Spring Cleaning

Time to clean!
Time to clean!

It is spring here at my El Paso home in the Chihuahuan Desert. Spring in the desert means windy days and wind kicks up the dust in extraordinary amounts. The HVAC was recently serviced with a good scrubbing of the A/C coils and a new filter installed. Dust gets into everything here, even into closed cupboards. The Wheeling Freight Terminal had a coat of dust accumulation from the last couple of years. With an operating session set for this week, it was time to take action.

We have a vacuum with a long hose and a brush attachment. I used this to scrub away dust from all track and flat layout surfaces. I was glad there is no layout scenery so I could vigorously scrub the surfaces. The layout is sectional so freight cars were rolled off of a couple layout sections to enable a clear cleaning area. It did not take long to realize the scrubbing was overdue. The work went quickly. I concentrated on a foot square area, using the vacuum brush in one direction then scrubbing the same area with the brush moving 90-degrees from the original motion. I snapped a few images to share. Here’s a layout spot where the dust remained. It’s the light area to the right of the pencil.

Dust area
The lighter area in the center of this image shows the layer of dust on the layout. The surrounding areas have been vacuumed.

Before moving the freight cars back onto the newly cleaned sections, a piece of cork was rubbed over the rail heads to remove dirt. I use wine bottle corks that are cut lengthwise into a half cylinder. No fluid was applied, although I have soaked the cork face with 90% Isopropyl alcohol to clean the track a couple of times. Usually the dry cork face is enough to remove the light film that accumulates between monthly sessions. A few corks are kept handy for track cleaning.

Wine corks for track cleaning
Wine corks for track cleaning! The flat side can be scrubbed over rough sandpaper to remove built up dirt.

Once the rails are clean, the freight cars are rolled back onto the refreshed layout sections and another couple of sections are cleared. The work took less than an hour for my 10×16 layout.

After cleaning the track and moving the freight cars back into position, I applied a drop or two of Aero-Car Conducta Lube & Cleaner to the back of the switch points and to the hinges that connect the point rails with the closure rails. This helps keep an electrical connection in these mechanical connections.

Applying conducta lube and cleaner
A drop or two on moving points of track switches improves operation.

The layout was now much cleaner. I took one more step to combat dust that comes from the air vent. I bought a pack of vent filters and installed these to reduce the dust that comes into the room via the air duct. This shoots right out over the layout, so I hope these filters cut down some of the particles. I’ll check these at the end of May for dust accumulation.

vent filters

With the layout cleaning and prepping complete, I can focus on the clerk inventory lists for the inbound and outbound freight cars. It’s a simple task of writing down the car type, railroad initials, and car number in the order they sit on the various tracks. I’ll determine the car destinations tomorrow and add them to the inventory so the layout is ready for the op session.

the crew
The happy crew, hard at work moving the freight.

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8 thoughts on “Spring Cleaning”

  1. This is great. Good idea for the cork as cleaner. Have to try that now. Another good reason to buy wine as well!

  2. Conduta Lube is a fine product; i use it in locos and on other moving parts. I never use it on track where its oil base will combine with dust to form gunk. For lubrication and electrical conductivity on moveable track parts use powered graphite (Kadee Grease ’em).

    Plan ahead for vacuumable scenery. Have removable buildings with roofs which can be cleaned. Glue in place vegitation which can have its dust shaken off. Be willing to replace scenery items which become really grungy. And keep those car tops clean – no fingerprints.
    Dick Bradley

  3. One word – Catbox. Okay, so maybe that’s really two words. Clumping litter does what it should when the cats make their contributions, but the dust is terrible. If I could move it to another place in the house I would in an instant.

    What I use to vacuum is a nylon stocking (wife’s old knee-high) rubber banded on the end of the tube. Any detail parts that get caught in the suction will end up in the stocking. I brush the structures with a very soft dusting brush and follow along with the vacuum hose.

    The cat litter causes that sort of dust you have pictured, every two weeks or so. Ugh…

    But I love the wine cork idea! Definitely using that one.

  4. Re the use of corks, having done this twice now in prep for operating sessions, a couple of thoughts.

    First, the idea works great. Amazing how much “crud” (technical term) comes up with a simple rub down of the track. No rough surface to wreck the rails and no chemical odor.

    Second, I started with the cork whole and just kept rotating around to get a clean area. When that ran out, we split the cork to create two “half rounds.” Flat surface worked fine, but I actually found the round “outside” surface was a little bit better.

    Third, you have to be careful around points in switches so as not to drag the points and break the switch. For this, the easiest approach imho was to use the end of the cork on one rail at a time. This also worked (once the thought had occurred to me, that is) on grade crossings and the like where the cork would otherwise drag on something other than the rail head.

    Lastly, and just a thought but I found working with two corks at the some time was most productive. One cork to clean the rails and one to mark where I had stopped on different tracks so that I could come back and pick up where I had left off.

    1. Thanks for the extra tips, Joe! As for working around switchpoints, any cleaning there must be done with care. I often only rub the cork through the points and not against them so I don’t catch the points on the cork. The use of any track cleaning item around switchpoints should take the time to clean those rails carefully. – Eric

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