I’m a big believer in methodically breaking-in new locomotives. Since there’s no definitive information from Z scale manufacturers on how to do this, at least that I’m aware of, I’ll explain my break-in method.
I recently wrote an article on this topic over at Raildig.com where I used a simple oval mounted on MDF as my break-in layout. A reader suggested a Figure-8 was a better option and after setting up my new break-in board, I agree.
The Figure-8 gives the new locomotive a complete range of motion and direction combinations: left, right, forward and backward without having to take your locomotive off the track to change direction. This seems the best way to get all your gears and other moving bits seated and happy.
My Figure-8 features broad curves at 245mm. Is there is a great technical reason why broad curves are preferable during break-in? I have to say I’m not sure, other than the breaking-in of new machinery (which our locomotives are, after all) is usually done gently.
The 245mm geometry also fits nicely on to a 2’ x 4’ surface, the dimensions in our Figure-8 graphic. Whether you use blue or pink extruded foam, MDF or tempered hardboard for your break-in layout, these materials are available at most home centers in 2’ x 4’ sizes. I use small pieces of reusable Velcro or Elmer’s adhesive tack putty to hold the track flat on my board to give me a nice, flat running surface.
In this track plan, you’ll notice that two of the track connections seem to have a small gap between them. I’ve written a pair of articles, again over at Raildig.com, that detail why these gaps appear. Both Rokuhan and AnyRail have confirmed to me that there’s often a bit of wiggle room needed when putting a track plan together with sectional track. Not every geometric possibility is available in any sectional track line, but once the track is physically assembled these small gaps average out nicely over the whole of the layout.
Now to break-in that loco, I simply run my locos for about an hour forward and then an hour in reverse at a medium speed. This gets in all the needed combinations of left, right, forward and reverse. To me it’s a simple way to get my loco off on the right foot by getting gears to seat nicely, maybe knocking off the odd bit of flash from a gear, quiet down a loco if it’s a bit noisy, etc.
I also find if a loco hasn’t been run for some time, a short refresher course on the Figure-8 is very useful. I use an hour as sort of an arbitrary period of time, but the more hours a loco puts in the smoother it will run. On my own locomotives, I’ve done the hour forward and hour reverse many times over the course of a couple of days and I find they all run smoother as a result.
Whether you use this track plan or another, you’re going to have your locomotives for a long time; it makes sense to get them started off right by breaking them in properly.