Rolling Stock Mods & Tips

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In this section, there are all kinds of modifications and tips, organized by the manufacturer of the rolling stock, just click on the menu subcategories on the left.

Be sure to check out the Misc. Rolling Stock section, there is some fun stuff there, like a "track sweeper" car and a  wireless "speedometer" car.

Improving the reliability of your rolling stock, in general

There are a number of factors that affect this. It's wise to check over each piece of rolling stock for the following items. It's surprising what you will find if you check these things at least once. Over time, remember that things break, and go out of whack.


Car Weight

I'm still compiling what I will use as a standard, but many cars seem to be a bit light.

What I do know now is light cars "stringline" in long trains on curves, and derail easily when backing. Weight costs money in materials, so many inexpensive cars are very light.

When I first started, I had a lot of derailing, and I started investigating. While I found many other things to adjust / repair / improve, I also found that car weight was very important.

The USAT (ultimate) cars had proven more reliable for me out of the box than Aristo and others. So I started comparing.

The USAT trucks are heavier and have the weight closer to the rails because of the SS axles and the weight of the wheels themselves.

The weight on USAT 40 foot box cars is 3lbs 1oz, the 40 foot reefer is 2lbs 14 oz.

The weight on Aristo 40 box cars is 2lbs 6oz, the 40 foot stock car is 2lbs 5oz. (they came with plastic wheels) With Aristo metal wheels, the box is 2lbs 12 oz)

That was enlightening. Subsequently, I realized that everyone changes out the plastic wheels on Aristo rolling stock.


So, I like to make the target weight of a 40' car about 3 pounds.

Scale weight is calculated by using the cube of 29 (in my scale)... either multiply or divide by it.  The number is 24389, so 3 pounds is 73167 pounds, or 36.5 tons.

Standard box cars were about 24 tons unladen, with a capacity of  up to 70 tons, so a total prototype loaded around 95 tons, which would be 190,000 pounds, which is 7.79 pounds, just for reference.


Wheel Gauge

By all means, check the gauge on your wheels! They are almost always out of gauge. I use the Aristo gauge, since it has 2 measurements, the min and max back to back. I make the wheels such that they are a bit loose on the min part, and will not go to the max part.

I'm pretty stringent on getting this just right. Since this spec is back to back on the wheels, it ignores the thickness of the flange. Why is this? Because the gauge is less important than the back to back in switches. The control of the wheels through a switch is by the guardrails, specifically the guardrail flangeway width (on the outer or stock rails). If the back to back gauge is right, and the flange width is right, then there is no possibility for wheels to "pick the frog" or mistrack through a switch.

Be sure you check over your switches to have the proper clearances and especially the correct guardrail flange width. (visit the section on switches)



Well, at first you might think sprung trucks would follow the track better. But my initial experience was that USAT cars (no springs and very little equalization) stayed on the tracks much better than Aristo (nicely sprung trucks). Read the section on wheels and trucks.

There is such a thing as too much flexibility. (Also the Aristo truck springs rust).

Make sure the trucks swivel easily, and they swivel without obstruction, this can cause derailing on curves.



The quality of your wheels will make quite a difference in the running quality of your rolling stock. Basically, the better quality, the less gunk picked up and the smoother the trains run. Read the section on wheels and trucks.


Rolling Resistance

Try rolling the car by hand. I have found some cases where poor lubrication melted the axles to the journals. Sometimes the wheels hit the body or sideframes or coupler gear. On AML cars, the coupler tang rubs on the axle.

Make sure you have lubricated the wheels. I like dry graphite/moly lubricant in plastic journals, it seems to plate itself into the plastic.

Dry lubricant also does not attract and hold dirt, grit and moisture.

On metal journals, I have had better luck with a light oil.

Also, consider replacing power pickups that use carbon brushes rubbing on the wheels. Aristo, AML and a few other make ball bearing wheelsets with electrical pickups. The carbon brushes tend to squeak and wear out if not lubricated, and gum up, collect crud, and bind in the brush holders if lubricated.


Clearances, misc.

Sometimes mysterious derailments are caused by the car actually hitting something. Be sure you have clearance for all your rolling stock. Sometimes cars can hit switch machines, switch stands, and other things. Some people have modified cars for close coupling, and not checked that a tight curve allows the car bodies to hit each other, or cars on another track.



Most of the time it is your track at fault. Get rid of vertical and horizontal kinks, bumps, dips, and twists. Get down to track level and sight along the track, eliminate any visual kinks in the track.

Many people using sectional track have a roller coaster ride for their trains. I watch the tops of my F units or the boiler on a long steam loco for rocking back and forth, which shows up track that goes up and down sharply.

Not only can this lift wheels off track (especially pilots on long wheelbase steamers) but will make your couplers go up and down which can lead to unwanted uncoupling.



Here's another place where you should strive for perfection.

Get your couplers set at exactly the correct height. If you are using Kadees, get their gauge, and set them exactly.

With less than perfect trackwork, truck mounts that move up and down under tension, and couplers that have molding lines and manufacturing tolerances, you need to set the coupler height as well as you can when the car is standing still!

Get some sheet styrene in various thicknesses if you are body mounting.

If you have truck mounts, consider making the couplers as close to the body as you can handle (constrained by your minimum track radius).

This minimizes the up/down movement of the coupler "tang", and thus less coupler misalignment. If you are using Kadees, this also allows you to set the uncoupling pin height to a more optimum level.



Click the links below to go "deeper" into details on individual rolling stock by manufacturer

AML/Accucraft   Aristo-Craft   Bachmann   GAL 
  LGB   Lionel   MDC / Roundhouse / Piko   USA Trains 
  Misc. Rolling Stock    
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