by Jim Kelly
I prefer to conserve tinplate with careful cleaning and repair rather than performing full restorations and repaints if at all possible. This aspect of the hobby is most rewarding for me. So when I won a Lionel 408E on EBAY that had serious modifications made to it including a poor overpaint with an incorrect color, my first task was to determine if the engine could be returned to its factory configuration and finish short of complete restoration and repainting.
When I got the engine, the 408E was missing assorted trim, missing its pendulum e-unit, all the cast wheels had deteriorated, it was hard wired to run in one direction only, and worst of all it was spray painted blue, a color never used on this engine by Lionel.
The first thing I did was to carefully examine the engine. Disassembly revealed that the original color was Mojave, the color of the inside of the cab.The question then became: could the blue spray paint be removed without destroying the original paint underneath, and what was the condition of the original finish underneath?
I began by removing all of the remaining trim which would be polished and lacquered separately. Then I started using paint remover on a small area of the cab exterior to test the difficulty in removing the overpaint. Luckily, the blue came off quickly so that a careful timed application of the chemical stripper took off the overcoat while leaving the Mojave underneath relatively unscathed. I worked in a careful step by step fashion, area by area on the cab. When I was done, the blue was gone and the Mojave underneath proved to be in very good condition. There was some paint loss, but the original finish was intact and responded nicely to polishing and buffing.
Mechanically I needed to clean and re-wheel the two motors, rehabilitate a pendulum e-unit that I had in my parts box, fashion a complete replacement wiring harness, and completely re-wire the 408E. I ordered replacement wheels and assorted replacement trim from a parts vendor. Work proceeded slowly, week by week, with the usual interruptions for the holidays and other activities. Finally one day I sent the re-wired and re-wheeled frame around the layout with a perfectly working original style e-unit. The end of the project was in sight.
I finished work on the wiring and lighting. I reassembled all of the trim to the cab. The cab was reassembled to the frame. The reassembled engine was placed on the track and power was applied. It felt great to see this 70 year old Lionel 408E back in tip top operating condition and as close to original in appearance as it's been in decades, perhaps even since it was new.
When I got this engine it was close to being a basket case - poorly overpainted, missing its e-unit, hard-wired to run in one direction only, missing trim, blown wheels, etc. But now this little engine will be a treasure in some collection years after I'm gone.
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