Locomotive Maintenance and Lubrication

Locomotive Maintenance and Lubrication

By Roger Heid


Some time ago, I had finally finished working on a fancy Era II passenger express train. All the cars were assembled; all the interior lighting was installed. Now was the time to decide which steam locomotive this train will be pulled by. The type of cars and which loco I ultimately chose are irrelevant to this blog. Instead, I will address a problem I was about to encounter and have encountered before.

Two Era II type locos were chosen. The first one was very sluggish at take-off, then it stuttered while trying to move a few inches. Then it briefly stopped again before moving a few more inches, only to quit running, altogether. The second one did not start, at all. The last time I had used them, they ran just fine, but that was about three years ago.

Obviously, both locos were in dire need of maintenance. I needed to consult with the owner’s manuals. In the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, I had learned to keep them neatly organized. Every time I get a new locomotive, the manual will go into a wooden box, after the initial reading. I never have to hunt and search for a manual. The box is always kept in the same spot. I never have to turn the house upside down in search of the ‘Box’. For your own good, take this info as a strong hint.

The symptoms I described are usually caused by hardened oil and gear grease. This can occur when a locomotive sits around idle for extended periods of time. Some locos are more prone to this syndrome than others.

Throughout the recent decades, motors and drive mechanism underwent numerous changes and updates. Older locos tend to be more affected by deteriorated lubrication issues. Before you do anything, refer to the owner’s manual. You definitely need to avoid a situation that causes you to yell:

“Gosh darn it! I should have looked in the owner’s manual first. Now what do I do?”

In most cases, removal of the loco’s body shell is required. Some come off in a finger snap; with others, this can be quite tedious. The manuals usually show you what you need to do to get the job done. If you feel you are not up to the task, take/send the loco to a reputed servicer or to Reynaulds.

There are two types of lubricant you must have. For the drive gears, including worm gears, you best use a paste, such as the one offered by Roco.


Roco Gear Grease #10905

For all bearings, you need a thin oil. Roco has one of those, as well. Maerklin has one also, but I do not like the dispenser nozzle. It does not allow precise oiling.


Roco Oil #10906

The very best oil I found comes from RSM. (See REI web site) It is available at Reynaulds.



A good hobby shop also has suitable products. I have successfully used items offered by Libelle.

Sometimes, a loco stubbornly resists your efforts. In that case, I use a good contact cleaner spray. Most likely, this will take care of some hidden spots where corrosion and grease coagulation can take place.


Here is a word of caution. I will keep it simple by saying: Just a little oil or grease goes a long way. Using too much of either one will cause undesirable side effects. Don’t allow the oil to go to places where it should not be.

If you wind up having to use the contact cleaner spray, apply it amply. You may have to give the works a good spraying more than once to get the results. These sprays are available in most hardware stores and in some department stores. Make sure you get the kind that does not leave residues.

After extensive use, a locomotive may require the replacement of the traction tires. Again, the manual shows you how to do it. It usually also tells you the part number.

Another potential maintenance item is the replacement of lights most locos have. They can be incandescent or LED types. Once again, refer to the manual for help.

Any other issues not addressed in this blog I do not consider to be maintenance oriented. These situations should be taken care of by an experienced technician.

Then there are these cases when someone buys a used item from whatever source, something I have never done and never will. Often, there is no manual. Before you undertake some maintenance effort on your own, it would be wise to post questions in the Forum, accompanied by make and model. We will do our best to provide answers, if possible.

In parting, I wish to impress on you that an assortment of good tools is mandatory to have. Makeshift tools are known to cause avoidable damage. I have a special tool box containing just about any tool I need to take care of my precious railroad equipment.

One of my cats is trained to return a tool to me that he decided to knock off the bench and go nuts with it for a while. Atta boy!

If you have any questions, please post them in the Forum under the appropriate topic.

Thank you.






5 Responses to Locomotive Maintenance and Lubrication

  1. David Lang says:

    Thank you:-)

    I am quite new to all this and that is some of the most useful info I have found. it is now bookmarked. thanks again.

  2. Kent remaley says:

    I just purchased a 7051 Marklin crane. It was manufactured in the latter “70′s. It is perfect in every way , except , one function does not operate. It is the lift function. I believe the lubricant seized up the operation. For this repair what would you recommend . I enjoyed your article and look forward to your reply. Thank-you

  3. admin says:

    Use the a thin lubricant and the procedures recommended.

  4. Roger Heid says:

    I had a chance to work with the RMS Hi Tech Oil. In a critical situation with a stubborn wheel bearing it proved to be superior the oils offered by Roco and Marklin. I will order more oil from RSM, available at Reynaulds.

  5. James DeZwaan says:

    I have numerous N scale locos. Some were purchased new, some used. I never have received an owners manual with any of them. Currently I’m focused on a Fleischmann 709902 Bavarian locomotive that is noisy, runs well (crawl to half throttle), then moves no faster; just makes more noise. I don’t know what is “normal” for the model or what to do to fix. Where does one get manuals for out of date or even vintage locomotives?

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