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Model Railroading > Cleaning HO brass track

Date: 06/12/03 09:47
Cleaning HO brass track
Author: tobym

I have a large amount of old HO brass track that I have acquired over time. Some of it is in good condition but quite a bit of it has been badly tarnished and I would like to know if (a) it is worth salvaging and if so (b) How? There are a large number of turnouts as well as curves and straights. I bought some Wright\'s copper cleaner because I read somewhere that copper cleaner works on brass [The label confirms this.] But the label also says you need to wash the item clean both before and after applying the cleaner. Somehow the words "soap + water" and "HO track" don\'t seem to belong in the same sentence. I thought about following the directions and then using a hairdryer to remove all the moisture. Is this something I should consider or am I looking for trouble? Thanks in advance for any feedback.

Toby in AZ

Date: 06/12/03 10:37
Re: Cleaning HO brass track
Author: spfanatic

Scrap it and go nickel silver. There\'s no getting around this as it is a simple matter of physics. The oxidation of brass is a nightmare. It impedes electrical flow like crazy and you\'ll spend more time cleaning your track than enjoying operating. Don\'t forget, you will also have your share of electrical (i.e. wiring) problems. Don\'t exacerbate it with brass.

Date: 06/12/03 11:06
Re: Cleaning HO brass track
Author: tcnr

Brass track is the worst thing for the hobby that anybody ever came up with. My two cents says absolutly do not use brass track, far too much maintainance, cleaning and bad electrical problems. Flex track with fiber ties could be a close second. Very important to not have to go back and re-do so many meaneal tasks instead of just switching on the power and running some trains.

Date: 06/12/03 12:19
Brass Track / Switches
Author: rcfarewell


Back in the old days I acquired a huge pile of no. 8 and no. 10 brass HO Tru Scale switches at a swap meet. When I built my current basement layout (not too damp, not too dry) I used (hand-laid) the brass switch parts. My mainline rail is code 83 and some code 100 N/S. Yup, there is a bit more oxidation from the brass rail, but there\'s also a bunch of the black crud that builds up on the N/S over time as well. What I\'m saying is that NOTHING is exempt from the crud. The solution: I just make a single pass with a pair of track cleaning cars before I operate and the problem goes away, at least for that run session.

I think the real issue here is how to combat the black crud. FWIW, my track cleaning cars have a working surface that is made of pieces of masonite (backside down) that run on the rail head with an adjustable weighting mechanism, all hidden in a couple of old Athearn 50\' boxcar bodies. The boxcar bolsters and wheelsets keep the cars centered on the rails while they are pushed around the layout. I can\'t say what works for others but this works very well for me......and has for about 26 years!

Rich Farewell

Date: 06/12/03 12:28
Re: Cleaning HO brass track
Author: kenw

Seriously I would consider selling it to a metals reclaimer. Cleaned brass track will just corrode again, and again, and again, seemingly quicker each time. It\'s just not worth using.


Date: 06/12/03 12:32
Re: Brass Track / Switches
Author: tobym

Thanks Rich - After I posted the question, I visited my local dealer and he said all I needed to do was to lightly scour the top of the rails with a #500 sandpaper or emery paper and replace any old railjoiners [which I was going to do anyway] as well as take a small wire brush to the rail ends to make sure that the joiners get a good connection to the rails. I guess I will give the copper cleaner to the wife for the pots & pans.

Toby in AZ

Date: 06/12/03 12:54
Re: Cleaning HO brass track
Author: jdb

You might be able to use an eraser or 600 wet/dry emory paper on the top surface of the rail but you are building a huge maintenance problem into your layout if you use the brass rail. No matter how much you clean it, it will want to get back into the oxidized condition you see it now. If you absolutely have to use it maybe it would work for spurs where you are pushing cars into and not running the locomotives on it.

To tcnr:

"Brass track is the worst thing...."
A couple of weeks ago I would have agreed with you without hesitation but then I saw something. I was at the local hobby shop when a fellow came in with a piece of TYCO snap track and was complaining that his engine wouldn\'t run on it. The rail was the dull oxidized color of aluminum. Turned out it WAS aluminum rail. I\'ve never seen anything like it. The metal was so badly oxidized that it was 100% insulation. You had to scratch both leads of an ohm meter into the rail to get any kind of continuity. Rail joiners wouldn\'t cut into the web of the rail enough to get good contact.

(I started with brass rail and fiber ties. Once in a while a piece works its way to the surface of my junk box. The metal staples that clamp the rail to the fiber are rusting loose. It was great when N/S came along because you could spend more time running trains than cleaning track.)


Date: 06/12/03 13:02
Author: kenw

I\'ll bet the track you saw was steel, not aluminum. aluminum track would be very easy to bend and cut, and I\'ve seen steel HO track more than a few times.

Date: 06/12/03 13:49
Re: jdb
Author: tcnr

You\'d be surprised to know that I\'ve had some of that stuff too. I\'m a happy puppy with all the quality modeling supplies that we have available now a days. Atlas code 83 and Shinohara switches, that\'s where I\'m at.

Date: 06/12/03 14:57
Uses for Brass Track
Author: stivmac

Actually, as posted above, brass track is great on little used spurs where you don\'t need electricity to flow. You can also model abandoned right of way with it. The oxidation looks enough like rust to work ok. It could also be used as a flat car load for MOW for making a shoofly. Beyond that, as far as using it to run a train on, what\'s the phrase? Fuggedaboudit! Of course, with enough, you could melt it down and cast your very own set of brass balls!

Date: 06/12/03 15:07
Re: jdb
Author: csxt4617

kenw wrote:

> I\'ll bet the track you saw was steel, not aluminum. aluminum
> track would be very easy to bend and cut, and I\'ve seen steel
> HO track more than a few times.

I bet it was steel too. I think Tyco used to put
steel track in their trainsets.

Date: 06/12/03 15:14
Re: brass track
Author: rdsexton

csxt4617 wrote:

> I bet it was steel too. I think Tyco used to put
> steel track in their trainsets.

Yep. I have some...

Date: 06/12/03 15:50
Re: brass track
Author: jdb

It could have been steel. I\'ve never seen any rail like it.

Back when I started (MCML) locomotives were made of a pot metal that was called zamac. (sp?) You let the stuff set for thirty or forty years and the casting sometimes became powder. This rail looked like it was going to become powder. I would have considered steel if it had been rusted but it just looked powdery. I was able to put a deep scratch in it with meter leads. Even doing that I couldn\'t make good electrical contact.

It was snap track on plastic ties that was very similar to the snap track in use today.

I\'ve dealt with low voltage electrical circuits all my life and I\'ve never seen any metal that was supposed to conduct electricity that looked like that.


Date: 06/12/03 17:09
Other uses on the layout
Author: willdevl

I can think of other uses on the layout where brass track would work fine after the ties are removed:
1. bent & soldered for track-end bumpers: very prototypical. I\'ve got some made just that way; you can buy these ready-made but why since you\'ve got the materials.
2. Cut into 39 foot lenghts made a great work-train flat car loads.Got a car like this too.
3. The prototype railroads used old rail for all kinds of things: telltale stucture, sanding tower supports (CNW had lots of these), crossing lookout tower supports.
4 Again the 39 foot sections strewn trackside with a section gang at work.

so don\'t scrap it all; you\'ve got useful stuff there

Date: 06/12/03 17:21
Re: Other uses on the layout
Author: csxt4617

You can also use it as fences and for sign posts,
especially crossbuck sign posts.

Date: 06/12/03 18:32
Brass? OK by me!
Author: trainman

Am I the only one if the world successfully using brass and steel rail along with nickel silver? Close to half my mainline is brass and one of my hidden yards is brass. I don\'t clean brass or steel any more often than nickel silver - usually once every three to five years on the main, and the hidden yard hasn\'t been cleaned since it was built in 1989 or 1990. I don\'t use cleaning cars, and I have plastic wheels on 95% of my cars. Yet I rarely have a stall, or a derailment. Why?

I have a clean, dry basement with a finished ceiling. But lots of other modellers have clean, dry basements with finished ceilings or at least plastic sheet stapled under the joists. I don\'t smoke or allow anyone else to smoke in the train room. Lots of other modellers don\'t smoke. I clean my engine wheels if they need it. Lots of other modellers clean their engine wheels if they need it. I oil my rails about once a year. Do other modellers oil their rails? No. And that is why they have problems with brass, steel, galvanized iron, aluminum, stainless steel, and yes, even nickel silver track.

Oil is used in the electrical industry to suppress arcing in contacts that break the flow of electricity, such as switches and relays. If they didn\'t, the arcing would soon destroy the equipment by eating away the contacts. Turns out that engine wheels also are contacts, and when they break contact with the rails, such as by running over dust motes, they cause arcing. And arcing, when it occurs between clean, dry wheels and clean, dry rails, causes pitting in both the wheels and rails. The metals that are eaten away leave non-conductive oxidized particles, "dirt" if you will, on the wheels and rails. If the rails have a coating of oil, even if it is only a few molecules thick, arcing is suppressed. The wheels don\'t get pitted. The rails stay "clean", at least in the electrical sense. The oil also helps gather up the dust, making it cling temporarily to the wheels, from where it is shed by the wheels running on the rails. As long as the oil is replaced occasionally, the track stays clean. Too much oil will cause lots of problems, loss of traction being the worst. But just enough to supress arcing has vitually no effect on traction.
This has worked for me for over a third of a century.


Date: 06/13/03 07:22
Re: Uses for Brass Track
Author: wabash2800

stivmac wrote:

> Actually, as posted above, brass track is great on little
> used spurs where you don\'t need electricity to flow. You can
> also model abandoned right of way with it.

I agree. A friend of mine has some in a stub yard where only cars are stored and the engines don\'t run on. It works fine.

Date: 06/13/03 08:59
Re: Brass? OK by me!
Author: tobym

Thanks trainman for the feedback. What kind of oil do you use? My dealer said that there was/is an article in one of the mags that suggested the use of automotive tranny fluid to keep track clean. He also suggested that I use a little WD40. Since I already had some WD40, I tried it on some test track last night and things seemed to work a little better. I also found that the wheels on the locomotives have some accumulated crud that I need to clean off which I am in the process of doing. I am building a 14 x 11 layout in my living room in a hot dry climate [Phoenix AZ] above ground in an air-conditioned [no swamp cooler] block and frame house. I haven\'t laid any track yet, I am just in the planning stage and have all this old brass track that I can either use or not. Sounds like it might be salvageable if I want to put in the time to clean it. Also sounds like I will have to be prepared to maintain whatever I put down whether brass or NS, new or old. I really appreciate all the info y\'all have provided. It sounds like everyone has had a different experience with track but the common thread is that it needs to be maintained properly for it to work as intended. Thanks again for all your input. Hopefully others can use it as well.

Toby in AZ

Date: 06/13/03 12:34
Re: Brass? OK by me!
Author: trainman

On my HO layout, I use Singer Sewing Machine Oil. This is very similar to the Wahl Hair Clipper Oil usually reccommended. Both are a very light petroleum based oil with no additives. I put four or five drops on a clean rag about 4" square and squeeze it a dozen or so times to spread the oil through the rag. Then I wipe the rails with the rag. If the rails are really dirty, you can use more oil on the rag to clean them, followed by wiping with clean rags to remove most of the oil.

On my garden layout, where oil makes the difference between being able to run on aluminum rail or having to buy brass or nickel silver rail at up to five times the price, I use Air Tool Oil. This is a light, petroleum based, additive free hydraulic oil, only slightly heavier than the water thin sewing machine oil. I usually put one drop on each rail every fifty feet of track, then run a train backwards over it a few times to spread the oil. We do the same on our group\'s large scale show layout. That amount of oil will keep the trains running for a weekend (15 to 20 hours of running.) If we oil too frequently or if one of the members decides that if one drop is good, a little squirt must be better, then we have traction problems.

Before convincing the other fellows to use oil on our large scale show layout, we had to clean track every couple of hours, and arcing was pitting wheels to the point that the engines wouldn\'t run properly even with newly cleaned wheels and rails. After we started using oil, our engine wheels magically went from dull and pitted to shiny and mirror bright within a days running. In H0 scale, it may take a little longer because the weight is less, so if you try oilled rails with engines that have been arcing away for years on dry rail, clean the wheels the best you can and then give it some time to work. You will be glad you did.


Date: 06/14/03 09:24
Re: Brass? Still not OK by me!
Author: tcnr

Good info about the Singer Sewing machine oil, I had heard about the Wahl Clipper oil but understood that that was hard to find. There has been so much grief about brass rail I still suggest staying away from it at all costs. Something as fundamental as this just doesn\'t seem to be worth the extra effort. G\'luck.

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