03/06/00 rev 01/15/07
The topic of cleaning track and wheels on the model railroad is a never ending source of discussion with marvelous "new" discoveries being rediscovered almost daily. We have our experience and solutions that work for us but certainly aren't the universal answer for all the dirty little problems in the hobby. Among the things that have come and gone on the TSL are wiping pads of various materials, fixed and rotating, passive and powered, under revenue cars and/or under special cleaner cars. Every reasonable solvent has been explored and we still haven't found the magic system in 35 years!. Not too long ago, a really new innovation hit the market and our local PMRHS club railroad quickly adopted it. The track cleaning car by CenterLine Products (CLP) combined some very excellant ideas, so good that they patented it. Their first product was a heavy cast car with a cylindrical roller in the center for HO. Wrap this roller with a piece of cloth wetted with a solvent and drag it down the track. The science is much more than that and I suggest you see for yourself at the CenterLine Products website
It worked great on the PMRHS and even better when we modified the opening that the roller drops into. The mod' consists of adding a small sheet metal wedge that puts the roller on a slight skew, greatly increasing the scrubbing action as evidenced by the dirtier wiping cloth. Unfortunately, it was not going to work on the TSL- it was just too wide! Not to be stopped by such details, we called upon the TSL car shops to use the CLP principles and build a cleaner that wouldn't wipe out trackside devices. I believe that CLP now has a narrower version although I haven't seen one. Their website has quite an inventory for various guages, so check it out. Never the less, I suspect you do-it-yourselfers that have more time than money, might want to build something similiar for your own use.
We looked around for a car that would be easy to hide the cleaner in and found an old 50 foot Athearn covered gondola with the sides that drop low in the middle. If we shortened it, and you do want it as short as possible for working on tight curves, it would hide the cleaner hardware almost completely while making the rollers very accessible simply by lifting the cover off. We used two rollers instead of the single one that CL uses because the biggest round stock in our carshops was about 3/4" and we wanted a low profile. We added one more nice feature- the W shaped piece of sheet metal (tin can stock) that drops in to support the rollers when transporting the car with the 0-5-0 crane (your hand). Sure, you can take the rollers out, but this keeps it all together.
CONSTRUCTION DETAILS: You don't get all the details from the TSL, just ideas :-) The frame is soldered together from 1/8" square brass tubing and some brass sheet stock. Coupler, trucks, and bolster were salvaged from the ends of the car and attached to the new brass frame.
The plastic gondola body was chopped down by removing the center and floor leaving just the reduced four walls. A few scraps of plastic cemented to the inside walls with MEK keeps the body on the frame. That's all you need to know- you take it from there ;-)
USING THE RAIL CLEANER: Tie a string around the wiping cloth so it won't unwind when you back up. Wet it down with Perc' or your choice of cleaning solvent and run it around. Works best between two powered diesels with all wheel pickup, but one will do. When the roller gets dirty, just lift it out and roll it between your soaped up palms, rinse with water, re-wet with solvent and use it again. As to the solvent choice, I use lighter fluid (naptha) or an industrial cleaner designed for electrical devices. Lighter fluid is readily available, but don't risk running it out of sight or in tunnels. I've never ignited it yet, but it's very flamable and it's not a good idea to be running a flaming torch around your railroad. The industrial cleaner, trichloroethane & perchlorethylene, is considered hazardous for the casual masses, so you won't find it in th retail consumer trade. In industry it's considered a "safety solvent" because it's non flammable & non conductive. A 16 ounce spray can for about $5 should last you for years. I suggest that you don't drink it or squirt it up your nose or in your eyes and use common sense ventilation et al.
I strongly suggest that you avoid any product that leaves an oil or other residue. Many of these products seem great at first, but you will find in the long term that you've created a terrible mess of oily guck on track and wheels. An old fad that keeps being "re-discovered" is Wall clipper oil and a current fad is Goo-Gone. Don't do it unless you've got a small railroad with few cars thats easy to clean up.
DRY CLEANING has not been eliminated. The Centerline cleaning car and our homemade clone have greatly reduced, but not totally eliminated the need for hand cleaning with mild abrasive devices like the Bright Boy and hard-to-find typewriter erasers. For some reason known only to the gods, isolated spots of dirty track will appear and grow in spite of all the routine efforts. Just remember to wipe the dry residue from the rail head and sweep it out of switch points and frogs. A tooth brush or a compressed air hose works well. The conveniently available compressor and hose that I use is lungs and a foot of fish tank air tubing- the same system that I use for dressing ballast before gluing it :-) Some folks worry about railhead scratchs but I've never been able to observe any problems in spite of all the theories, and the code 100 rail hand laid in 1965 has not yet been worn down enough to let the wheel flanges thump the spikes :-)
ODD THINGS: If you've been using plaster around the layout, you may find black spots growing on the rails far away from your work area. Watch them- they grow with traffic and you wonder why? Darned if I know, but a little vinegar on a rag cuts 'em where petroleum solvents won't. You might try that solvent on your cleaning car too.
G GUAGE: Visiting my son Randy in Boise ID a few days ago, we experimented with outdoor track mainenance on his Sawtooth Meadows Line (SML- just a SMaL railroad). Found that water with a bit of dish detergent cleaned the code 250 nickel-silver rail every bit as good as any other solvent and left no residue. The soapy water doesn't hurt the plant life like petroleum solvents would and spilling it on the right-of-way is of no concern. Under construction is another Centerline clone for the G-Guage. It will use a pair of two inch diameter steel rollors, 2-1/2 pounds each and a tank of soapy water dribbling on them so that we both wipe and wash down the rail. Wish I could do that in HO.
G GUAGE project: The first prototype cleaner used two 2-1/2 pound rollers for cleaning and another pair for weight. Had a chunk of 2" steel rod on the power hacksaw, so just kept cutting. Assembled the frame from 3/8" square steel rod that would fit inside a gondola and hide the works much like we do with HO version. The Bachmann Shay easily pulled the 10+ pounds up the four percent grade but two rollers made it too long. Once in a while a roller would drop on the inside of a rail on the 48" curves and if we made the rollers longer the assembly wouldn't fit in the gondola. Sawed off part of the 3/8" steel frame, reducing it to one 1-1/2 pound roller- We'll shorten the car body later. We also reduced the Grandaughters jeans to shorts using the Levi material on the roller(s). Worked great during the PNR Regional Convention layout tours in Boise until I asked grandaughter to get some more soap solution. She returned with DOVE solution from bathroom rather than dish detergent. I poured some on the roller and ceased all operations on the 4% grade! That stuff is slick- great for soft skin, but a lousy track cleaner. VBG This is successful enough that we are considering the abandonement of the planned battery and radio control, and just use conventional track pickup. 09/01/01 Nah- we didn't scrap radio and battery. Take a look at A GARDEN RAILWAY SHAY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
We'll get a picture up as soon as we're satisfied with the design.
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