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HO Steam Locomotive Drivers and Their Care

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The drivers on any steam locomotive are an integral part of the engines operating system. The care is essential in maintaining a well cared for HO steam engine.

Periodically the hobbyist should disassemble his or her steam engine for good maintenance. The procedure is best described by removing the body of the engine from the frame. It is not necessary to remove the motor. You must however, uncouple the driveline between the motor and the gearbox.

Once this is done, remove the plate at the bottom of the frame that holds the drive wheels in place. Carefully remove the drive wheel set from the frame and slide the pistons out of the cylinders. Make a note of the position of the wheels during removal. This will make it easier to reinstall the wheel set.

Once the wheel set has been removed, carefully remove the springs from each slot on the frame. Make sure you put them in a safe place. Now take denatured alcohol and a swab and gently clean all of the slots and areas where the wheels may make contact. I do not use solvents because they leave a residue. You have to be careful with solvents because of the possibility of corrosive agents that may damage your locomotive.

Turning to the wheel sets, carefully examine the drive rods and journals for wear. Clean the wheels with denatured alcohol including the tires. On the shafts of each wheel, there should be a set of bushings or bearings. Gently clean the drive wheel shafts and bushings/bearings with the denatured alcohol.

Now remove the gearbox from the main drive wheel. Clean the main drive gear thoroughly with alcohol. Also, take the gearbox apart and clean out the old grease again using alcohol.

Using synthetic Teflon grease, grease the gearbox with a minimum amount of grease. Too much grease will bog the gearbox down. We have found that the synthetic grease is superior to natural greases. Also, add a little grease to the main drive gear.

Examine the wheel springs for damage. It is generally a good idea to replace them as they do wear out and they are very inexpensive.

Reinstall the wheel set making sure the bushing/bearings are aligned correctly and the little plastic disks are located properly. Once installed take a fine oil and place one drop on each of the bushing/bearings. This will help with the operation of the wheel set. Make sure the piston rods are inserted into the pistons.

Place the bottom cover onto the frame and fasten the plate with the original screws. With the gearbox yet to be assembled on the main gear, place the frame on a test track. Gently run the frame and wheels up and down the track checking for any binding. If so, readjust the wheel set until they move freely and recheck on the test track.

Once you feel the system is aligned properly reinstall the gearbox. Fasten the gearbox shaft to the Can Motor shaft by the original means unless you have changed the drive mechanism to your liking.

Once this is accomplished, place the frame/wheel set on a live test track and operate it. If all goes well reinstall the body and test it again. You should have many hours of enjoyment with your locomotive.

Joy Ball has been involved in the restoration and maintenance of a variety of Brass Model Locomotives. Through her years of expertise, Mrs. Ball has perfected the art of train restoration often spending countless hours preserving vintage Brass Locomotives to running condition of even the newest Brass Model Replicas. It should be noted that the above article was written by Joy's husband Michael Ball. Receive her free newsletter at

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Michael W.P. Ball
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