This is my Lionel Mickey and Minnie Mouse handcar project that was featured in Classic Toy Trains Magazine, October 2005,
"Halt Handcar Hang-Ups!" offered now as a free sample from Kalmbach Publishing and Classic Toy Trains Magazine. It has a Lionel electronic reversing unit in the trailing homemade ore car. Since the article was published, I made a couple of improvements by adding a weight to the front and by extending the handcar's visual length with small styrene end caps. Now the figures don't appear to be falling off of the handcar. Minnie's shoulder was a bit stiff, so the arm was removed by popping out the little "rivet," shaving off a little plastic from the joint, then replacing the arm and rivet. The stiff shoulder impeded smooth operation. Be sure the figures on any handcar move smoothly at their joints!
The weight, an oval shaped fishing sinker painted red, is wired to the front-end to provide extra traction. Also see the coupler page for an easy alternative to the front-end weight and also about adding a coupler to the rear of a handcar for pulling a load.
Cut the ends off of the weight, carefully disposing of the lead dust and filings. Take all the necessary precautions for working with lead.
The end caps are made from .030" thick styrene, then painted with acrylic craft paint.
On some handcars, there might be too much "play" between the chassis and body, so a little shim glued in place, helps to prevent gear slippage.
A lantern is easy to make from sheet styrene and clear acetate. The magazine omitted this information about the homemade lanterns.
Keep the wheels, center rail wiper/rollers, and track very clean for the best handcar performance. Most operational problems are a result of an almost invisible dirty film on the wheels, rail wiper/rollers, and track. I use rubbing alcohol to clean the wheels, rollers/wipers, and track, frequently. It only takes a few minutes of operation for a film to develop on the track, rollers/wipers, and wheels, under certain circumstances. Robert sometimes uses blue window cleaner to clean his track, and it works very well!
If you would want to operate a handcar for a buffet table, a holiday display, or other situation where you can't have wires running from a transformer or there is no available AC outlet for a transformer, regular D cell batteries can take the place of a transformer for these small motorized units. This idea can also be applied to HO trains. Newer Lionel handcars with DC can motors run on either DC or AC because there is a rectifier inside. They will run very smoothly on DC, better than on AC. Just remember to give the motorized items frequent breaks so they don't run continuously, whatever your situation. Regular safety rules still apply even with batteries! Best to use battery holders, like those from All Electronics instead of just taping batteries together with the positive end against the negative end like in the diagram above.
If the handcar's traction tire rides along the rail of an inside curve, the handcar will travel slightly faster through the curve. If the traction tire rides the rail of an outside curve, the handcar will slow down a bit on the curve. (The traction tire is on the front left wheel of Lionel O27 handcars.) So when running a handcar counter-clockwise on an oval, the handcar will speed up on the curves. It is more noticeable on tight curves, like O24 curves on flexible track. This speeding up effect may be desirable in order to add a little interest to a simple oval of track. On a figure eight tack set-up, the effect of speeding up and slowing down also adds interest to the operation without altering a throttle setting or when using a fixed voltage supply (wall transformer).