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How to make a toy train smoke at home

Updated April 17, 2017

Nothing is quite as romantic as the site of an old-style steam train rumbling through the British countryside. Toy train enthusiasts have been recreating this experience since 1946 when A.C. Gilbert's American Flyer trains introduced its first smoking locomotive. That same year, Lionel came out with smoking trains that used solid smoke pellets. Since then, smoke pellets have been replaced by smoke oils. Regardless of the type of toy steam train you have, making it smoke is a relatively simple and entertaining project.

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Smoke pellets

  1. Turn your smoke unit to the ON position.

  2. Drop a smoke pellet in your Lionel post-war smoke unit -- only Lionel trains use smoke pellets -- and turn on your locomotive. Smoke should appear in 20 to 30 seconds.

  3. Add another smoke pellet once the smoke ceases, if you wish to keep the smoke flowing.

  4. Drop only one or two drops of smoke fluid into your pellet-type unit, if you do not have smoke pellets. Smoke pellets can be hard to find, so this is a viable alternative. Do not add more than a couple of drops of fluid to a pellet-type unit or it will not function -- and fluid may seep onto the track.

Smoke fluid

  1. Turn your toy train's smoke unit switch to the ON position.

  2. Squeeze about four drops of smoke fluid directly into the locomotive's smoke stack.

  3. Power up your train. The faster you run your train, the faster smoke will appear. When the train is run at higher voltages or carrying a heavier load, it will produce more smoke. The engine will not create smoke when it is sitting idle.

  4. Add four more drops of fluid when smoke production stops.

  5. Tip

    Your smoke-pellet locomotive can be converted to use smoke fluid. Lionel toy trains used solid smoke pellets from 1946 until 1957, when the company converted all of its trains to smoke fluid. Smoke pellets aren't widely produced anymore, so many owners of old Lionel trains convert their pellet-type units to use smoke fluid. You can buy a conversion kit inexpensively through a Lionel authorised service centre.


    Add only one smoke pellet at a time to a pellet-type unit. More than this will overload the heater coil and result in less smoke. Always keep a small amount of smoke fluid in the smoke generator when the unit is turned on, or the generator's element may be damaged. If you want to operate your toy train without smoke, keep the smoke unit switch in the OFF position.

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About the Author

Carolyn Enright

Carolyn Enright began working as a professional writer in corporate communications in 1992. Her work includes executive speeches, annual reports, newspaper and magazine articles, newsletters and online training modules. Enright holds a Master of Science in corporate public relations from Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Arts in American studies from the University of Notre Dame.

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