that is a theory...

I love the way we are pooling our knowledge here, sharing tips, some of which I did not know before this thread. IMO, these tips can help us save significant sums of money by reducing the need for repairs and parts.

Leapinlarry, after reading your post, I turned my dehumidifier back on. I've been running it often during this summer, but now I will be running it more often. I did not know that our modern equipment is particularly vulnerable when the humidity is high.

I also decided to keep a written record of the periodic running of my locomotives. I will also do the same for my accessories, thanks to Hokie71's advice. Doing so will minimize the possibility of any oversights. Arnold

After a lifetime of collecting, over 60 years in my case, it  takes a long time to run everything, even only twice per year.

And, I have train buddies that have 10 times more trains than I do.  For them, running everything would be a monumental task.

For me to run everything modern is manageable.  My goal is to run my modern equipment 4 times per year.

I have a lot of Postwar locomotives and accessories. I think I will only run my Postwar accessories on the layout and all my Postwar engines at least once per year, maybe twice per year, at most.

What about Postwar accessories in storage, not on the layout and not hooked up? In my case, that would take a long time. I'm not sure what I'm going to do regarding hooking them up and periodically running them. Maybe it's best to sell them.

For those of you who are, or are planning to, periodically run your equipment, I'm very interested in your thoughts about this. Arnold

I run my pw on a rotation, I also run my PW GP, GG-1, F Units and other Diesel forward and also run them backwards, so what I'm getting at is take your F unit and make the non-powered unit run ahead, So the gears get an even wear. Accessories are on now and then, as for my MTH I run them as much as possible and I do a charge on the batteries in the summer once, when not running MTH I add smoke fluid to keep the batting soft. I have index cards for Maintenace on all my engine when serviced and what parts were replaced. As for PW steam they run forward (sometimes they get ran backwards for a short period), except for the switchers that have front couplers. Have close to 90 plus engines, and also keep wheel clean on rolling stock and passenger cars. Nice thread Arnold, nice to pick up other joe's ideas. God Speed Support your Troops.

Arnold. You are absolutely correct. Some of my locomotives that were running perfectly when put away, act up when operated after long storage.

Oil drains out or migrates, grease hardens, circuit board connectors develop microscopic corrosion. It never ends.

It happens with other types of machines also. My 1954 Studebaker station wagon was operating perfectly when I let it go to sleep 20 years ago. Waking it up again has offered many small challenges.


Great thread.  Since I moved 7 years ago, I have several engines that have not left the shelves.  I recently place my Railking Big Boy on the tracks and she was sluggish.  She's been back on the shelf since.  My thought at the time was I needed to really run her a lot again to get her to run smoothly. Unfortunately, I'm working on my second/third level and have crap piled all over the layout and the trains aren't running at all until I finish this phase.

It'll be nice when all of my track is down, and I can run every engine.  Changing them out seems to be a great idea.  On my last layout I kept a maintenance book to note when I oiled each engine and changed tires.  That also allowed me to keep track of making sure I 'was mixing them up to keep them all running.


Well, now I'm kinda worried.  I haven't regularly ran my trains for 20 yrs.  Whats worse is I have several engines that are 20+ yrs old that are still in the box.  Nothing will be run again until the move is finished.  I know they will need  lube maintenance, inspection of foam padding, cracked wires, polish of the e-unit contacts, etc.

Nothing I can do about it now.  After the dust settles, I plan to pull them out one at a time and see what happens.  Postwar should go pretty easy.  The newer stuff will be a crap shoot.

Overall, I would still rather have bought the trains I wanted over the years and deal with the future consequences of them sitting idle.

I have a local train friend, Dennis, who is not on the Forum, is very good at repairing Postwar trains and accessories, does it for a LHS on Saturday afternoons, has a beautiful collection of Postwar trains from the early 1950s (including almost every diesel in mint or near mint condition), but has no layout currently.

He would love to have a home layout, but first needs to clear the clutter in his heated garage which he and his wife store for their now 5 adult children.  This situation has existed for many years.

When he comes to my house, he brings a couple of his Postwar locomotives and runs them on my layout. When he does so, he lubricates them first, and then runs them at full throttle on straightaways. When he does so, his engines start out a little hesitant, but after a few seconds, start running smooth as silk.  Arnold

I've had my collection in a limbo state for years but have tried my best to rotate the engines to exercise them as evenly as possible. Yet I found late last year that after about a year of sitting my MTH PS3 Greenbrier has developed issues. It was in all seriousness the best running engine in my collection, she'd run smooth at 1smph the way most MTH models run smooth at 4 or 5smph as of when she was last put up. Now stalls at random at any speed, then resumes whatever speed she was set at. Most certainly something I am going to be looking into. I don't know for sure, but I cannot help but feel the multiple prolonged storage periods played a role in this issue.

I'm not very experienced with the sophisticated electronic engines.  Other than elec cap degradation,  what causes electronic engines to become finicky after periods of storage or idle time.  I would think the issues with lube, traction tires, etc would be similar between electronic and  conventional engines for similar periods of storage.  The electronic e-units should not have the oxidation issues of the older mechanical e-units in the conventional engines.

Mike you already have the data on this I'm sure.

Add Reply

This forum is sponsored by MTH Electric Trains
OGR Publishing, Inc., 1310 Eastside Centre Ct, Suite 6, Mountain Home, AR 72653
Link copied to your clipboard.