Monthly Archives: September 2015

Toolbox essentials for loco repair and maintenance

Along with lots of spare parts my toolbox for Z includes:

-several variations of micro screwdrivers of the slotted type for retaining screws in locos

-guitar picks size medium .70mm for easily removing plastic loco shells

-Labelle #108 sythetic oil safe for plastics and correct viscosity for Z gauge

-small camel hair brush for safely removing dust without scratching

-tweezers of all sizes for lifting out gears and adjusting whisker wires for contact with capacitor

-GPS500 foam work station tray and organizer available on Ebay from GPS_97 for $22.49 with free shipping, it keeps your loco safe during repair and keeps parts organized

-Original Windex (blue) for cleaning gears of old oil and dirt (*not recommended for any type of painted surface or electrical components)

-Marklin 89932 Roller Bearing Stand or something similar for testing running performance of locos

-magnifying goggles (all round good equipment for lots of Z related activities)

Repairing Marklin Z locos with side rods

Marklin Z locos with side rods include examples from all three types of locos: electric, diesel, and steam. Before attempting to dismantle one of these locos please be sure of the pitfalls: usually these locos have numerous wheel sets and gears of varying size with side rods permanently mounted to two pairs of wheel sets and the challenge will be reassembly. Most of the time cleaning the wheels and a little oil will be all that is needed, but a fully cleaned and re-oiled loco is sometimes required for those trains that have either been stored a long time and have HOS (hardened oil syndrome) or run a lot and just need a deep cleaning. There are fewer service centers in the United States than there used to be and far fewer that are qualified to work on these types of locos. A long time local and exclusive Marklin dealer has never offered service on these types of locos partly due to the numerous small parts. One day I plunged in and discovered that logic bears out, and  it is possible to repair these beautiful little machines. Nothing will fly out once you have taken off the oil pan except coupler springs, wheel sets and gears may roll away so bearing that in mind keep track of each part and place in a container. Next thing to keep in mind is time, you may need to take apart and put back together again several times to make sure everything runs smoothy: side rods should have no tension when you are assembling, if they are bound up the two pair of wheel sets have not been placed correctly in relation to the distance between the axle grooves in the chassis. With the SBB Krokodil the side rods from each articulated end need to be positioned in correct relationship otherwise the loco might run well in one direction and not so well in the other. When the oil pan goes back on the following factors have to be satisfied: gears and wheel sets in correct position with wheels engaged with electrical contacts, pilot wheels were applicable need to in place, and springs and couplers installed. *Keeping it all together for attaching oil pan is a test of patience and resolve, but sometimes we have no choice but to proceed. This repair follows a logical course that will be apparent soon into the repair. Recommendation: try this repair on a less important loco in your collection to use as practice or one you bought in poor condition on Ebay. Do to the many variations of side rod mounted locos I have opted for a more general approach to this topic, for those who venture here patience and logic will get you through.

5 pole motor upgrade for Marklin Z rail buses

Changing out an original 3 pole motor with the current 5 pole motor is easy for the Marklin Z rail buses.

Parts needed: Marklin 209452 (motor) and 89881 (brushes)

Notes: The shell of all Marklin Z rail buses slide of the chassis by very gently prying off from either end (Marklin illustrates pulling shell from center, I don’t find this works successfully), but use extreme caution as not to break those parts of the shell that extend out such as the buffers. A little gently prodding and pulling will do here. Nimble fingers and magnifying goggles plus one very small screwdriver is what is needed with this entire repair. No screws are used to hold trucks and internal framework to chassis instead Marklin devised a brilliant clip system that holds each in place securely. No circuit board in this loco instead electrical contacts have been installed within the clear plastic superstructure that incorporates the two headlamps, brushes, and traction contacts.

Step by step: 1. turn loco upside down, using a very small screwdriver gently insert of with small amount of pressure lift off truck housing exposing wheel set and small gear that engages with the worm drive transmission gear: give these gears a good cleaning in a solution of Original Windex (blue) and dry thoroughly  2. turn loco right side up and remove the two brushes and set aside  3. *stay clear of couplers (the objective is to leave coupler and springs installed in chassis during entire process) with very small slotted screwdriver very gently wiggle plastic superstructure from each of the four corners: equal small wiggles to each of the four corners: plastic housing is not removed at this point, it just needs to be freed from the metal hooks of the chassis (*careful not to break the plastic!!!) 4. with the plastic superstructure slightly elevated from the metal clips on the chassis frame begin the process of pinching the plastic clips (two pairs) located one third from each end respectively: disengaging these two sets of clips will allow the plastic superstructure to wiggle free from the chassis and thereby expose the motor  5. motor easily lifts out, give the chassis a cleaning, but do not use solvents of any kind to be safe and kind to the metal finish 6. the new 5 pole motor (#209452) slips into place and reassembly takes place in reverse order Notes: 1. brushes compatible with the new 5 pole motor are 89881 2. apply equal pressure to clip mounts during reassembly 3. wheel sets will need to engage with contacts putting one side on first at an angle and then the other works well for me (the rail buses are easy because each truck has only one axle)


Repairing Diesel and Electric Marklin Z Locos

I strongly advise new collectors of Marklin Z who run their trains to learn proper care and maintenance of their locos, it is fun and the techniques can be learned. Plus very little down time for repairs if you do it yourself and more money for your collection.The beauty of Marklin Z is not only what you see on the track, but also the internal design; they are meant to be quickly and easily taken apart and periodically maintained. And should last for generations.

My tips for cleaning and repair of Marklin Z diesel and electric locos is based on techniques that have been successful for me. Rail buses plus diesel and electric locos with side rods will be discussed during another post.

Train not running and lights not on: Verify that dirty track is not the culprit by running pos/neg wires from your Mini-Club transformer to the wheels (positive runs one side of the loco and negative runs the other side) if nothing happens verify that the whisker wires from the circuit board are in contact with the wires extending from capacitor. Also verify screw is properly engaged to receive electric from the tracks in the case of locos with catenary.

Train not running smoothly on the tracks is likely caused by dirty track. My solution is cleaning track with a lint free rag dampened with rubbing alcohol. Another solution if track is slightly dirty or dusty is to use a micro fiber cloth and/or camel hair brush, my first choice is Leica Camera’s micro fiber cloth which is simply the best and can be cleaned and reused over and over again (available from B&H Photo in NYC). I also have on occasion used a micro vacuum attachment on my Miele vacuum cleaner to remove loose particles of dust. Cleaning track around catenary is tedious and difficult work!

HOS (hardened oil syndrome)- locomotive lights turn on but motor does not turn is likely HOS: Original Marklin Oil eventually hardens in less used locos, this oil hardens to a clay like mass not allowing the gears to move freely, if the motor cannot move the gears if may suffer overheating and burn-out. No way to get around a complete tear down: requires time but it is easy and fun with a bit of enjoyable music. To safely remove the shell without damage I use two guitar picks flexible plastic sized Medium .70mm placed on near front truck on both sides respectively. With very little pressure shell will slide off. The objective to not to damage the shell. Also keep hands clean each step of the way. *Tiny screws and springs get lost easily with this scale, keep a container handy to house these parts, some people I know use a jewelers apron to keep parts together and off floor. GPS97 on Ebay sells a wonderful high density foam work station for $19.95 with free shipping this is a highly recommended item for loco repair. Chassis: 1. using a tiny screwdriver push the silver axle pin out which will release the truck from the chassis. This step will be the first reveal of the hardened oil, the axles may be stuck because of the hardened oil, so a little more pressure than normal to remove those pins  2. unscrew the one or two screws that attach the circuit board to chassis  3. very gently using a very tiny screwdriver work without cracking the circuit board pry the circuit board from retaining clips in each of the four corners 4. very gently bend the capacitor and its wires straight up this will facilitate a much easier deconstruction and reassembly of the rest of the parts  5. Unscrew the slotted screws that hold the two black plastic frameworks to the base of the chassis 6. remove the two drive transmissions notating the how the brass bushings fit into the chassis *note some brass bushings have a flat side and others are completely round, the flat side always faces up and round side always faces down with the bushings that are not round all the way around 7. remove motor and set aside 8. hardened oil happens over time with the particular oil that Marklin used when your loco was manufactured, it is ever present for those pristene locos you are lucky enough to find that were in display collections only and never run. *Note: A loco when it is stored should always be wheels down when stored to help prevent oil from pooling in the gears and housing 9. separate the parts into two groups: group 1- motor with brushes, circuit board and all painted parts (metal chassis) and group 2- all screws, all gears, assembled trucks, axles and plastic frameworks from the top of the chassis that the circuit board sat on. Group 1 set aside until reassembly, whereas place group 2 in a small glass dish with enough “Windex Original (blue color)  to cover, let soak for 10-15 minutes. Note: do not touch Windex and then touch painted parts most notably the shell, although clear lacquer was applied over paint and graphics at the factory Windex more than likely will damage all painted surfaces it comes in contact with: keep Windex away from circuit board, painted chassis (not all are painted), and shell. Original Windex is a very mild solvent that is great at removing old hardened oil but it should not come in contact with Group 1. 10. carefully remove parts from Windex bath and gently dry with Bounty paper towels and let stand for a hour or two giving any of the Windex remaining time to evaporate 11. place trucks on even paper towel surface installing center gear and re-oil with the truck gears with plastic safe synthetic oil recommended for Z scale, Labelle 108, move the trucks back and forth to well distribute the oil 12. reassemble chassis in the order it was disassembled and oiling gear transmissions

Getting started with Archistories


Your first Archistories building kit has arrived: each comes in a small box or heavy cardboard envelope with an instruction booklet and multiple laser cut sheets of various colors. Some kits even come with electric motors. This kit is the Sanders water tower which can be used for both American and European prototypes, it features timber construction and open fret framework.

A special note about these kits: I have never found a typo or mistake in any of the construction booklets and the step-by-step instructions if followed in order will provide the very best results.

Assembly time varies from kit to kit: rough estimate 3-8 hours depending on building. But when the building is assembled it is done because the beautiful coloration has already been dyed into the laser cut sheets. I plan to experiment with adding weathering to these buildings stay tuned for those results.

An assembled Archistories building is like a Marklin train, you will end up holding it in your hand turning it around and admiring it for its beauty and detail, and your significant other will have a new found appreciation for your skills.

Visit Archistories and Z Scale Monster Trains websites

Excellent photographs of each building currently available depicted in stunning layout vignettes:

Each building is now currently available in the USA from Anthony at Z Scale Monster. A feature of this website shows difficulty level on a scale up to 5 stars being most difficult. A good kit to start with would of course be a 3 star kit. I have first hand experience with these kits, and I will be posting what I hope will be helpful pointers.

Introduction to Archistories building kits

I will be devoting a number of posts to an essential Z scale manufacturer from Germany: Archistories. Why? Because they are thoughtfully designed, fun to assemble and look like real buildings. And detail rich Z scale locos and cars are fully complemented by the equally detail rich buildings, gantry crane, and windmills produced by Archistories. Buy one kit and you will be hooked as I was several years ago. Now they are easy to buy from Z Scale Monster Train.

I have purchased all of the Archistories building kits, and I have built each of them sometimes in multiples. Getting started is easy, and the tools required are more than likely already in your toolbox.


Here is my list of tools:

1. freezer paper: I cover my workspace with this material available at any grocery store, the shiny side up surface is impervious to glue and allows the materials to be moved around easily

2. nail file: available also in the cosmetics aisle of any grocery store (mildly abrasive for smoothing rough edges on the card board super structure)

3. tweezers of various sizes: I use straight and angled tweezers you will understand why as you proceed with more intricate kits, plus choose tweezers that are comfortable: some have a stiff spring that I don’t think are well suited to holding fine parts. And a pair with rubber coated prongs will help keep parts from being damaged although good finesse will negate the need for these which can be hard to find on a good day

4. Xacto knife or other cutting tool:  I use razor blades that are conventionally used in paint scrapers, carpet knife and mat knife for thicker material, and sometimes a small pair of scissors available again in the cosmetics section of your local grocery store

5. heavy cutting mat: self healing cutting mat is highly recommended and is available at sewing, craft and art stores

6. glue for buildings: the manufacturer recommends wood glue, but I prefer PVA glue which is available at art supply stores (I bought mine from Dick Blick), it is a glue that is described as an archival neutral ph glue, but I like it because it sets up fast and dries fast. I have used glues like this for many years, and I would only recommend it after personal experimentation: it may not be to everyone’s taste or comfort zone.

7. glue for glazing: two options for gluing glazing to windows: 1. rough up the surface of the acetate that you will be applying white glue to, this technique gives more surface area for the glue to adhere to on a microscopic level otherwise the acetate will eventually fall off  2. UHU Kraft (I bought mine on Amazon) which is a flexible and super sticky glue that sets-up fast (working with this glue gets easier over time). I prefer the latter because the bond seems more permanent.

8. glue applicators: sewing pins and toothpicks for most detail work (apply little dots of glue when applying sills or other small details, a small brush for small panels and moving glue around openings, medium flat brush for roofing material, and syringe with very small diameter for filling gaps (I only used this once for each of the station kits where the platforms meet up with the building). *Note: a little glue goes a long way and keeping glue away from edges is the best resolve, although these glues are water soluble you will end of with staining on the paper if you try to remove spillage. And keep hands clean from glue and grease

9. magnifying goggles: extremely important (always wear: preparing parts  to assembly!!!!!)

10. light: a good even bright overhead light (natural light does not work for this task: a shadow could throw off leveling a small sill)



Archistories ZTrack Magazine Article


I recently wrote an article for ZTrack Magazine whose purpose was to introduce  Archistories of Hannover, Germany to Z enthusiasts in the United States.

This article appears in the July/August 2015 issue of ZTrack Magazine:

Several years ago Marklin released 89796 and 89797: two building construction kits of the theme “The Plant.” Anyone who purchased these sets including myself may have longed for more of these high quality buildings for their layout. Nearly five years later more are available for collectors in the United States at Zscale Monster Trains. Archistories of Hannover, Germany produced the 5 industrial manufacturing buildings for Marklin’s two sets comprising “The Plant” which also included two heavy duty flat cars with cast truck loads. Archistories worked with Marklin’s budget to produce these high quality detail rich buildings, which contrast nicely with the architecture of those now available from this company in the United States. Most Archistories buildings are modeled on late 19th and early 20th century Prussian architecture including two versions of a train station, train sheds, water towers, expandable roundhouse, railway house, gantry crane and 4 Swedish design cottages. Plus an exciting newly released operating windmill complete with drive mechanism. Archistories kits feature excellent step by step instructions which should be carefully examined before assembly, superb quality laser cut card stock yielding the very best available surface texture and detail using professional architect software ArchiCad. The tools required to build these kits are more than likely already in the tool kit of most z scalers: headband magnifier, tweezers, hobby knife, scissors, glue applicators: brushes and toothpicks, nail file, and glue. Having experience with these kits, I have become increasingly impressed with the consistent personality of them: each kit basically follows the same procedure of building out from a heavy cardboard superstructure whose pieces snap together precisely, the outer layer of stucco, brick, and roofing are glued onto this superstructure, and finally details are applied including sills and architectural ornaments. Another highlight of these kits is the attention to detail including interior partition walls and trusses installed realistically in the locomotive sheds, the Torrnstein signal tower even includes hand throw levers on the 2nd floor. The partition walls allow for realistic placement of interior lights thereby lighting specific rooms in a house for example. Plus some of the kits allow for variation in construction thereby allowing multiple versions of buildings. Intelligently designed architecture for z scale, Archistories offers another choice for the z scale modeler.

-Gary Graves