Have a number  Newells from old P454-fs to 235-Fs, I try to keep as clean as possible but now have a problem with the 454's going into free spool. Only way to get them to work consistently is to back off the tension screw to the point that the spool becomes sloppy, or to manually flip the spool back and forth till they go into free spool. Any help on a fix would be appreciated.
So this problem developed in multiple reels at the same time? Did the problem(s) show up after servicing?
Your problem could be caused by slop in the pinion/yoke/spool interaction. After making sure everything was assembled correctly the first place I'd look would be for wear on the yoke or eccentric jack.
Pull right side plate off and check to see if the protective ring on the pinion gear has popped off.
By adjusting the "side tension," you may have put the spool in a position where it won't disengage fully from the pinion gear. Perhaps adjusting both side tension screws until the spool is centered will help solve your problem. This might work with a blackie (Was a Blackie 400-500 series made?)or P-series that has adjustments on both sides.
That is, after you've followed reel man's advice. He's forgotten more about Newells than I've learned, follow his advice first.
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