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Christmas Gift Guide

Fixing the smoke unit

Pulling apart kits for parts

Tiny chips

Bins and bins and bins

Subway car parts

Plastic trucks grid

Locomotive taken apart

Testing track

Collecting for refurbs

Shelves of refurb locomotive chassis

Inspecting the coaling tower

Testing the smoke unit

Smoke unit up close

Shelves of shells

Shelves of shells up close

Paints

Tugboat sound board

Slow season

990 bases

Bins of small parts

Bells

Motors

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The Canfield repair facility has about 120,000 parts in its inventory, meaning that it can replace almost any part on any Lionel train made from the mid-1990s and later.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A worker piles up parts he's gotten from tearing down returned subway cars.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Sitting on a repair technician's desk, this locomotive has been taken apart in order to work on its wiring.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

The repair facility ends up with many locomotive chassis that come from returns. They then hold on to the chassis and use them to build refurbished models, which they sell at a discount.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Shelves full of locomotive chassis await being put together for refurb models.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

After fixing the smoke unit on a locomotive, a technician watches it go around the testing track to make sure that it's working properly.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A closer look at the locomotive with the repaired smoke unit as it rounds the testing unit.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A close-up look at some of the shells the facility keeps for future use.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Just about any paint color that might be needed is kept on hand at the repair facility.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

One of the 120,000 parts in the facility's inventory is this one, a tugboat sound board.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

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.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

A box of 990 Legacy Command Set bases, which hold Lionel's $400 remote controllers.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Hundreds of small bins hold many of the smaller parts.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

This bin is full of small bells.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Another bin holds motors for the locomotives.

Caption by / Photo by Daniel Terdiman/CNET
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