Locomotives do not run so well on dirty track and/or when their wheels are dirty. This is fairly obvious, you might say, and indeed it is but it is something that we singularly failed to realize until quite recently when some of our locos began to stutter and splutter around the layout.
It was at this point we discovered one of the major failings of DCC operation in that it really does need to have spotlessly clean wheels and track to work well, otherwise locos will suddenly stall or stop for no apparent reason.
Of course, running trains regularly does help to keep the track clean but, with so much work being done on our layout at the moment which, in itself, only adds to all the crud, there never seems to be much time to run trains.
One particular loco (our Heljan Class 33) was especially bad so we took it to Mikron Models in Taunton for a quick examination only to be told by them that the wheels were filthy - and there was me thinking they were fairly clean. Well, we had hardly run the loco since buying it second-hand recently and so I assumed the wheels ought to be quite clean! Anyway, the lad in the shop kindly cleaned the wheels for us and, hey presto, a much better performance from 33025! We thus decided that all of the locos ought to have their wheels cleaned and, also, that we should set to and give every inch of track a thorough cleaning. This was a fairly daunting task since we do have quite a few inches of said track!
Our cleaning operation was a three stage process:
To begin with we used one of the Hornby track rubbers to clear away any glue left behind after all the ballasting.
Then we followed up with some Goo Gone, applied with a lint-free cloth. An alternative could have been white spirit which we have also used in the past.
Next, we gave the rails a fine coating of Wahl's Clipper Oil, again applied via a lint-free cloth. This oil is a highly refined instrument oil and in fact it could be used to clean the track as well, if you want. We used it here merely as an anti-oxidizing agent to help prevent the track getting dirty again.
Please note that you should avoid using any form of lubricating oil as this will make the locos slip and is very difficult to remove once applied. The clipper oil is not actually conductive but it does coat the rails with a fine, long lasting film which prevents oxidization and promotes good contact between the loco wheels and the track.
Finally we ran the vacuum cleaner around the track in order to suck up any dust and debris lying on or near the rails.
Then we test-ran a couple of locos and they did run very well indeed so we can definitely recommend this procedure as an effective way to clean track.
Now this is done we are hoping that an occasional application of the clipper oil should suffice in keeping the track clean and the locos running smoothly.
In a future posting I will show you how we cleaned our loco wheels, again using some of the clipper oil. Yes, this is great stuff and no railway modeller should be without a bottle!