Now that things are progressing with the layout it quickly becomes apparent that housekeeping has to become part of the normal "operating procedures". It is also a time where trialling of labour saving devices comes to the fore.
There is an obvious correlation between the amount of track, landscaping and buildings that one installs on a layout and the housekeeping and maintenance that will follow and of course remain.
I figured that I would dedicate some posts to the often overlooked housekeeping subject and hopefully raise some conversation as to my experiences versus what methods the old hands have adopted.
To kick things off...Some time ago I purchased a CMX brand of Track Cleaning Machine. I cannot remember why i made this purchase but my ever decreasing memory tells me that it was on sale at the time and was purchased to take advantage of postage charges on a bigger order I had made from the USA...In reality it was a rash purchase just to fill the box up. Another issue which attracted me was the fact that there will be several tunnels and some not so easy places to reach when the layout is complete...so a mobile unit did have some obvious benefits.
With the amount of track being laid recently, I decided to read the instructions and give the unit a go. The unit is essentially a solid brass bogie tank wagon with an all up weight of 151 grams. The barrel of the tank is designed to be filled with a "solvent of your choice" and through a fairly sophisticated needle valve arrangement the fluid is fed to a pad that has been fitted to a solid brass sled which through it's articulated attachment to the tank slides along the track to be cleaned maintaining constant contact and the ability to cope with most undulations and irregularities in the track.
The unit comes with a quantity of spare pad material which appears to me to just be a type of lounge chair fabric with a corded feel and is cut to length and attached to the brass pad with clips which are not unlike the style fitted to some orbital sanders.
The instructions do not actually prescribe or recommend a particular solvent, leaving that decision up to the user. Some websites that I visited spoke of using aggressive types of Ketone type solvents as well as Xylene based solvents. A word of caution here after too many years of involvement in the bulk petrochemical industry is to stay well away from at least these two family of solvents in the train room environment. A quick search of the web will outline the potential dangers of these solvents suffice to say that Xylene / Toluene based products contain benzene...a known carcinogen. One web forum advocated the use of Methanol while not stating that misuse of this product can lead to permanent blindness.
Apart from the above...the choice of solvent used also has to be made with flammability of the product in mind as of course introducing a flammable solvent ( sometimes in a confined-space train room ) to a spark generating layout full of trains, lighting , signals etc etc has the potential to create large and small types of hazards.
One other issue that has to be factored in is what effect will the choice of solvent have on the layout detail, track and rollingstock. Some of the harsher solvents and their inherent vapours will certainly melt or soften some plastics and indeed some solvents will have a fairly un wanted effect on weathering...particularly all of the hard work weatherng track etc could be erased in one foul swoop... While it was not my intention to turn this post into a lesson in chemical technology...A seemingly simple purchase such as this could turn into a disaster unless simple precautions are not taken.
An up to date listing of commonly utilised solvents, solders, fuxes and chemicals in our hobby ( including plain english info and potential hazards...would be timely to be included in say AMRM at regular intervals.
So... with all of the above in mind....I chose to use Isopropyl Alcohol as a trial. Yes IPA is flammable...but it's flammability is on the low side when compared with other solvents... It is fairly inert in the vapour stakes and it is acceptable to have contact with the skin. One other factor is that it flashes off ( evaporates ) quickly leaving very little or nil residue. IPA can be purchased over the counter relatively cheaply at most supermarkets under the brand name Isocol and while this brand does have additives... the amount is minimal and certainly does not effect the usefulness of the product as a paint thinner, or general purpose solvent and cleaner in the hobby room.
I have now trialled the CMX track cleaning machine over a few days and while the engineering is first class and the theory is very natty indeed... the jury is still out. I am not sure of it's cleaning ability as apart from a peco track rubber I have not tried any other options for track cleaning over the years...so I have no benchmark to make an accurate comparison. I do wonder about the damage to pointwork should the pad catch on a blade or the unit derails...it is a heavy bugger.
So....what methods do other modellers utilise for track cleaning....I look forward to some feedback and discussion.
|The track cleaning special coming off the branch towards Fish River station.|
|Now moving onto the new sections of trackwork.|
|The CMX unit... The filler cap is located on the right of the tank ( with sealing O ring )... The other knurled knob adusts flow through the needle valve to the pad sled....The pad retaining clips are also visible.|
|The underside of the unit showing pad material and general construction.|