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PROBABLY THE BIGGEST headache outdoor railroaders face is keeping the rail tops clean and free of oxidation. I've been railroading for too many years to get down on my hands and knees and rub my track with an abrasive pad. My back gets too sore when I bend over to use those track cleaners on the end of a stick. And since model trains are my hobby I hate the idea of doing any work to make my railroad run. So I borrowed an idea from the famous HO scale modeler, John Allen, and devised an outdoor/indoor track cleaning car. Unlike some commercially available contraptions, my track cleaner will clean even the dirtiest track. And, now that you may find some large scale car kits for about the same price as a high quality HO scale kit, you may assemble it for about twenty dollars.

It's so simple, any beginner is capable of building one in a couple of hours. All you need is a gondola or a flatcar, some metal wheels for weight, four wood screws, and a couple pieces of 3/4-inch thick lumber.


To begin, cut the truss rods, needle beams, and extra deep section of the frame timbers from the underside of the freight car. When you're done, only the truck bolsters should remain and the six frame timbers should all be the same height.

Then cut a piece of 3/4-inch thick wood long and wide enough to fit on the deck of the flatcar or inside the gon. Set it on (or in) the car and turn the car upside down. Mark two points underneath the car along the lengthwise center line about an inch from each end. Drill a hole at each point, through the car floor and into the wood, and drive in a pair of 3/4-inch long wood screws. We're done with the car for a few minutes.


Make the pad from another piece of 3/4-inch thick wood, six inches long by 3 1/4 inches wide--long and wide enough to fit between the trucks when the car is sitting on LGB 1100 radius curves. File or power sand a radius on the bottom edge of each end of the pad. Drill a couple of holes about halfway into the pad, along the lengthwise center line, and about an inch from each end. Drive in a pair of 2 1/2 inch long wood screws. NOTE: Be sure the screw does not come out the opposite side of the pad!

Cut off the head of each screw and round off the stub. The resulting posts will slide into the car and position the pad.

Drill two holes the same distance apart as the two screws you just installed in the pad through the floor of the car. They should be along the center line, equidistant from the ends and, of course, big enough for the screws to slide in easily.

Staple or tack a length of 3M's Scotch-Brite 7414 Metal Finishing Pad (available in many building supply stores) the same width as the wooden pad and long enough to follow the curve. Insert the locating screws into the matching holes in the floor of the car.


If your track is really dirty it may be a good idea to have a locomotive or two push the car around the layout. By going first, the track cleaner will remove enough oxidation for the engine to pick up electricity. Operation may be a little jerky on the first lap or two, and you may have to offer a little assistance, but by about the third lap the engine should be on its own. Sometimes, if the rail is very dirty, it helps to polish a two or three foot stretch of track before you set down the locomotive; that way it gets a rolling start.

Then it's time sit back in an easy chair, watch your railroad clean itself, and think about your friends getting backaches polishing track the old fashioned way.


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