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Ask MR: Will lubrication quiet a noisy locomotive?

By Steven Otte associate editor | January 6, 2022

Light lubrication can’t hurt, but check noisy gears for signs of wear or binding

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Oil is applied to the gear tower of an HO scale locomotive
Oil is applied to the gear tower of an HO scale locomotive
Will lubrication quiet a noisy locomotive? If your model locomotive is making noise, a little light lubrication can’t hurt. But it’s more likely the noise is caused by worn or loose gears, bearings, or linkages. Check noisy gears for signs of wear or binding. Model Railroader staff photo

Q: I have an older Atlas HO scale GP7 that has developed a whirring sound in one of its gear towers when it runs in reverse (long hood forward). I’m guessing this sound may be caused by a lack of lubricant in the gear tower, or perhaps that the lubricant has dried out. Do you concur with this assessment, and if so, what type and brand of lubricant do you recommend? – Mark Masters

A: We recommend light lubrication for the gears and wheel bearings of your model locomotives, and only when necessary. Model locomotive mechanisms are machined to tight tolerances and usually don’t need much lubrication. A lot of modelers swear by LaBelle hobby oil; we suggest No. 108 plastic-compatible light oil for wheel bearings and No. 102 gear lubricant for gear towers and mechanical drivetrain linkages. You’ll find LaBelle products available in most train shops, as well as in the Kalmbach Hobby Store.

So, will lubrication quiet a noisy locomotive? It can’t hurt. But model train mechanisms ordinarily shouldn’t make noise – especially not in only one direction. Your Geep’s problem might not be due to a lack of lubrication. Considering the age of your model, loose or worn gears or bearings may be the issue. While you have your engine on its back in a foam cradle for lubrication, check for any obvious signs of wear, excessive play, binding, and loose or cracked gears. If you find anything in need of repair, contact Atlas about replacement parts or consider aftermarket replacement parts from manufacturers such as NorthWest Short Line.

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