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Putting A Lionel No. 6 Steamer Back In Service

by Mike Isenberg

I made the tough choice to sell nearly all my collector grade Lionel trains and accessories over the last three years. I was not able to get a realistic offer for my high grade 42 & passenger consist of an 18, 19 & 190, so I decided to keep them. My wife, Kari, and I ran under the Christmas tree in 2004. We enjoyed them so much (it was the first time we had run Standard Gauge that way) we decided keeping just a few Standard Gauge trains was a must.

I thought long and hard about where I could go with the hobby. As I had sold almost all my prewar accessories, I could not build even a modest tinplate style layout. It occurred to me that since I still had my benchwork, and plenty of plywood from previous layouts, I could build a two level "hard shell" scenic style layout, needing very few accessories, and still have a place to run two trains. I made the decision and went ahead with that project.

I have always really liked early SG steamers, and still had a few 10 series cars. I started looking for a 5 or 6 steamer on EBAY I found a sad, neglected and abused 6 and tender. I am convinced both had spent decades in a cellar, shed or even a barn. Rust has taken it's toll on both of them. I was the high bidder, paying way too much for such a sad set. When it came, I sat it out on clean white paper to photograph it, I always try to document any such project, Just sitting it on the table left flakes of paint & rust. Sort of reminded me of the Peanuts cartoon character "Pigpen". Even though I had hoped to leave the finish original & improve it, I had to get ahead of the rust, or it would be a goner.

I made the tough decision to strip it & repaint. Using Citrus-Strip, the paint came off readily. The rust was another matter. I used every abrasive wheel I own, bought more, ending up doing the fine crevices, etc with a wire wheel in a Dremel tool. It took many hours of hard work to get all the rust off. Of course that much rust leaves pitting, it's inevitable. At this point everything was down to bare metal. I primed it & painted it with loco Satin Black.

I had also hoped to salvage the original gun blue (Lionel called it "Russian Iron") finish on the boiler, but that too was too far gone, too rusty. I really had to lean into a fiberglass abrasive wheel in the drill press to strip all the finish & rust. I bought a Birchwood-Casey bluing paste "Perma Blue". I had never used cold bluing before, but after the abrasive wheel & an alcohol degreasing, two costs of the bluing paste created a deep and beautiful blue-black finish. I was quite surprised, and very pleased with the results. I put a good coat of wax on top of that, called the boiler done.

There was a dead short somewhere in the electrical, so I had sat the motor & frame aside. When I got around to putting the motor & frame on a test track, I noticed the wheels would not even come close to touching the rails. It was obvious the electrical pickup was far out of adjustment, actually holding the wheels off the track. I took the screws out & added two spacers, this was still not enough. I eventually had to make two non-conductive spacers 3/16" long, plus the original insulated washers. The old replacement wiring seemed flexible & useable, so I left it. After cleaning & a good lube of pivot points, the motor now ran reliably and smoothly, and so, so quiet! Amazingly, the reversing unit worked, as found.

I now started polishing all the Nickel trim. Brad Kaplan wrote an article for TCA's "E-Train" published in four parts, "Will it Run?" still online under Restoring and Repair. I read it over several times and used tips from Brad in this renovation. I don't call this a restoration, as I intend this to be a fun runner, I had no intention of going to the expense of re-plating, etc.

By now all the sheet metal was re-painted or re-blued, the frame and trim was cleaned up as well as it would come. The wood trim, boiler front, smokestack, sand dome, and the piece behind the pilot still had most of their original paint, but were dull. I used Kiwi back shoe polish on them, it added a nice waxy feel and sheen. Time to put it all back together, which we did over two sessions. If the insulation on the windings, or the wiring break down & I have to send the motor off for repair I won't be surprised, but for now this little guy is again doing it's job, pulling a simple early freight consist just as it was meant to 90 years ago!

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to email Mike Isenberg at:

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