Friday, April 14, 2023

Graphite for tracks and application

Recently there's been talk about track cleaning across the forums again.

One of which has been the application and use of NO-OX ID.  Up until recently I've shied away from this process as it's a pretty lengthy process but it seems legit and a lot of modelers have had great success with this stuff.  I guess you could call me a doubting Thomas?

Applying a greasy substance to the rails, then removing it just doesn't seem logical to me.  But I understand what the material is.  My father used it on connection for his CB radios back in the day and it does help to prevent corrosion to exposed connection in the outdoors.

Well I finally broke down and gave it a try.  I followed the instructions as they were explained with only one exception;  I didn't run my locos over the layout to help spread it out and so that the wheels got a good coating either.  I have a large fleet and I didn't want to exposed them all to this if it didn't work.  So I only ran a pair of them for the test.

Well I will say that it did make a difference, but for only about two months or so, then the stalling and stuttering returned.

According to Uncle Joe Fugate and his list of Polar vs Nonpolar products, I looked into some of them and chose to use my last can of CRC-226, but it was about empty so I bought a can of WD40 Contact cleaner and started using it instead of my long time cleaner: 70% Isopropyl Alcohol.

I used one of the Woodland Scenics Rail Buddy to scrub the track, then cleaned it with the WD40 Contact Cleaner and again, things ran great.

It was about this time that I stumbled across a post somewhere about someone using Graphite on the track.  This looked interesting and after watching a couple of videos I decided to give it a try.  One of the videos was posted by Scott Thornton (One of the IAIS modelers) where he used and old section of flex track connected to power and ran, or tried run one of his locos.  Without stopping the video, he ran it up and down the section and the loco stalled and stuttered pretty badly.  

He took it off the track, shut the power down and took a stick of 4B graphite and wiped it up and down the length of the track.  After putting the loco back on the track, it ran smooth as silk without any stalling or stuttering.  I had to try this!

I started out wiping my track down with a Woodland Scenics Tidy track cleaner kits using one of the Felt Pads doused with WD40 Contact Cleaner.  I allowed this to dry/evaporate and then applied the Graphite as I had seen in the videos, just short, light strokes on the top and inside of the railhead in random places around the layout, maybe 6"-8" every 4' or 5'?

I placed the first loco on the track and applied power.  That loco did not once hesitate, it just crawled slowly away.  As I kept running it, one thing I noticed was that the headlights did NOT flicker one bit.  I added another loco and connected a length of cars and let them run several laps around the layout to help spread out the graphite.

Over the course of the next month or two I would run a train just see how well things would be.  Each time I fired up the layout, the train worked just as well as it had right after the application of the graphite.  We even ran a couple Op sessions and everything just worked.

Once day I did noticed that some stalling and stuttering returned? So I applied another light coat of graphite and things went right back to running smoothly.  After talking with a friend, the subject of dust came up.  It got me thinking that my layout is in the basement and my ceiling is open.  Got looking around and I noticed there was a fair amount of dust on the layout.  

It was decided to give something a try.  I picked up a pack of the Woodland Scenics Dust Monkeys and dug out an old gondola.  My thought was to add a hefty amount of weight to it so I could push it easier and added the Dust Monkeys as a sweeper that it would pick up any dust before it got on the loco wheels.  

My experiment worked and the loco ran just as smooth as it did after first applying the graphite.  So I let the layout sit for awhile. Then I dusted off about 12" of track, sat the gon and loco on that section and ran it.  Again, it ran very smooth!  I checked the Dust Monkey and it had two dark spots from where it touched the rails.  The dark spots were graphite, that I'm sure of, but I could also see a small build up of dust.  So it seemed to work and I planned to continue this.

But then I had another thought.  What if add another car behind the loco that would apply graphite as it rolled along behind the loco?  I was told that too much graphite is not a good thing either.

So enough of my rambling thoughts, let me just show you what I came up with for my cleaning train:

The old Bachmann gondola with buckshot for weight and a dust monkey.

An old ROCO track cleaning car.

After running this a bit I noticed the two black streaks of graphite that stained it and it gave another idea.  If I added a small amount of graphite to where the two black steaks appeared, this might help apply some graphite to the rails as it ran and also help to spread the graphite out?

Here is what the cleaning train looks like (but I had to add another loco as the ROCO adds a lot of drag).

So far over the last year or so this is all I have been using, and I have used it each time before I run an ops session.  I let it run over the layout allowing it to make several laps, for the sidings I will generally only apply a couple of swipes on the spurs.

So far i have not had the need to clean my tracks, this seems to do the trick and I will continue doing it this way until something pops up and I see issues.