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Converting Lionel 'Ready to Play' Trains to 45mm.  Click to see coauthor and photographer Mike Whitcomb's Lionel Hogwarts Express regauged to run on his Euro-themed outdoor railroad. Structures for your garden railroad. Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race and Mike Whitcomb for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Garden Railroading on a Shoe-String: An introduction to low-cost outdoor railroading.  Click to go to article.This article is part of our series on "Garden Railroading on a Shoe String" which contains links, tips, and tricks, for using low-cost approaches and products to create attractive, reliable railroads in your back yard.

In this article, we outline a method for converting one example of Lionel's current line of battery-powered toy trains so that it will run on "G gauge" (45mm) track, the kind most garden railroaders use.

Lionel's current (2019+) line of battery-powered toy trains run on 2" track, which keeps the 30,000 or so families with garden trains from running these "Ready to Play" trains on their G gauge railroads (45mm track, about 1.775").

I'm sure Lionel made that choice because their earlier line of battery-powered toy trains were all too compatible with G gauge toy trains from New Bright, Scientific Toys/Eztec, and similar companies. This way, if your first bigger-than-027 train is a "Ready to Play," you cannot currently expand your railroad empire with anyone else's product, so you'll have to shop the "Ready to Play" trains indefinitely.

Does that sound a little silly? Not if you remember that Lionel invented O gauge for exactly the same reason.

But all is not lost - at least some of the "Ready to Play" steam trains can be coerced into running on 45mm track if you have a dremel and a few ordinary hand tools.

But before we go into that, here's a quick run-down of the trains Lionel made that will run on G gauge (45mm) track.

Trains You Don't Need to Convert - Although these are all discontinued, they still pop up from time to time, especially on used markets like eBay.

  • Fallen Flags of Garden Railroading: Lionel's Track Powered Trains. Click to go to article.Lionel's G gauge electric trains, made mostly in the 1980s, were not taken very seriously by "serious" modelers - in fact a Lionel employee admitted to me that they only started making G gauge trains to attract fans to the Lionel brand and subsequently steer them into O27. That said, they had some nice pieces that I still enjoy running.

    To learn more about those pieces, click on the graphic to the right.

  • New Bright, Scientific Toys/EzTec Trains Labeled for Lionel - Before investing in their own line of toy trains, Lionel commissioned toy companies like New Bright and Scientific Toys/EzTec to make battery-powered toy trains that would run on G gauge track. If you come across these, they're of no more value than New Bright or Scientific Toys/EzTec trains of that era.

  • Lionel's G Gauge Toy Trains. Click to go to article.Lionel's G Gauge Toy Trains - About 2011, Lionel introduced a better quality of battery-powered toy trains that ran on G gauge track. These were not models by anybody's definition, but they enabled garden railroaders to set out trains for the kids to run without risking their expensive models. My favorite set of that era, the Hogwarts Express was the only version of that train that was ever built to run on 45mm track, and we have a lot of fun with it.

    To see an article on that topic, click on the picture to the right.

What Are "Ready to Play" Trains?

Starting about 2018, Lionel began releasing battery-powered toy trains in a new format. The "Ready to Play" trains are virtually identical to the earlier battery-powered line. But they run on wider track - 2" (compared to G gauge, which is about 1.775").

They are solid enough, and built to be handled by children. If you don't have a train yet, and you just want to buy something for the kids to play with, they're a pretty good deal. Especially for certain pieces, like the Hogwarts Express.

As an example, the original G gauge battery version of the Hogwarts Express (7-11808, below left) was only made for a short time . Today, used sets are going for 2-4 times what the sets cost new.

Lionel's G gauge Hogwarts Express (7-11808) in the box. Note the words 'G Gauge' prominently displayed. Click for bigger photo.
Lionel's G gauge Hogwarts Express (7-11808) in the box. Note the words 'Ready To Play' in fine print. Click for bigger photo.
Lionel's "G Gauge" Hogwarts Express (7-11808) in the box. Note the words "G Gauge" prominently displayed. Click the graphic for a bigger photo.
Lionel's Ready To Play Hogwarts Express (7-11960) in the box. Note the words "Ready To Play" in fine print. Click the graphic for a bigger photo.

The "Ready to Play" version (above right) was available in some stores for $50 after Christmas, 2019. It's still available for about $60 on sites like Amazon.

Lionel's Thomas 'Ready To Play' set is undersized for either 2 inch or 45mm track, but it is sturdy and runs well.  Click for bigger photo.I have the Thomas "Ready to Play," which I got on sale for visiting kids to play with during our "open railroads." It was more solid than I expected, much better than other brands' battery-powered toy trains. But I have to confess that I was disappointed when I realized I couldn't run it on anything but the chintzy track that comes with the thing. Turning it over, I saw that it is engineered with molded-in spacers to keep you from squeezing the wheels in to make it go on 1.775" (45mm) track.

Lionel's 'Ready To Play' Hogwarts Express.  Click for bigger photo.But our friend Mike Whitcomb, who received a "Ready to Play" Hogwarts Express, didn't let a little extra plastic (or steel) keep him from squeezing those wheels in so he could run the train on his extensive Euro-themed outdoor railroad. Mike's technique should be applicable (with minor modifications) to any of the steam-drawn trains in this class.

Caveat: This article is targeted toward people used to disassembling and working on model trains. Although this isn't a difficult conversion by model railroading standards, it does require tools, experience, and time. Frankly, if the only train you have is a "Ready to Play" set, and you lack any good reason for converting it to G gauge, you're better off leaving it set up for 2" track.

Whatever you do, don't buy one of these and imagine you'll be able to have it running on your G gauge track in one evening with no problems. Mike didn't report any major problems, but I always encounter an unexpected "gotcha." Chances are you will, too.

Since I first published this article, I've picked up a "Ready-to-Play" Polar Express. It looks like it would be a more difficult conversion. Also, I haven't had my hands on the little diesel sets yet, so I don't know how much, if any of this content will apply to them. If you try something like this, please let me know what you find.

If nothing else, read this article carefully and be certain you understand it from beginning to end before you get started. I know, I may sound paranoid, but folks who have misread or failed to follow the instructions in other "how to" articles have sometimes blamed me when things didn't work out the way they expected.

I'll gladly advise anyone who encounters a snag, but I'm not responsible if something goes sideways for you.

Visual Compatiblity

Paul speaking: Before I had the two sets side by side, I thought the new "Ready-to-Play" set looked smaller and cheaper than the "G gauge" set I owned. When I had a chance to compare them in person I realized that the passenger car bodies use the same exact mold, and that the changes to the locomotive mold are virtually imperceptible from more than a few inches away.

Comparing Lionel's battery-powered Hogwarts Expresses against each other.  Click to go to article.So there's no reason you can't, say, add cars from the new set to the old one. One friend in England has an assortment that he is planning on "slicing and dicing" to make the cars longer. Again, since the shells are the same, that's not a problem either. That said, converting the old "G gauge" cars to 2" gauge might be a little more complicated than going the other way.

Click on the little picture to see photos of my comparison.

Drive Wheel Adjustments

When you remove the bottom cover of the locomotive, you see that the "bearings" are really rectangular plastic bushings that sit in the edge of the frame. Click on the photo below to see a "blowup."

The underside of the 'Ready to Play' Hogwarts Express with the bottom cover removed.  Click for bigger photo.

The bushings aren't glued in; they slide right out.

Three obstacles keep you from just shoving the wheels closer together.

  • The inside of the wheel has a round protrusion that needs to be filed or carved off.

  • The side of the bushing facing the wheel has a little round protrusion that needs to be filed or carved off.

  • The hub of the wheel is solid - it needs to be drilled out so the wheel can slide in on the axle.

The fourth obstacle is that once you've slid the wheels in, the axles stick out too far for the connecting rod to get over it.

All of these obstacles will be addressed in detail in the following sections.

Click on this photo to see a clearer view of which parts need to be removed so you can get the wheels closer to the frame.Removing the Extra Plastic

Mike's photo at the right shows the extra bits that need to be removed so you can slide the wheels closer to the frame.

In a sense, Lionel has deliberately molded "spacers" into the design - spacers you can remove.

You can use a flat file to file down the big round bit on the inside of the drivers. Alternatively, a dremel would work.

On the bushings, you want to remove only the small round protrusion on the side facing the driver. The large round bit stays.

Try to keep the remaining plastic smooth, so the wheel can turn smoothly up against the bushing (if tight curves force it there).

Once the extra plastic "spacers" are gone, the bushing can snug up nicely against the drive wheel. But you can't squeeze the wheels in quite yet.

Adjusting Axles

The "hub" of the drive wheels is solid plastic. Choose a drill bit that is the just a tiny bit smaller than the axle and drill the axle hole until you can see daylight through it. (See below left.)

Caution: Don't drill all the way through with a wide bit or the wheels will slop around on the axle.

Mike Whitcomb's photo of a driver hub being drilled to allow the axle to protrude. Click to see a bigger photo. Mike Whitcomb's photo of using a nut driver to push the driver inward on its axle.  Click for bigger photo.

The wheel should still be snug on the axle when you're finished. Now you should be able to push the wheel inward. One way to do it evenly is to put a nut in a nut driver, brace the other end of the axle on your work surface and push it in. (See above right.)

The axle protrudes through the driver when you squeeze the wheels into place for 45mm track.  You need to trim it so the side rods can pass over it without snagging.  Click for bigger photo.Once you have the wheel set adjusted so it will run correctly on 45mm (G gauge) track (1.775"), the axles will be sticking out too far for the slide rods to slide over them.

Here's where you need a dremel with a cutoff blade. You could use a hacksaw with a very good blade, but you have to be very careful not to nick the face of the driver in the process.

Check and Doublecheck While Reassembling

Drop the assembly back into the frame, making sure the bushings/bearings are all sitting in place properly. Once the gear is engaged you can't turn the wheels, but you can visually inspect and make certain it looks like there is enough clearance for them all to turn smoothly.

There's no reason, you can't start the locomotive while it's upside down and observe the movement. Once you're sure it's going to be smooth, you can lubricate (optional) and close it up.

Optional - Lubrication - The bushings/bearings are supposed to be lubricated from the factory. But if you can't tell that they have, I would be inclined to consider dabbing just a tiny bit of Labelle #108 (light weight oil) or #107 (medium weight) where the axle goes into the bearing.

Labelle recommends the #107 for larger trains, but a local friend has been using #108 on his Large Scale trains for a long time with no problems. Come to think of it, I often run trains in cold weather, so maybe #108 would be better for me to use in this sort of application.

Both lubricants are synthetics that are safe on plastics. I'm also told they don't attract dirt as much as petroleum-based lubricants, though I haven't seen any absolute proof of that.

If the gears don't seem to have any lubrication to speak of, I would consider dabbing a tiny bit of Labelle #160 grease on the gears. Run the train (upside down) a minute, and you should see the grease working its way through the mechanism. You might need one more tiny dab of grease to be confident it is getting everywhere it should.

BTW, Labelle #160 grease includes the chemical component of Teflon, so it's considered to be better long-term than similar products from other companies.

Do not get grease or oil anywhere it shouldn't be, and wipe away any excess.

You can get a combo pack with #106 and #107 from Amazon here.

A combo pack with #106 and #108 is available here

Then screw the bottom plate back in place.

Adjust Pilot and Tender Wheels

If your "Ready to Play" train has an 8-wheeled tender, you may need to follow the instructions in the next section.

Also, I haven't seen the "General" (4-4-0 "American") in this line yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if its pilot wheels need tweaked as in the following section.

In our example, regauging the pilot and tender wheels on the Hogwarts locomotive is relatively easy, since there aren't any spacers. They only need to be popped out, squeezed into gauge, and popped back in. If you need extra pressure, you can always use the nut driver you used on the drive wheels.

Try to have about the same amount of axle sticking out of each wheel when you're finished, so the wheelset sits "centered" in the truck when it's reassembled.

Adjust Car Wheels

The passenger cars on the Thomas "Ready To Play" train should be easy to regauge. There are no spacers, so you might could just force the wheels inward until they fit on 45mm track properly. Some of the other other cars may work as easily.

However the passenger car wheels on the Hogwarts train and some of the others have spacers built into the bearings/bushings.

The axles are not supported by the truck frames - rather by a square box that sits inside the wheels. One good point of this is that you don't have to worry about shortening the axles themselves once you adjust the wheel gauge.

The following photo shows what the truck parts look like with the bottom plate removed.

Mike Whitcomb's photo of the underside of the truck with the bottom plate removed. Click for bigger photo.

As the following photo shows, trim the extra plastic back until the wheels can be pushed inward far enough to fit on 45mm track. Don't cut so far back that the bearing/bushing doesn't fit snugly into the frame.

Mike Whitcomb's photo showing where to trim so the passenger car wheels can be squeezed into correct gauge for 45mm. Click for bigger photo.

Once you have the wheels adjusted and the bushings back into the frame, you might want to lubricate them too.

Screw the cover back on. Don't overtighten the screws - they strip out more easily than you might think.

Then test the car by pushing it lightly around tight curves, any s-curves, or anything else your railroad can throw at it.

When you're satisfied, test the whole train!

Conclusion

I realize this is just one example of a "Ready-to-Play" conversion to 45mm, and the other trains may be more difficult. However we have tried to give you enough information to evaluate whether a "Ready-toPlay" you pick up will be able to be converted by a similar process.

Paul speaking: While we're on the subject of Hogwarts, I'll add two links to related articles: Click to see the history of the real-world trains that are now standing in for the Hogwarts Express, including modeling suggestions.In October, 2019, Shelia, daughter Emily, and I spent a week in Orlando, mostly visiting the parts of Universal Studios park that weren't there the last time we went. Especially the "Wizarding World" parts, and most specifically, the Hogwarts Express trains and stations.

I took lots of notes and photos that I used for an article about the Hogwarts Express, including the real-world train that inspired it and some of the models that it has inspired in turn. To see the article, please click on the little picture.

Repurposing damaged toy castles to serve as a dramatic background for a G gauge Hogwarts Express railway. Click to go to article.And for readers who noticed the castle in my "open railroad" photograph above, here's an explanation of how we tried to create an appropriate setting for the Hogwarts express by repurposing old toy castles. Click on the picture to see that article.

Please get in touch if you have any feedback, questions, or anything to add to this article. Or if you attempt this with a diesel set.

Enjoy your trains, and especially enjoy any time you can spend with your family this season!

Paul Race

FamilyGardenTrains.com


Appendix: More About Using Toy Trains Outside

Here are other articles with tips and tricks about running battery-powered toy trains outside.

Garden Railroading on a Shoe-String: An introduction to low-cost outdoor railroading.  Click to go to article.



Garden Railroading on a Shoe String
- Our lead article on "Shoe-String Garden Railroads," with many ideas and links to helpful articles.

Garden Railroading with Toy Trains, including brand descriptions, buying advice, etc. Click to go to article.



Garden Railroading with Toy Trains
- For more information about garden railroading with toy trains, including brand descriptions, buying advice, etc., click on the little picture to the right.

Click for information and tips about budgeting for a 'shoe-string' garden railroad.



Budgeting for a Shoe-String Garden Railroad
- Lists potential expenses most folks don't think about ahead of time, along with ways to reduce or skirt them with planning.

Evan Morse's Shoestring Railroading Tips. Click to go to article.



Evan Morse's Shoestring Railroading Tips
- Things that work for one Shoestring Railroader, mostly about track.

Instructions for changing a Lionel Ready-to-Play Hogwarts Express from 2



Converting Lionel's "Ready to Play" Trains to 45mm
- Lionel's current line of battery-powered toy trains run on 2" track. But they don't have to.

Lionel's G Gauge Toy Trains. Click to go to article.



Lionel's G Gauge Toy Trains
- All about the battery-powered G gauge toy trains Lionel made in the 2011-2015 period. Most are a great choice for a "shoe-string" railroad.

Comparing Lionel's battery-powered Hogwarts Expresses against each other.  Click to go to article.



Comparing Lionel's Hogwarts Express Versions
- Click for a 'hands-on" comparison of Lionel's two battery-powered Hogwarts Express trains. Here's a quick summary: the passenger car molds are the same; the locomotive molds are different.

Reconfiguring a Bachmann 10-wheeler to run without the (lost) remote. Click to go to article.



New Life for a Battery-Powered Bachmann Ten-Wheeler
- Lose the remote? You can use these tips to add directional switching to battery-powered locomotives.

Into the Woods - an elaborate trestle-based railroad in a forest, with instructions GeoCacher's can use to unlock and run a toy train.




Into the Woods
- a Geo-cacher builds an elaborate trestle-based dogbone railroad in a forest, then locks up a Scientific Toys/Ez-Tec train set with clues that fellow geocachers can use to get the train out and run it.




Click to see trains that commemorate your team!

Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains.
Click to see new and vintage-style Lionel trains

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