Happy New Year Clive!
I set the clock plate on a crows foot anvil with the center wheel hanging under the anvil and then apply a little heat to the cannon pinion (not too hot) with one of those tiny butane torches. The brass pinion expands faster than the steel center post. A light tap on the end of the arbor with a brass hammer usually does the job.
There’s a discussion going on right now on another forum about using small pry bars to remove stubborn star wheels and cannon pinions. Mark Butterworth just gave a great tip. He uses paint can lid removers…those little pry bars that you can get for a few bucks at your local paint and hardware store.
TimeSavers has some inexpensive pry bars at http://www.timesavers.com/catalogmain2.asp?ProductID=23311&submit1=Search
I must confess though that I don’t usually remove the cannon pinion unless the center hole on the front plate is worn and needs a bushing. They generally don’t as most of the wear will be on the back plate nearest the center arbor pinion.
But you’re right…it’s easier to build the trains back up with the center wheel removed.
Keep having fun and try to stay warm over there Clive!