At Your Approved Service

by Joseph Stachler

There was a time, when the vast majority of operators of Lionel trains, used Approved Service Stations to get trains repaired. Most of these operators were kids, and they didn't know how to replace worn brushes for a motor, or re-wire a locomotive with frayed leads. Jobs that today seem simple to most. Those who stayed in the hobby are adults now, and are quite capable of repairing and maintaining their trains. Many find doing repairs to be just as relaxing and enjoyable as running the trains themselves.

Lionel, through the years, has offered a line of special tools designed for specific tasks relating to the trains and accessories. These tools enabled the repairman to more effectively service just about every piece made.

Many collectors of train items try to focus on a specific area of production. For instance, there are collectors of Lionel paper such as instructions sheets, dealer order forms, and catalogs. Other areas include original boxes, a specific gauge (Standard, O, OO, HO), era of production (Prewar, Postwar, Modern Era), and every variation of a certain model such as 6464 boxcars.

Another interesting area of collecting is Service Station items. These were not offered to the general public, so the production numbers are quite small, making them extremely rare. It's not just the collectibility that makes the service station items so desirable. Many operators today are able to repair their own trains and accessories. So having an item such as an E-unit spreader tool is beneficial from a maintenance perspective as well.

Between the collectors and operators, Lionel Service Station tools are hot items. So hot, in fact, that when they make an occasional appearance on eBay, there is nary a dull moment in bidding. Items such as a simple set of screw drivers can fetch over $500.00. Below is a list of many of the tools and an explanation of what they do. Some prices quoted are based on sales recorded on eBay, which can be very high for these items. Click on the thumbnail images for larger versions of each picture.



Made in 1938 only.
Enabled the testing
of Standard Gauge,
O and OO equipment.

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First produced in 1939
to test most Prewar
equipment, including
2-rail OO.

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First Postwar tester,
used for O and 027
trains and most

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Produced for a very
limited time, it had a
trade-in offer when
you bought a 5f.

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The rarest, smallest and
least useful. It was used
to test the electronic set's
transmitter and receivers.

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The last tester was
built for O and HO

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Testers (also known as test sets) are the kings of Service Station tools. Like their vast line of transformers, Lionel also had a variety of testers. These were designed for the repairman to test the various operating features of many locomotives and rolling stock. Inside the case was a small transformer. On top was a short line of track. The track included remote control sections for testing operating cars and operating couplers. The testers also featured an AC voltmeter which gave the repairman a good idea of an item's operating power range.

E-unit Repair Tools

e-vice1.jpg (130404 bytes) There were two basic repair tools for the mechanical E-unit. The first was the ST-303 Spreader. One end was wider which enabled the repairman to spread the metal sides of the E-unit that held the rotating drum in place. On the other end was a hook which made replacing the drum and turning it much easier by hand. An original spreader is worth about $50.00. The ST-378 Vise was used to hold the E-unit. The front bar was spring-tensioned which allowed some give when the sides of the E-unit moved to incorporate a drum or contact assembly. An E-unit vise is worth between $200.00 and $400.00. st-303-1.jpg (65164 bytes)

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Driver Tool Sets

Lionel offered a set of ST-300 Nut Drivers and ST-325 Screw Drivers. These are basic tools that operators who do their own repairs can certainly find at a hardware store. Collectors, on the other hand, prefer the original items and so they remain on constant watch for them. The two sets of tools come in special metal stands. Each handle has the name Lionel heat-stamped in the side along with the individual item number. Both sets can fetch as much as $600.00 each, if the stand is included.
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Press & Rivet Sets

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It is quite a luxury to have a full set of rivet tools and a sturdy press to effortlessly apply them as needed. The Lionel ST-350 Riveting Set came with a giant press and fifteen various roll clinchers, anvils, and punches. Re-attaching handrails to a piece such as the 53 Rio Grande Snowplow is much easier with this set-up. The various clincher tools were fastened in the top part of the press, called the ram. This came down when the operator pulled the handle forward. A rivet anvil was inserted in the bottom part, called the anvil holder. Other Lionel parts such as binding posts could be easily replaced with the special anvil tools.

The ST-350 press had several variations, the most significant concerned the color: some were painted blue and others were painted red. Experts believe the blue version was a Postwar item and the red version was produced during General Mills' early years of controlling Lionel. Both versions have builder plates that read "The Lionel Corporation". Another variation concerns the design of the press. Over time, reinforcing ribs were added to the body of the press. The neck of the red version was made thicker and the ribs were removed. The press and tools were made by Chicago Rivet & Machine for Lionel.

Pete Sansone has been working for Chicago Rivet & Machine since 1973. "The headquarters were in Bellwood [now in Naperville], Illinois, but the factory is in Iowa," he says. "We still offer the exact same products. You can buy the press for $340.00 or all the rivet tools with it for $780.00." The individual tools range in price from $31.89 to $72.34. Customers can request the tools be marked with the Postwar part numbers beginning with the ST-prefix.

Collector Charlie Sigadel adds, "the 1975 run of red presses have a serial number lightly embossed into the name plate. The serial number begins with "915-". 915 is Chicago Rivet's number for the press. These presses did not include a tool block. The tools came packed in a cloth bag. Chicago Rivet modified the mounting lugs on their 915 press. So a newly made Chicago rivet press is easily differentiated from the presses they made for Lionel. Older tooling for the rivet press had the numbers embossed right into the metal of the tools. MPC era tools had the numbers etched in place. I purchased some extra tools from Chicago. Although mine were marked with Chicago part numbers, the lettering appeared to differ from what was used on my MPC era tools, so I imagine that an experienced collector could differentiate a replacement Chicago Rivet tool from an original."

In 1992, Lionel Trains, Inc. briefly got back into the service tools business.

"We made those for Lionel service stations back in the 90s," says Carl Burchett, founding owner of Hobby Horse Products in Kendallville, Indiana. "I've been making the same press since 1976."

"One day Mike Braga of Lionel called and wanted to use the manual I had written for the tools which details how to use them. I said why not just sell the whole set? So Lionel had us make some for them, and they wanted us to add things like the logo on the side. The 15-piece rivet set were the same types of tools as the original ST-350 had. I'd say the production run for the Lionel press was close to 750. At the time, Lionel offered one for each service station and they could buy another one for resale to consumers."

The LTI-1000 has a much wider mouth than the ST-350 press which enables repairmen to fit a lot more items in it. There is a return spring which brings the handle back to the open position. Additional tools were produced by Carl which can facilitate repairs for Lionel, American Flyer, and Marx trains. Hobby Horse also makes a number of accessory tools that expand upon the base set that Lionel offered. Many of these tools will work in the Lionel press. The 82-page repair manual was written by Carl in 1990.

"Our press was made especially for toy trains," says Carl. "We continue to make them today, without the Lionel logo, of course." The model number of the press is HH-1000. A catalog can be ordered by sending $4.00 to PO Box 543, Kendallville, IN 46755.

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Wheel Tools

pullers.jpg (235639 bytes) Wheels are probably the most difficult components for a repairman to deal with. Pulling a wheel off a locomotive is easiest when using the ST-301 or ST-311 Wheel Puller. The action is similar to a corkscrew. There are two jaws with small claws to grip behind the flange of any Lionel wheel. Two different sized pins fit in the center of the puller. The sizes are based on the various axle thick nesses. It's tough going at first, but once you get that initial turn of the handle, the rest is simple, and the wheel comes off. One weakness of the old wheel pullers is that one of the claws can snap off if a wheel is too stubborn. Lionel made replacement jaws available. There are several variations as seen in the image at left. The early ones often have a jaw broken, and no replacement part is available. The more modern wheel pullers today are quite affordable, usually going for no more than $75.00. st-311.jpg (30191 bytes)
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If you take a wheel off, you must put one back on. This is extremely difficult, especially when dealing with steam locomotives because you need to have the side rods in perfect synch. Also, the other side of the locomotive must have the drivers "quartered" (the drivers on the one side are positioned 1/4 different from the other side). Large steam locomotive wheels such as the ones for a 773 Hudson must have the pressure applied evenly to ensure it sits on the axle straight. At the same time, pressure must evenly favor the center of the wheel or it will snap in half.

To help with both requirements, Lionel developed an extensive set of wheel mounting tools. These were shaped like small cups and were used with the rivet set press. The ST-375 Wheel Mounting Tools comprised of an axle mounting bit and eight different cups which covered all of Lionel's Postwar locomotives. A special adapter sleeve was also included to be used with the cups and slightly smaller wheels.

Hobby Horse also made a set of wheel cups for the LTI-1000 press.

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Other Tools

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Several different track pliers were produced to assist with tubular track. They made pulling pins out of track or inserting them a cinch. Great for stripping wire as well. The end of the pliers had a hole drilled through so one could reform the track in a cleaner tubular shape if it got bent. You could also crimp the pin in the track if it was loose, thereby improving an electrical connection. Original Postwar track pliers did not come with insulation on the handles, but as operator John Palm notes, "you really have to add grips because the bare metal tears your hands up." The track pliers were offered to the public starting in the early 50's along with most set instruction sheets. Variations of the pliers are quickly identified by the lettering on the fulcrum. st-384.jpg (46449 bytes)
Spring Adjuster

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The ST-302 Spring Adjusting Tool was another specialty item. A lot of Lionel equipment relied on flat springs for electrical contact or mechanical operation. Many of these springs lost some tension due to wear or disassembly. The spring adjusting tool allowed a repairman to reach in a tight space and gently bend the spring as needed to re-apply tension. st-302.jpg (38503 bytes)

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The ST-323 pictured was designed for HO equipment. Lionel HO motors could be completely disassembled. This almost always meant the magnet would lose energy. So this helpful machine quickly re-energized the magnet and the motor could then be successfully re-assembled and operated.
Repair Manuals

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Lionel published an extensive set of repair manuals for most of their products. They included exploded diagrams and parts lists for many locomotives, rolling stock, accessories, track and transformers. Handsome sturdy binders were available as well. Over time, supplemental sheets were sent to service stations for products as they were manufactured. What was nice about those repair sheets compared with the ones Lionel offers today, is that in addition to the exploded diagrams and wiring schematics, each item had basic descriptive text and informative repair tricks. Greenberg and K-line both offer books that include the Postwar repair manuals.

Greenberg also offers a book of Modern Era pieces going up to 1992. Even if you are strictly a Postwar operator, the Modern Era book is worth looking into because it includes diagrams of re-issued products that Postwar Lionel never made repair sheets for. These include the ballast tamper, crossing gate & signal, and several others. The Modern Era sheets also provide part numbers of components that are interchangeable with Postwar items such as armatures and trucks.

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Another repair manual option is to download the complete modern (1970 to the present) repair manuals off of Lionel's website for free. They are in .pdf Adobe Acrobat Reader format, which is printable. Olsen's Toy Train Parts has produced a very nice CD-Rom of Lionel items including many from the Prewar era. Custom-drawn exploded diagrams are provided for items Lionel hadn't previously created. It is very easy to navigate through as items are categorized and all you need to do is click on a category or type in what you are looking for. All pages are also printable in full 8.5 X 11" sizes.

Just For Fun

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If you're going to collect as many service station items as you can find, you might as well be on the lookout for extra things such as door stickers and clocks. Lionel over the years has issued many different official stickers for authorized service stations to place on front doors. Illuminated signs have also been produced. The one pictured at top left is quite different from the traditional neon versions which are so memorable. The sign below was recently sold on eBay for $1,725.00.

The clock at the top right was offered to dealers only. The item number is 6-1076 and features interior illumination.

Recent display products have been produced as well including a Modern Era service station clock, several different posters and illuminated signs.

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Note: many images on this page were saved from auctions found on eBay. Credit for most images appears next to the item. If you are the owner of any images on this page, please let me know, and I will be happy to give you credit for it. All original Postwar service manual scans are courtesy of Jugle Archives.

This article could not have been written without the assistance of many people, especially Ron Frey. Thanks also to John Palm, Carl Burchett, Tony Walis, Timothy Gaughan, Jerry Kijek, Les Prangley, Charlie Sigadel, and Bill Williams.

April 28, 2003