You can rest easy, knowing that this will NOT be a gross article. It’s a (surprise) model train post. It’s also NOT a marketing ploy, a sales pitch or anything else of that nature. It is, instead, just a basic review of a product that I put to use for the first time. I am so impressed with what it accomplished that I feel compelled to write an article on it. I will follow up in 90 days and let everyone know how things are working out, but based on my experiences, and reading other reviews and discussions, I’m fairly certain I will be another advocate for these products.
I am writing about Labelle Lubricants. These products are available from many hobby shops and on-line retailers; they’re actually meant for many hobbies – model airplanes, cars; essentially anything that makes use of small motors and gears can benefit from these products. And the selection of products is very large; some are general purpose, some are meant for specific applications.
I purchased 3 different lubricants that are made specifically (more or less) for model trains. I can speak to the 2 I’ve used so far, though I’m sure the 3rd would also be an excellent product. If I put it to use at some point, I’ll make mention of it as well.
This all started about 4 months ago. I purchased an Atlas MP-15 locomotive (N-Scale, of course) in the Conrail colors; road number is 9625 (model number 40003833 in their catalog). Now I’ll start out by saying this little engine is a beautiful model. I’m no rivet counter, but I’ll gladly say that I was looking forward to having this gem on my layout, and when it arrived, I was very excited. I have the DCC unit, and the decoder was already installed; I programmed the road number and put it on my test track (this was before i had my layout built up to a semi-running condition). The lights came on, and I set the throttle to 10… nothing happened. I bumped it to 20 and it started moving and screeched like a banshee. It was a horribly unpleasant sound, and I immediately stopped the locomotive. I double checked the manual; there were no real instructions except how to disassemble the engine, should the need arise. It was supposed to be lubricated already.
I tried again, double checking to make sure it was fully on the rails. It was. And once again, it screeched and shook down the rails. And I mean it really shook. Like it was lurching to move every step of the way.
So now I was not happy. This was a locomotive I wanted for my collection for a while; my son wanted to see an actual switcher on the layout, and neither of us was happy to see this beautiful looking machine struggle. I took the locomotive apart and tested it all the way down to the motor. The motor ran fine. The bearing blocks were running well, and individually, I could roll the trucks back and forth on a track with no indication of binding or struggle. In fact, i could nudge them and they rolled smoothly on a piece of track until they lost momentum.
That left the worm gear that transfers the power to the trucks. And I could see, they looked dry as a bone in the desert. So now I was pretty sure that whatever lubricants had been put on were a source of the problem; at least in part.
Some reading on-line had led me to understand that, sometimes, Atlas locomotives will arrive requiring re-lubrication, either on the bearing blocks or the work gear attached to the motor drive shaft. It’s nothing wrong with the product as a whole, but it does happen. Also, though, sometimes it was a matter that the locomotive needed a break-in period. I gave it about two hours of running time over the next month or so, and at lower speeds, the screeching wasn’t so bad, but the halting, jerky motions did NOT really improve.
I put the locomotive aside and promised I’d get back to it as soon as I could; after doing a bit of research and discussing the issue on a few forums, I decided I’d get a Labelle lubricant package as soon as my budget would permit and see if that helped any.
Fast forward to about a week ago. I had a coupon for $20 at Model Train Stuff (http://www.modeltrainstuff.com) and I figured, now was as good a time as any to get the stuff and see if I could get this desired but under-performing locomotive to work better. Besides, I also wanted some track cleaning supplies, and you never know if you might not need the oils or lubricants at some other point.
I purchased one each of Labelle 102 (Medium viscosity gear oil), 106 (Plastic-compatible grease) and 108 (Multi-purpose oil, light). When they came in, I immediately took them downstairs and sat down with the little locomotive, hoping this would do the truck. I disassembled the trucks (since the bearing blocks seemed fine, I didn’t worry about those for now) and made sure I could see the work gears inside of the frame.
I cleaned the gears that were exposed on the truck (I didn’t take it all the way apart; I didn’t want to go nuts right away) using a small piece of paper towel, then proceeded to apply a few drops of the 102 gear oil to the exposed gears on each truck. I rolled them back and forth on a segment of track, wiped the track down with some Isopropyl alcohol (to make sure nothing in excess ended up on the rails) and reassembled the locomotive.
I double checked everything and put it on the rails; she fired up and started moving. It was smoother, but there was still a bit of that annoying screech. OK, well, the oil seemed to help the gears on the trucks a bit more. They were OK when I got it, but it seemed a bit smoother. Maybe that worm gear needed something as well.
This is where I got out the second product, the 106 gear grease. The instructions say to put a small dab of it (they said pea sized, but I used a bit less since I have n-scale) and to move the gears so that it coats them evenly. Then I put a dab on the worm gear. There’s no real way for me to turn it, but I figured that running might help it work into the gear a bit. I reassembled the locomotive again (really just putting the trucks back on) and took it back over to the layout.
WOW! The screech was still a tiny bit there, but it was dramatically reduced. I only heard a touch of it as I went over 65% on my throttle. I had read the instructions, and it said after running it a bit, apply one more small dab to the gears that seemed to be the issue, and run it again.
So I took it apart one more time, put another small dab on the work drive, reattached it, and went back to the table. Smooth. No screech. The locomotive was gliding along with almost no sound whatsoever. HOLY COW, THIS WORKED!
Now understand, folks; I am a novice to a lot of this stuff. I made it my goal to learn how to operate my models effectively and efficiently. I knew about cleaning the track, and the wheels whenever possible. On small scales like N, this is especially important because the contact areas are tiny. That being said, I had never done a lubricant job on a locomotive before. Well, not effectively, anyway. I had one other engine that I’d tried to do this with about 4 years back, but the dust that built up in that apartment so often never helped the situation much.
But to get this locomotive and cringe about the noise made me fearful that it was about to happen again. Nope! I know now, the first thing to try if I have issues in the future is to clean the wheels, clean the gears and apply the lubricants I have. And chances are this will resolve everything. I’m not saying that there aren’t other things that can contribute to an engine having issues, but if you get halting, jerky motion accompanied by undesired sound, you may be suffering from inadequate lubricant on the moving parts. Check that first.
Now the 108 light oil I didn’t put to use, but if I understand it correctly, this is the stuff I’d use for axle issues and for the bearing blocks inside of the locomotive (the ones that the drive shaft from the motor spin in). Since I didn’t try that as of yet, I’m not going to say anything one way or the other. But again, I’ve read that the product is brilliant and having seen the quality and effect of the 102 and 106 product, I’m inclined to trust it should the need arise.
Now folks, I’m going to repeat this here. I am not being paid to review a product; I didn’t get any offers for a free product if I write up a review. I went on advice from a few people and put out the money to buy these products. Well, sort of. That $20 coupon made the cost about just the shipping and nothing else. I would consider it a great buy even without that coupon though. $20 worth of product and a locomotive is running super smooth. You can buy these products individually, or as a pack; when I went shopping for them, the packs were all sold out, but the difference in price was pretty much nil. I will tell you this; you can search all you want, but I will use this product from now on whenever maintenance is needed.
In a few days, I will follow up on the engine and see if I have to apply a bit more of the grease. One person said it might be a good idea since it takes time to work it’s way in everywhere, but he also said to make sure I don’t over-grease it. So I’ll check it, apply a bit more if needed, and run it as much as I can. In about 3 months, I’ll post an update on this about my further experience.
However, if you are experiencing issues with running, especially small scale locomotives, do not hesitate to check this stuff out. Again, the products are listed below, and I bought mine from M.B. Klein on http://www.modeltrainstuff.com
- Labelle 102 – Gear Lubricant
- Labelle 106 – Grease with PFTE
- Labelle 108 – Light Oil
The price for each is normally $9.69, though it’s less on the M.B. Klein site. If you get the kit pack, it’s $29.07 (again, less on M.B. Klein) but even if you can’t find the kit, it’s a difference of about $0.08. Not really a concern.