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"SuperO" Roller Wear ....... The Roller Wear Issue 10/15/2006

If you are in the planning stages of considering "Super O" for your layout and you are thinking, " I read somewhere that the thin rail on "Super O" is hard on rollers. Is this a concern?" Lets address this issue.

There are numerous comments about roller wear on the Lionel_SuperO_Track Yahoo Group. Let me summarize the findings from this group with over 575 members and hundreds of years of experience utilizing "Super O".


Like any other issue there is not a simple answer, but, lets discuss this and help you decide how to proceed. First of all, "hard steel" rollers pretty much have no more wear on "Super O" then on tubular track. The roller wear issue first developed when "Super O" was introduced in 1957 and rollers, up to then, were generally "cast" and thus soft. "Super O" did cause wear at a much more rapid pace then tubular track with the soft "cast" steel rollers. The above roller on the left is an example. Remember, trains still ran fine. Lionel just did not account for the effect that the copper third rail would have on rollers during the design process.

However,  Lionel quickly realized that they had a problem and developed rollers that were made from "solid" steel (similar to the photo on the above right). Now understand that "cast" steel is soft and "solid" steel much harder.

Did this eliminate the problem? Pretty much, YES, but remember many engines were made before the "initial realization period" during 1957 so the issue and problem persisted for many years and candidly many became disenchanted with the "roller wear" issue presented by "Super O". Track was returned to many hobby shops and replaced with "O" or "O27" track. A bad reputation is easy to get and hard to shake. Customers were just uncomfortable if a groove was in the rollers.

Was the problem corrected with the introduction of hard steel rollers during 1958 / 1959. YES. Was there still evidence of roller wear? What does one mean by roller wear? Does it matter? Any heavily used "O" gauge train will exhibit some sort of roller wear on any type of track whether it is Gargraves, tubular, Fastrack or any other under heavy use. Is it an issue of any sort?

Of those who have been utilizing "Super O" for years here is a typical response from a postwar operator, "I have been running trains on "Super O" track for 40 years and have never changed a roller on any of my engines. Sure it makes a line in the roller but who cares? The track is worth it." So, what I would take from this is that even if there is a line in the roller it seldom matters as operation is not effected. Now lets say the roller gets deeply grooved and you are uncomfortable with this, what does one do? In the unusual case where this happens just replace the roller.

Another "Super O" user says, "Super O" roller wear is kind of a myth. Rollers can wear on all types of track if it is sparking and dirty.........I have run miles and Miles on "Super O" and no ruts in my rollers. A friend was over just the other day running trains for 7 hrs straight. No rutted rollers here! Granted we changed out the power units after about 2-3 hrs of continuous run time. Even still, no issues."

Let me identify some issues that will indicate whether "Super O" is the track for you:

1) What era of trains do you operate? The shiney steel rollers (from hard steel ) of today's engines hold up with little or no wear characteristics. A friend has run many hours on many engines (pictured below) and operating cars and he has no issues. He feels if the track is clean (this means no sparking) there will be no problems. Dirt and sparking damage rollers no matter what the type of track. See below which is a mix of old and new:


2) If you are running postwar (or later) you may made want to occasionally change a roller. Simply, this is not a big deal as rollers are readily available at parts dealers. But remember, you have to run these trains a great deal for roller wear to be an issue. MOST with postwar "Super O" layouts just do not have a problem. I repeat, wear is not an issue. Below is an example of a roller a 6457 caboose that has run forever:

3) A friend who is very heavy "Super O" operator and quite mechanical is convinced that current consumption of the motor is a key issue as well. His qualitifications include 12 years as a Lionel repairman as well as his postwar Lionel trains operate many, many hours over many years on his own layout which is pictured below:


Yes, I rely on his observations. His bottom line answer, "Roller wear is interesting but just not an issue.So, if your interest is in Lionel "Super O" Track, come on in. The water is just fine!"

Contact me on eBay with questions:

Mike (hspanier@aol.com)

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