crud buildup

A recent post together with an article in Model Railroader this month lead me to ask: what causes all the buildup on track and wheels? I'm not
trying to start any sort of war, but as a relative newby, I'm curious as to the cause and what might possibly be done to reduce it.
Thanks for any ideas.
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writes

There are many thoughts on this but the most common suggestion is that this is due to general dust in the air settling on the track, then collected by the wheels as they travel around the layout.
That's the simple explanation. When you add in the fact that the dust becomes electrically charged due to the voltage across the tracks, this provides further attraction of the dirt and dust to the track and the wheels.
There are as many thoughts on how to eliminate the crud. Keeping the track clean is paramount. Again there are a variety of ways of doing this. Track rubbers have the disadvantage that they tend to leave bits on the track as they clean. Isopropyl alcohol on a clean, lint free cloth is a good cleaner. Using abrasive cleaners such as glass paper can cause more problems as the abrasive can leave small scratches on the track surface which actually attract more dirt. I have found (over the past 40 years) that a 3/4" thick glass fibre stick is very good as this tends to polish the rails more than act as an abrasive.
Keeping wheels clean is also very important. Use all metal wheels if you can as plastic wheels tend to collect more dirt. For locos put a piece of cloth with Isopropyl alcohol across the track then run one set of wheels over the cloth will remove the dirt. I really found this out last week on my loft layout - what a difference it makes. For car wheels put a piece of alcohol soaked cloth across a spare piece of track then push the car along the track to remove the dirt.
As for the transmission fluid method mentioned in the MR article, I have my doubts as all you are doing is moving the dirt around. If you are going to do that here in the UK there is a product called electrolube which will do this and probably with less risk of damage to the (non track) plastic parts.
Hope this helps
--
Mike Hughes
A Taxi driver licensed for London and Brighton
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On Tue, 12 Apr 2011 16:28:27 +0100, Mike Hughes

Put something in small containers and mark it for model railroad use and make an enormous profit on it.
In the US use Wahl Clipper Oil that you can buy at places which sell electric shavers and hair trimmers jnstead of electrolube.
A lot of the crud on the track is oxidation due to sparking between the rail and the locomotive wheels.
This oil reduces it.

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On Tue, 12 Apr 2011 16:28:27 +0100, Mike Hughes wrote:

Thanks for the notes. What confuses me, I guess, is that dust is pretty easy to remove - a simple breeze will move it. It seems that the 'crud' buildup must involve more that just the dust that naturally accumulates - there must be some binder. It wouldn't seem to me that excess lubricant from locomotives would be abundant enough to do that - but I can't think of another source.

I'm a bit dubious of the transmission fluid, myself. As I understand (this has been discussed at great length on some airgun forums) the fluid is little more than non-detergent motor oil with a dye added. Adding fluid to the mix seems to me like it would provide more binder for the dust, etc. making the problem worse - but it seems to have worked for them.

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What's worked best for our club operations are a combination of attacks:
1.) I run a track-cleaning train around the layout before every operating session.
It consists (pun intended) of a loco or two pulling a single CMX track cleaning car that's loaded with mineral spirits (paint thinner). The liquid drips onto the contact pad at a rate of about one drop every ten seconds, and the moist upholstery fabric on the bottom of the pad loosens and picks up a lot of the dirt/oxidation that's accumulated on the track between sessions. (We settled on using mineral spirits as the best compromise between stronger solvents such as acetone -which clean the track a bit better but are far more unhealthy for you to breath- and water-based solvents which are much less effective and can take circa 20 minutes to dry before the track should be used. However, if you're cleaning track in a small room with little or no air circulation, the water-based solvents would probably be a healthier, um, solution.)
Trailing the CMX car are two (2) Centerline track cleaning cars that drag heavy brass rollers surrounded by coils of Handi Wipes, cut to fit. The Handi Wipe coils absorb/wipe up nearly all of the residue left behind by the CMX car, and by the end of a cleaning session both the CMX car's pad and the rolls of Handi Wipe have become filthy black; which demonstrates how much crud was on the tracks to begin with. (The Handi Wipes are replaced, and the CMX car's fabric pad is cleaned after every session.)
2.) We require that each train pull at least one "sled" car that *looks* like a normal car but which has a small ( 1" x 3" ) Masonite slab riding along rough-side down on the railheads. These serve to pick up whatever crud is deposited on the rails between formal cleaning sessions, and the sled pads also end up black by the end of a 6-hour operating sesson; which goes to show that dirt/oxidation can build up while you are operating, not just between sessions. A few quick swipes with 120-grit sandpaper serves to clean the sled blocks before the next operating sessions, and the Masonite isn't hard enough to scratch the railheads; which would cause the track to get dirty again even faster.
3.) We ask -but don't require, because enforcement would be impossible- that our members clean the wheels of their locos and rolling stock before every operating session. Most of 'em do; and it helps a lot.
4.) We encourage our members to run metal instead of plastic wheels on their rolling stock, as plastic (at least some sorts of plastic) wheels seem to get the track dirtier, faster, than do metal wheels.
When you put all of these things together we've noticed a striking contrast in how well our trains run these days compared with the "before"; with no more hesitations/stalls due to the locos momentarily losing contact with the rails. In DCC mode the difference is even more striking, and we feel that we've got the dirty track problem licked so long as we keep up the cleaning routines.
~Pete
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Stay away from sintered metal wheels. Kadee is an example. They are porous and can pick up dirt. Go only with machined metal wheels. Our club uses two John Allen track cleaners.
r
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On 12/04/2011 10:55 AM, ray wrote:

There will be lots of discussion and little agreement on this topic. ;-)
Any combination of the following will create crud that tarnsfres to the wheels:
a) smoking anywhere in the house; b) microscopic particles of oil shed by engine gear-trains; c) dust and moisture in the air; d) plasticisers in plastic wheels; e) infrequent operation; f) electrical sparking between rail and wheels (most of which is too faint to be visible); g) forced air heating/cooling (moves dust around); and finally: h) You: you shed skin cells etc every time you move, and some of that stuff ends up on the rials...
To reduce the build-up, reduce any of the above.
Do not clean track with anything (such as alcohol) that dries the rail, nor with any abrasives. Contact cleaning-lubricating material works well, as do various synthetic oils (such as the ATF mentioned in the MRR article). I've also found that wiping the track with gun-bluing creates a layer that is conductive, and for some reason less likely to attract the crud that transfers to the wheels.
HTH Wolf K.
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And require that anyone entering the layout room wear a Bunny Suit! :0)
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On 12/04/2011 11:07 PM, Lobby Dosser wrote:

[...]
[...]>
Made of hazmat cloth...
;-)
Wolf K.
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Positive pressure in the layout room also helps ...
<said while making that funny space helmet breathing sound>
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CAT FUR!!!!!
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On 13/04/2011 00:55, ray wrote:

The associated question is why only some people encounter the problem.
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