For those of us who can't find (or can't afford) 'mint boxed' items.
Grubby models can be cleaned with household washing up liquid (e.g. Fairy) and water using a soft cloth or a cotton wool bud. Also White Spirit (Turpentine Substitute) can be useful to remove sticky label residue sometimes found on models purchased from swapmeets, but BEWARE!
DON'T USE METHYLATED SPIRITS!! This can remove factory finish paints in a trice and abrasive cleaners such as Ajax should be avoided as they can abrade paint as easy as wink!
Whatever you use BE VERY CAREFUL when cleaning models and if possible try out your chosen method on an area which cannot be seen.
Removal of unwanted paint
If you have purchased a repainted model then paint removal can be accomplished using commercial model paint strippers or such things as oven cleaner (Mr Muscle) or drain cleaner (Caustic Soda Crystals) which are basically the same thing. The trade sells items such as Modelstrip which is excellent but contain basically the same chemicals. There are other commercial paint strippers, which claim not to harm plastic but the secret is to remove the unwanted paint and to leave the factory finish.
Paint Removal with oven cleaner
In a well ventilated area spray Mr Muscle (or other equivalents) onto the model being careful not to get it on your skin (wear plastic gloves and eye protection against splashes). Once the model is completely covered with the foam, place it in a plastic carrier bag (ex supermarket) and leave for an hour or two dependant upon the amount of paint to be removed. This will remove most enamel paints quite easily but keep a close eye on the model and don't leave more than two hours before washing off under a running tap. A toothbrush or cocktail stick can also be used to remove stubborn paint but this carries the risk of removing lettering or factory finish paint too. With care, this method can remove most enamel paints and leave the factory finish intact if you keep a close eye on things and wash off all residue.
Paint Removal with caustic soda
The use of caustic soda crystals means that you can adjust the strength of the mixture and put the caustic soda where it will be most effective. Mix the caustic soda with water in a plastic tub or similar (wear plastic gloves and eye protection again!). Be careful, it gets hot! Follow the instructions but vary the strength to suit. I usually mix with water and add a drop of washing up liquid to ease the surface tension and make it stick to the model. Then apply to the model using a cotton wool bud or similar since the stuff will eat paintbrushes etc if you're not careful. If you use a brush then wash it out in clean water as soon as you've finished. The time required to remove paint in this manner depends upon the strength of the mix, but if unsure don't leave for too long, you can always re-apply.
Paint Removal with brake fluid
Car brake fluid can also remove paint but takes no prisoners and will remove all paint including factory finish. If you have a model which you can later re-paint and re-letter etc then place in a jar or other receptacle. Fill with brake fluid and wait. It can take a day or two but this will take off most paint and not harm the plastic.
Paint Removal with nail varnish remover
If you have model with some unwanted paint then nail varnish remover can sometimes be used. Apply very carefully with a cotton bud to the affected area and leave to absorb then gently rub with the bud. With careful application this method can remove paint and leave lettering etc intact beneath, but bBeware! - over zealous application to pre-painted areas can remove factory finish paints.
Paint Removal with lighter fluid
I have heard that this is also effective but have not tried it myself. However I think if you follow the rules for nail varnish remover then you won't go far wrong.
Returning to a reasonable state
Once you've removed all the unwanted paint, that some little lad put on with a yard brush in 1960, you can consider re-painting where appropriate and applying new transfers.
Many of the simpler Playcraft models can be fully restored even if they've been over-painted since the paint doesn't appear to affect the original plastic. The paper wagon labels can be removed with care and photocopied. I have successfully stripped paint off with brake fluid with no adverse affects. A great advantage of Playcraft is the general lack of transfers on some of the early wagons, which have embossed numbers etc. However the most of the Continental coaches have extremely complex paint finishes and lettering so strip them down and use the bits as spares!
Re-application of factory applied paint can be fairly straightforward using an airbrush once we've established the correct colours. These may not be the colours, which were originally applied, but their modern equivalent.
This is a difficult subject. I don't know of any Playcraft transfers available today, although Jouef used to supply transfers etc in the 1970's. Today in the vast range available there may be some which would suffice, such as the lion and wheel and the CIWL.
There is scope for these to be made at home these days with a computer and suitable software, printers etc.
See my Tri-ang web page under 'transfers' for more details
There are a few books on the subject related to scale model painting and lining and I'm sure the same techniques can be applied. If like me you want the item to appear like it did all those years ago, then it should be quite straightforward to accomplish this with a steady eye and a mapping pen with the right consistency of paint. I haven't tried this yet but watch this space.
Replacement of couplings
The original Tri-ang-type couplings had part of their structure as a plastic moulding integral with the bogie or vehicle body and cannot be easily replaced.
The Peco type couplings on the later models are held in place by a brass slotted head screw and so are very easy to replace.
Similarly the later Jouef 4-wheel wagons had the Jouef couplings held on in the same manner. However some bogie vehicles and locomotives with the couplings on the bogies had their own integral mouldings and fall into the same category as the originals, i.e. virtually impossible to replace.
There are no sources of new couplings but buying models which are beyond repair is one way of acquiring some.
Any other areas of interest which we should mention? Let me know!