Maine Central, Lamoille Valley

Maine Central, Lamoille Valley
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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Track Cleaning and CRC 2-26

I should have a number of new posts coming up. Things have been busy as I got the layout cleaned up and staged for an Op Session, which went off last night (9/28). I did manage to take some pictures this time, so look for that post soon. I also have some updates on the Groveton scene and a FOS scale structure that was fun to assemble. But for this post I wanted to mention what some of the guys in South Jersey have been doing for cleaning track.

For years I have been using alcohol in a track cleaning car to prepare the rails for an op session or open house. And I'd take the locomotives through an alcohol wheel cleaning session using a paper towel and running the loco to spin the wheels over it. Time consuming, and usually good for mainly that one time. Things would deteriorate slowly depending on how soon I ran things again, and in some cases which locos were involved. Some locos just seemed to need another cleaning right away after a session.

A few layouts in the area have taken to an extra step following this cleaning, and that involves applying CRC 2-26 to the rails and the loco wheels after they are cleaned. The reports have been very encouraging. One layout did this task a year and a half ago and has not touched the rail or wheels at all. He operates every month, and there are no electrical contact issues. It seems the CRC 2-26 helps prevent the oxidation that occurs and assists in allowing the electrical contact to be made between the rail and wheel. I'm sure there's more science to it, but for me, I'm just looking for a solution!

Here is the can of CRC-26. It is a smaller can I picked up at Home Depot. Some guys have a larger can. In front is the Homasote block I use to apply to the rails. After a little time it gets thoroughly saturated.

So, I had 2 of the regulars from the local operating crew in South Jersey stop by to assist me in doing the same for my layout.

Step 1 was making sure the rails were clean. In general my track is not too bad and is mainly just in need of a light cleaning to remove surface oxidation. We used regular rubber pencil erasers for this, to remove any oxidation without scratching the metal surface. I also have aWoodland scenics track cleaning block, and the white side is similarly soft like an eraser. Around Groveton it took a little more work as I was recently doing scenery work there. Here I used the reverse side of the Woodland Scenics track cleaner to remove glue and paint that accumulated, then finished with the smoother white side of the cleaner to finish.

This is the Woodland Scenics track cleaning block, shown here using the softer polishing side. In this section of Groveton, I had a bit more work to remove scenery residue that was not an issue throughout the rest of the layout.

Step 2 was to next apply the CRC-26. The method employed by the guys in the area is to spray a small amount of CRC 2-26 onto a Homasote block and drag it back and forth over a section of rails to put a light coating on top. Doing it you can feel how the resistance changes and generates a kind of polished feel.

Using the Homasote block with CRC 2-26 applied, lightly spreading it by going back and forth, with no real pressure.

No need to apply pressure as you are just putting a thin coating over he rails. I was able to do about 10 feet of track and then applied a little more CRC 2-26 to the block, then repeating on the next section of track. Basically it is just a feel. As long as the block still has 2-26 on it, and as long as you hit all the rail, you should be good.

Step 3 was to let this dry without running, at least over night. When you check the rail out you will see it is not bright and shiny but has a slight yellow, dull look to it. Nothing that looks odd, just not the same as perfectly scrubbed nickel silver before running  on it. This apparently is the coating of CRC 2-26 doing its thing in preventing oxidation.

Step 4 was to address the locos. Basically I used paper towels and alcohol while the engine was running to clean the wheels, letting them spin on the paper towel until the black buildup came off and the towel looked clean when the wheels were moved to a different area.

Step 5 was to apply some CRC 2-26 to another piece of paper towel and repeat the running over the paper towel to get a thin coat onto the wheels. Then let the loco wheels dry to allow the CRC 2-26 to set.

Maine Central RS-2 554 is getting an initial wheel cleaning by running over this paper towel soaked with alcohol. It helps to hold the loco and let the wheels spin. Adjust the paper towel as you go to ensure the wheels run clean. A similar technique is then used to apply the CRC 2-26 to the wheels.
One extra step I did as I restaged the layout was to run each freight car over a paper towel with alcohol. This took a while, but was the first time I cleaned any freight car wheels, so it seemed the right way to go considering I had address all the track and all the locos. No need to spread any crud over the nice clean rails!

So the proof will be in how things run I suppose. the cleaning took place in early September. As I restaged the layout, I ran some locos around and down into staging tracks, back and forth. No issues whatsoever. At the Op Session last night, there was not one instance a contact issue related to rail to wheel contact. The few issues we did have were specifically no power on the points of a turnout, and a section of a siding that was dead due to a failed solder joint on the track feeder. These were noted and will be addressed.

Of course this is a short timeframe, so we'll see how things go. I'll be restaging the layout in the coming weeks, and will also have an open house and another Op Session in November. There will be no track cleaning taking place, so it will be a good test to see how things work. But based on the numerous other layouts that are working successfully from this method, I'm confident in seeing good results.


Tom Patterson said...


I'm glad you found CRC 2-26! I started using it about four years ago now and I couldn't be happier with the results. I generally run trains every month or so, either for an op session or staging the railroad for one, and I haven't had any contact problems in years! It's amazing stuff. I also use it on locos. Whenever I put a new unit in service or have to tear down an old one, I put a light coating of CRC 2-26 on the ends of the axles and the brass fittings on the side frames that hold them in place. It sure seems to help.

BTW- the track and surrounding scenery in the photos looks great! Nice work!

Tom Patterson

Mike McNamara said...

Thanks Tom. Glad to hear such positive results on your layout with CRC 2-26. Great tip about using it on the locomotive internals, I'll definitely add that to my maintenance process!