Thursday, 3 January 2013

Track and Wheel Cleaning

An update incorporating 12 month's experience since the original post is at
A further update showing repairs to the track cleaning tool is at It Broke and the final chapter in the saga is at Track-cleaner v3.0

I find track and wheel cleaning to be real chores but are maintenance tasks that must be done regularly if we want our expensive locomotives to operate as they should. I'm really looking forward to the day when locomotives are powered by rechargeable batteries and controlled by radio signals. Where all this will fit in a HO scale locomotive, I don't know, but I have read some articles suggesting that it's coming. However I digress.

We all have our favoured means of cleaning. I have tended to use either a cork sanding block or champagne cork saturated with white spirit for the track. For the wheels, I used a combination of  a cotton bud again dipped in white spirit and/or running the locomotive over a piece of masking tape fixed to the track. The track cleaning methods worked reasonably well but I consistently ran foul of any object that projects more than about 20mm above the track. The wheel cleaning worked to some extent but I was never sure that I had cleaned the whole wheel, and it was very tedious.

I went searching to see what might be available as a relatively inexpensive solution and happened on two products put out by Woodland Scenics to tackle track and wheel cleaning respectively. Both were purchased over the Christmas period but unfortunately Santa didn't help with either.

I though it may be useful to provide some first impressions of both tools.The manufacturer's web site provides details of each product so I won't attempt to repeat that information here. These can be found at: and 

Firstly to the wheel cleaning tool. The product was set up as per the manufacturer's instructions. Several locomotives, both diesel and steam, were cleaned but the results were inconclusive. Each locomotive had similar results. There was some slight evidence of wheel dirt on the white cleaning pads but there was also traces of dirt on the cotton wool ball (soaked in white spirit)  that I wiped over the bottom of the driving wheels after the initial clean. ( It is the white object above the last right hand driving wheel of 5131). Either the wheels of my locomotives were cleaner than I thought, or the product did not work as well as it was intended. The jury is still out and I think I may have to fiddle with it a bit to see if I can get a better result.

The track cleaner is a different story. I found the swivel handle to be a real positive although it does take some concentration to stop it slipping off the track.

There are four different types of pads provided. Two are felt and two are a rubberised compound similar to pencil and ink erasers. I have tended to use the white rubberised pads for most of my regular cleaning activities. The pads are reversible with one side grooved to allow it to follow both HO and N scale track. This process works reasonably well for code 100 track but I found that my ballasted code 83 track caused the pads to foul. The manufacturer recommends that the flat side of the pads be used to clean point work but I have found it best to use this configuration across all of my track.

The kit also includes a bottle of cleaning fluid. It does clean the pads but I don't think it will last too long. I'm not sure what it contains but I think I'll be looking for substitutes.

I believe this is a handy tool for track cleaning and it will certainly get regular use on Philip's Creek.

As I said at the start, there are many ways to clean tracks and wheels. As a final point, if you are interested in purchasing either product,  I recommend that you do some comparisons between suppliers as I found a wide variety of pricing.

Happy New Year to all.