How Lionel gets broken trains back on track (pictures)
In its Canfield, Ohio, repair facility, Lionel technicians fix countless broken trains, drawing on more than 120,000 parts in their inventory. CNET Road Trip 2013 stopped by to see how it works.
Fixing the smoke unit
CANFIELD, Ohio -- For 113 years, Lionel has been making some of the most desirable and collectible model trains in the world.
Today, it manufactures the trains in North Carolina and in China. But while local Lionel dealers sometimes fix the trains, especially those made prior to the 1990s, most repairs are done at the company's customer service facility in this small town in northeast Ohio.
One of the most common repairs is fixing the smoke units on Lionel locomotives, which can easily get damaged due to leaking oil.
The repair facility's main sources of the parts that it uses to fix customers' trains are returns and starter kits it buys directly from Lionel's manufacturer. Here, a member of the repair team pulls apart kits for their parts.
Between 40 percent and 50 percent of all repair work done at the facility is due to some sort of failure by the operators of the trains. Often, owners will demand returns on trains with minor chips, like on the corner of this shell.
Surprisingly, the Lionel company didn't have a complete register of all the trucks it used in its many sets, leading it to sometimes make brand-new trucks that duplicated ones that already existed.
One of the special projects the Canfield facility has been working on is creating this physical record of every rail truck used on a Lionel train so that the manufacturer can avoid creating new duplicate parts.
When technicians finish a repair, they will usually put the now-fixed product -- be it a locomotive, or a car -- on the testing track and run it around the track for a couple of hours to be sure everything is working properly.
A technician in the Canfield repair facility works on fixing a coaling tower. He concluded it had been dropped due to a small separation in the plastic. Often, what could take a customer quite some time to fix -- or be impossible for them to do -- can take a technician just minutes.
The facility has shelves full of train shells that have been pulled off extensive repairs. The shells are then kept and paired with chassis that need only simple repairs. Often, Lionel can offer someone a shell like this at a much cheaper price than they would pay for a brand-new one.
Summer is the facility's slow season, since many train enthusiasts are doing other things. If it were high season, these shelves would be full of what are known as "major" projects, which are repairs on high-end, expensive locomotives. Lionel promises that it will take no more than 21 days to complete such repairs, but in practice it usually never takes more than six.