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It's all about flow. Flow of current, smoke fluid, and air.
flow - - the five-wire arrangement works best. On Franklins and
others that count on the chassis/tow-bar add a direct wire from the front
truck. A smoke coil of the correct resistance (35-53 ohms) that is
not in contact with the metal chamber is a must. Any doubts, remover
leads and measure using VOM. Adjust the location of the coil or replace
it by rewinding a new one on some fresh wick material. Smoke fluid
flow - - a soft wick capable of sustained
capillary action from tip to and through the coil is required. (I'm
talking for no jok'n it's smok'n performance). You can revive
a minorly impaired wick with alcohol, WD-40, track cleaner, etc, down the
stack (then let evaporate overnight, unless you want engine flambe).
But I've found you usually have to open the unit and inspect the wick.
If petrified with old fluid, gently unravel and let soak in a baby food
jar of isopropyl alcohol (kept safely away from flame, spark, etc.).
Rinse with water, blow dry with hair dryer. Should be fluffy again.
If too far gone, replace with 2' piece of new wick and rewind a new coil
at it's mid-point. If the wick is charcoal through the coil.
Replace the wick and coil. The type of fluid can optimize the performance
of a good wick and coil combo, but not
make up for any shortcomings with either. I like Lehigh Valley
Train Service's S-Gauge fluid best (but it's no longer made), 99.9% pure
lamp oil next best (some after odor, lace with cedar oil helps), ProtoSmoke
next best (made by LVTS for MTH), and personally find SuperSmoke too thick.
Air flow - - must be unobstructed from entrance to exit. Inspect
your system from the drive gear and bell crank through the stack.
Piston and cyclinder should be clean
and make for reliable compression of air into the hole and the forward
end of the cylinder. That hole needs to be unobstructed. The
chamber it leads into, clean and clear of dirt, fuzz, spider webs, etc.
The tiny hole from the Choo-choo chamber into the smoke chamber must also
be clear and clean. The air path through the smoke chamber should
be unobstructed as much as possible even by the wick and coil (pay attention
to that as you reassemble). Obviously the hole at the base of the
stack and the stack itself must be wide open. For SIT models, add
to these items an unobstructed rubber hose of the right diameter, material,
length, and path from the tender through the boiler shell, along with bellows
inspection, repair, replacement and routine motor care. By taking
the right amount of time, precautions, and care you can set off smoke alarms,
mosquitos with an AF smoke unit. Enjoy.