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Wheel Cleaning


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Providing you've done all you can to construct your garden layout to a satisfactory standard, there are two main tasks that need to be undertaken regularly in order to achieve reliable operation. One is to ensure that the rails are kept clean and the other is to ensure that the wheels of your locomotives and rolling stock are also clean. A garden layout and its rolling stock requires much more frequent cleaning than an equivalent indoor layout, especially if your garden attracts lots of wildlife, all of which seem to enjoy depositing their business along your tracks.

Cleaning the rails is achieved by using a good quality track rubber to remove any tarnishing, and brushes/cloths to remove stubborn deposits and bird droppings, and while that in itself may often be sufficient to keep things moving, I find it best to then use a purpose designed track cleaner filled with a suitable cleaning fluid to further clean the rails and assist electrical continuity. For that task I personally use a CMX track cleaner filled with Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA).

Cleaning a locomotives wheels takes far less time than cleaning the rails but is often overlooked due to the general awkwardness of the actual process. Most of the commercially available products at the cheaper end of the market usually require the locomotive to be inverted before cleaning can be carried out which in itself can be fraught with danger. The aid of a foam cradle is advisable to help prevent any damage in these circumstances.

I've previously used a Peco wheel cleaner/scraper connected to my layout power supply where you invert the loco, apply the scraper to a wheel on one side of the loco and the brush to a wheel on the other in order to rotate the wheels and clean away any accumulated dirt. You can achieve good results doing this but as I've said, it can be awkward.

I also have a Woodland Scenics 'Tidy Track' Roto wheel cleaner (photo below). Connect the wheel cleaner to your transformer or track power supply, place a loco on top and when you apply power the loco wheels are turned and cleaned. It's the method I've been using recently only I've found that the powered rails appear to dirty in a similar way to the rails on your track and sometimes require cleaning themselves. A power cord with 2 crocodile clips on the ends can be connected directly to your transformer or to the rails of your track or the wheel cleaner can also be simply placed on a length of straight powered track. The advantage with the Roco Wheel Cleaner is that it is long enough to enable you to clean all the wheels of your locomotives at the same time.


My latest acquisition has been the Trix 66602 Locomotive Wheel Cleaning Brush which is very similar in design to the Gaugemaster GM60. I couldn't find a retailer who had the GM60 in stock so opted for the Trix version instead. With the Trix cleaner, you simply place the unit on a length of powered track, lightly place the wheels of your loco on the brass brushes and apply power using your transormer/controller to gently clean the wheels. This wheel cleaner can only clean one bogie at a time but you can connect cleaners together to make a longer version should you wish. It is important with this type of cleaner not to apply undue downward pressure which could result in the brushes scratching the wheels.


I will probably continue to use both the Tidy Track Roto wheel cleaner and the new Trix wheel cleaner, either method being preferable to ones where you need to invert the locomotive in order to clean its wheels.

Do you use any of these methods or are there better options available that I have yet to come across?

EDIT: I have no connection with any of the companies mentioned nor am I paid to promote any of the items featured in this post - for the avoidance of any doubt 😃


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Hi Mick,

A great thread, thanks. I've been using a pair of the Trix wheel cleaners clipped together for quite a few years now, I find them excellent. However they are only good for driven wheels! For non-driven wheels, I have used an American tool called a Bachrus "Wheel Doctor" - expensive! Not that great to be honest, it's okay but not that easy to use, not that effective. A much cheaper and simpler solution sounds to have been described here: http://cs.trains.com/mrr/f/88/p/171971/1888899.aspx#1888899

Post number: 3 by "Allegheny 2-6-6-6" - quote: "

I've never seen that particular wheel cleaner work but a while back I had the pleasure of visiting Ken McCorry's Conrail layout which in itself is a marvel of HO railroading but while touring the railroad I kept noticing these metal clips here and there that seemed to be holding a wiper of some sort.

This has to be one of the most ingenious pieces of model railroading I have ever seen Ken fabricated small wire clips that hold down yup, you got it small pieces of parer towel. As the trains pass through the fixture the wheels are wiped clean of any gunk that may accumulate on them. Every once in a while the clips are removed and new pieces are slid into place and the old one's discarded. Having them placed in various places places throughout his 5000 sq.ft. layout he told us he has zero problems with dirty wheels I can't imagine it cost Ken all of maybe a few cents worth of material to solve a problem. If the rivet counters or railroad purist among us are concerned with how it looks you always have the option to put the wipers on hidden trackage or possibly inside a removable portion of scenery etc. Real modeling genius "

If that were me, I may occasionally dribble a tiny bit of Limonene, IPA or similar onto the pieces of paper, certainly to start with but it does sound an excellent and cheap way of cleaning wheels.



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