Track Gleaming - Sanding, Bright-Boy or It Doesn't Make a Difference?

Metro Red Line Jul 15, 2010

  1. maxairedale

    maxairedale TrainBoard Member


    All three questions have been answered.

    Thanks jeffrey-wimberly
  2. jhn_plsn

    jhn_plsn TrainBoard Supporter

    Use the force(no-ox) Luke, use the no-ox.

    It can be difficult to make a decision on the use of wax vs no-ox as I am sure you have never used no-ox. If you have used the wax before you can comment and understand its effectiveness so it helps, but what about the no-ox. If you have no experience how do you come up with an educated conclusion?
    The Navy had no-ox made to protect its electrical contacts from the salt water and rust. It penetrates the rails and treats them rather than sits or coats it to protect it.

    Look in the how to area for more info and here is one disscusion from this site.
  3. Flash Blackman

    Flash Blackman Staff Member TrainBoard Supporter

  4. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    Sorry to resurrect this thread, but I'm finishing a tunnel section that has newly-ballasted track. I just went over it maybe a dozen passes each with 600 grit, 1200 grit and a steel washer. The 600 grit visibly removed the chemical weathering from the railrops (as it should) but how many passes should I ideally do for the 1200 grit and the steel washer? I don't own a microscope that is able to scan the rails to view the lack of scratches :)

    Also, how crucial is the polish process? If I skip it, would I be screwed? I don't have steel polish. I understand they sell it at auto parts stores. How much is a container?

    I just wanna get the gleaming process down right before I seal the tunnel section for all eternity by putting the foam roof layer over it.
  5. Route 66

    Route 66 TrainBoard Member

    Well I'm going to try this procedure right after work tonite,I hadn't run my trains since last November and of course the track needed a cleaning,well it is all clean the trains are running without so much as a hiccup,tonite I will burnish the track and put some polish on those rails!!! hopefully I won't have to go to as much trouble if I loose interest the next time and who knows if this works like they say,I might even be tempted to run my trains more often!!! I'll report back in after the procedure and next year if the world don't fall apart!! boy does the economy suck!!!!!!! and that is putting it mildly..............
  6. COverton

    COverton TrainBoard Member

    I believe in the gleaming process, but I have never resorted to it. Haven't seemed to need it so far. I also believe in 600 grit paper and even in Windex. For example, I have not run my trains since the spring, but I figured I should at least get any house dust off the rails before returning to the fun a week ago. I wrapped a paper towel around my forefinger and sprayed it with Windex. Wiped, turned, wiped, turned, and pretty soon, say 20 minutes, I had the tracks all done. Proceeded to run trains trouble free.
  7. CMStP&P

    CMStP&P TrainBoard Supporter

    After following this thread for a while it leaves a few questions open for me. (Not the process itself, this seems quite clear to me).

    Our tracks are usually made of nickel silver (or new silver), which is an alloy of Zinc, copper and nickel.
    It was chosen for model railroad tracks because it has a high resistance against corrosion (and a low electrical resistance) and the product of it's oxidation is conductive, too.

    Stating those facts, I would draw the following conclusions:
    1. It should not be necessary to use No-Ox (because oxidation does not matter to our tracks as oxidated nickel silver is conductive)
    2. Nor are there any other chemicals necessary that prevent oxidation.
    3. All it takes to get good performance ist to keep dust from accumulating on the tracks, thereby isolating the wheels from the track.
    4. Gleaming may be polishing the surface of the track so that dust can not easliy adhere to it and therefore there is less of it on gleamed track.
    5. To remove dirt and fat (from fingers) from the track rubbing alcohol suffices.

    At this point I'm sure that many of you will object to my conclusions. I'm too, because I use TV tuner cleaner for years now and indeed everything runs better on track cleaned by that stuff, although according to the conclusions above it should not be necessaryto use it.
    As many of you have different experiences I suspect that there are a few parameters missing in that picture:
    Humidity in train room?
    Conducts nickel silver better or worse when it is oxidated -if worse, how much?
    Amount of dust and gunk on rails?
    How often are trains running?
    Does static electricity play a role, because it attracts dust and rubbing the rails or using plastic wheels almost certainly creates static electricity?

    Wouldn't it be fun to make a scientific study about that?
  8. COverton

    COverton TrainBoard Member

    Michael, I have come to the very same conclusions, but based solely on my very limited personal experience with two different layouts, both Code 100 Atlas flex, but having the same performance characteristics over time. My trains run very reliably almost no matter what. The humidity can be a problem, but I learned with the first layout to monitor rising humidity in certain seasons or weather conditions, and to control it if necessary. I heat my house with a wood-burning furnace whose one side sits a whopping 18" from one corner of my wood-framed layout. When it runs, I actually need to run a humidifier! Today, in the fall, with typical rainy and bluster days that we get in the Pacific NW this time of year, the humidity will reach 80% or higher if I don't run a de-humidifier.

    All that aside, I believe that house dust, and perhaps some outgassing/volatiles from synthetic materials in the home/basement contribute some of the black streaking that I see at some joints or near some insulfrog gaps. I always seem to be able to restore that short piece of rail with a double gentle swipe of my 600 grit, or with alcohol. Takes 15-40 seconds to remember where they are, retrieve them, do the act, put them back, and return to power up the railroad.

    There is arcing that goes on some places, and I believe the high temps will convert whatever is beneath the drivers into hydrocarbons. Tarry crud. Goof off, paint thinner, alcohol, lacquer thinner, acetone, sand paper....they'll all work. But with NS rails, I agree, a swipe with a damp cloth or an alcohol saturated one to get the dust off them is all it should take to keep the tarry crud down and the trains running. It has been so for me to date.
  9. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    Very astute observations, sir!
    If anything would need no-ox, maybe it would have to be your locomotive wheels.
  10. Pete Nolan

    Pete Nolan TrainBoard Supporter

    I have about 1200 linear feet of Atlas C55 track in a sealed 11 x 23 finished room, heated and air-conditioned. I live in a dry environment (Albuquerque) which can be rather dusty. But dust is not a big problem in the train room unless I've been away for months. It's as climate-controlled as I can make it.

    When I finished laying track, which I did all at once over a period of a month or so, it was dirty, mostly with excess glue. I did the progressive routine--200, 400, 800 grit. At 800 grit I could not detect any scratches, so I omitted the 1200.

    Then I did ballasting and scenery section by section--which dirtied the track far more. Again the progressive routine. For more than seven years, I had no real problems with dirty track--except with switches, so again the progressive routine, this time up to the 1200 grit.

    To my eyes (and from my experience with cabinets and cars) 1200 grit is often overkill. I thought about burnishing and rejected it--any burnishing tool might have been harder than the rails, and therefore lead to scratches and gouges unless I was more delicate than I typically am. I didn't want to use a copper penny, as that would only (perhaps) leave a more oxidation-prone layer than nickel silver; I didn't want to use a harder material.

    Now, many of my engines and cars came from earlier layouts back in New England--they had crud all over the wheels. By spending a day cleaning wheels I prevented that crud from being transferred to the new layout.

    So I didn't really gleam the track--but it was clean, with much vacuuming and use of 91% isopropyl alcohol and lots of rags. I've also used acetone--with much ventilation and care.

    Now, even after a long absence, I usually just vacuum the track. I should mention that I converted to metal wheels--and they were all new and pristine.

    My premise is that once you get the track and the wheels clean--really clean--then there isn't much else to make the track dirty.
  11. Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill TrainBoard Member

    Wow, who'd have thought a simple process could be so controversial ... have applied a little NO-OX and am happy ... it leaves a gummy residue if too much is applied, so the trak is discolored ... results are good ...

    I also clean trak w/alcohol wipe after vacuuming ... all good results ...

    But this "gleam" process seems a bit overkill ... microscopic surface treatments, chemical cleaning, etc. ... Why go further than simple vacuum and wipe?

    For the record, no grit treatments, no burnishing, a little NO-OX and wipe it once and awhile ... this in a garage w/o any air conditioning ...

    It is the wheels and copper p/u in the engines that need some close attention ... NO-OX gets there when its applied and I use some when doing an engine clean-up ... but, only in the smallest amount possible ...

    As to a natural oxide forming that is conductive, the issues might be when does it form, where does it form, and how is it affected by current flow to the p/u of the engines ... wiping on some NO-OX assures formation where I want it, when I want it, and I know it works over time ...

    And its cheap ...
  12. mmagliaro

    mmagliaro TrainBoard Member

    On my current N Scale code 55 layout, I cleaned up after ballasting with 1000 grit sandpaper.
    The trackwork is about 3 years old. I would clean with alcohol or laquer thinner, but I started noticing, particularly
    in a yard which was the last piece of trackwork I completed, and had sandpapered, that I had to clean it almost every
    darn day to keep trains running smoothly through it, which was ridiculous. These are Kato steam, my own modified steam
    and even Kato E and F units that are usually rock-solid for pickup.

    Having read about "gleam" before, I decided I'd try it. I didn't use a washer. I just cleaned the rails with alcohol and then
    used a 1" square stainless steel plate (about 1/16" thick) with very smooth edges. I could drag this at a 45 degree angle
    down the track, doing both rails at the same time.

    Under magnification, the change was obvious. The railheads were spotlessly smooth (instead of showing the light scratching left by the sanding). Using a steel plate across both rails at once accomplishes something else: It burnishes the railheads,
    squaring them off dead-even with each other so the rail tops are in one perfectly flat plane. That is REALLY good for
    engine balance and pickup.
    Sure enough, the trackwork operated flawlessly and that was 3 weeks ago. I haven't cleaned the track since.
    I'm a believer.

    Another supporting bit of evidence: the trackwork behind a mountain, but not covered (so it is exposed to the same
    dust as the rest of the room), is not ballasted and was never sanded. I never had the stalling problems there. It was
    everywhere ELSE. I am convinced that anything abrasive, no matter how slight (like 1000 grit sandpaper)
    puts scratches into the surface that become dirt holders. Scratches also accelerate oxidation. Sand a piece
    of steel and leave it in the rain and weather for a while, compared to a piece you don't sand, and you'll see
    how much worse the sanded piece will rust.

    This is a whole new technique for cleaning track for me,
    but the appearance and physical properties of it make sense, and I definitely got results.

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