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Discussion Starter #1
I've built a 16'x3' surface to build up a railroad on for my brand new N scale steam locomotive but haven't gotten anything else (controller, track, train cars).

Today I'm hoping to get a box of track from a coworker which may or may not include a DC controller I can use until my DCC controller arrives. I figured I'd finally get to watch the locomotive roll around even though I won't be able to hear the sounds until the DCC controller shows up.

Recently I've watched quite a few videos about model trains and one of them mentioned breaking in a new locomotive by letting it run for about 20 minutes in each direction on a basic circle or oval before loading it with cars or anything else. Is this really a thing?

If so, what's the purpose, and what are the risks in not doing it?

I know on an internal combustion engine you should drive very conservative for the first few hundred miles (brand new car off the lot) in order to break in the engine and make sure the pistons and seals all are operating okay before you open it up. I can't imagine what a small electric motor would get from doing this. Help me understand please.
 

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As with any machine composed of numerous parts, there is a break-in period during which the parts settle and wear into their normal operating configuration. That's why ICE manufacturers recommend changing the oil after a fairly short period of operation.

The purpose of using a circle or oval test track and no additional load on the loco is to minimize the chance that an outside force will affect the wear-in, especially too much strain on the motor until it has.

You will probably improve both the motor life and the operating characteristics of your loco by doing this. I do, although on my regular layout, not a test track. But no, you haven't wrecked your engine if you didn't do it.
 

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Roco and other foreign manufacturers recommend 30 minutes unloaded in each direction. I follow their guidelines.
 

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I think that doing a moderate amount of break-in would be of benefit, but I don't think it needs to be strict. I do think running in both directions is important. I would also vary the speeds and accelerate and slow down at moderate rates for the first couple of hours. I would also start adding load after running it unloaded for a bit, starting with just a couple cars and adding gradually up to your normal number of cars.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Excellent answers!! Thanks everyone. I'll definitely do a half hour each direction when I do get track and a controller (soon I hope).

My poor little steam locomotive has been sitting in my house for a week just looking at me, wishing it could get on some track and run.
 

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I've never heard of a break-in period for model trains. Maybe not required for O gauge trains.
 

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I believe that the machined gears, as opposed to the more numerous nylon/Delrin variety, do benefit from a break-in. Years ago, metal drives were all that was available, and that's still the way it works in (almost all) brass. Getting the various working surfaces 'lapped' was almost required if you wanted your expensive brass steamer to work in a year or two. To that effect, people actually used jewelers' rouge and lapping compounds if they were purists. True story: they even discussed using Pearl Drops in one forum. Clean what lubes the factory installed, add lapping/Pearl Drops, run the loco at various speeds in both directions for about ten minutes. Clean, lube properly, and you should have a nice quiet, jerk-free drive for a few years.

I have had two different Bachmann Spectrum steamers, a J and the heavy 4-8-2 in C&O livery. Both were very jerky, and I finally had to dump the J. The Mountain still needs a value of 47 in CV2 to get underway in speed step 01. My BLI, Hornby/Rivarossis, and Trix locomotives all run flawlessly, no break-in apparently needed.
 
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