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Locomotive Cleaning, Lubricating and Maintenance

Club member Cameron asks this question:

“I have a number of steam and diesel HO scale locomotives of varying quality from different manufacturers. I’d really appreciate some hints on cleaning, lubricating and correct maintenance procedures of engines before I stuff things up. Thanks.”

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10 Responses to Locomotive Cleaning, Lubricating and Maintenance

  • Steve Berlinersays:

    For dusting I use an old lens cleaner with brush. They have a lens cleaning device on one end and a slide out brush on the other. The bristles are soft enough to not break off little pieces, but stiff enough to remove most dirt from little crevices.

  • Ian McPhersonsays:

    Soft makeup blending brushes for du.sting

  • Robert Mooresays:

    I like the cheep option, Paint brushes.
    I buy them at art stores or craft sales
    and touch them to a damp paper towel.

  • Sheldon Clarksays:

    I like all of the cleaning suggestions. As for Lubrication & Maintenance, I would first of all check the instructions that came with the locomotives; if they aren’t available, try the manufacturers’ websites or email them. One of the problems is that each manufacturer tends to recommend different oils and/or greases for N Gauge than for 00 or H0 mechanisms, and different manufacturers make different recommendations.

  • Billsays:

    Less is more when it comes to lubricating your loco’s. If you really want to do this then you are going to have to open the drive system(s). Clean the internal gears (I use isopropyl alcohol soaked Q Tips). Make sure no strands of the Q Tip remain and allow to dry. When dry apply very sparingly plastic compatible gear grease.
    For diesels you should remove the wheels and thoroughly clean the axles, bearings and the truck assembly. Here usually only oil is used but because they are somewhat open dust and dirt get drawn in form “gunk” that does no good. When this clean and dry reassemble and put one drop (max) of oil at each bearing.
    For steam locos do all the above then add lubrication (oil) to the side rods any where it is attached to a point that turns or moves. Remember this is what is driving all bur one wheel on each side.
    Depending on how much you run your trains this should be good for a couple of years if your environment is fairly clean. Check them periodically, if you see black “gunk” building up you are due to at least repeat the oiling portion.
    For dust removal from the loco’s surface I use a soft brush and hold a vacuum hose close to where I am cleaning so the dust doesn’t fall back and get into the trucks that I oiled.

  • Craig Inghamsays:

    All good suggestions. I use a light oil on bearing surfaces. Metal gears require a heavier gear lubricant. I would strongly suggest plastic compatible lubricants since most, if not all have plastic near the point lubed. An inexpensive lube is synthetic 5 weight auto lube. . Before lubing, check for a buildup of “gunk” on the bearing surface. Clean well with light oil and a clean rag. A bunch of Q-tips is good for this cleanup. Caution on leaving cotton or lint fibers on surfaces. On gear teeth, an old tooth brush is handy.
    Non compatible oils can attack plastic, paint and decals. Use caution. Also, oil wilL fly off turning surfaces so minimize excess. If you get oily finger prints on model, wipe with a lint free soft cloth. It can be wiped off if done soon after application.

  • David Stokessays:

    All good guys – soft paint brushes for removing surface dust – natural hair watercolour brushes are best for light work, stiffer oil paint for more stubborn grime. Alcohol (iso or meths) is the best solvent for greasy grime but use sparingly. Any of the plastic compatible oils used in absolute moderation for lubrication.

  • JBHsays:

    Plenty of good advice there. Here is a DON’T – DON’T use WD40 on your locos it will gradually destroy the plastic!

  • Barrie Morgansays:

    Be careful with the ISO Alcohol on external painted surfaces as I have had it lift paint and it will some times leave watermarks on black matt paint.
    If the body shell is dirty and can be separated from the chassis, I have some times given it a wash in luke warm water with a dash of very mild detergent and a soft brush to tease (never scrub) off finger prints or accumulated dirt in crevices and corners. Rinse in clean tepid water and let dry on a paper towel. No, I have never had problems with losing decals.
    I use oil and car polish remover to get gunk off cogs, bearings and wheels. I purchased it from the local auto parts supermarket. It doesn’t harm plastic and is better than the ISO Alcohol for shifting old gunk.
    I usually do a full strip down when I buy a second hand loco and put all the pieces (cogs, drive shafts, wheel sets and anything that has been oiled or greased) in a jar with this cleaner, some times whole bogies.Put the lid on and swill all the parts around for a minute or until all the dirt, grease oil etc is flushed out. I then lay everything out on a paper towel and let it dry. Use cotton buds and wooden tooth picks to move the baked on stuff. All this sounds brutal but it works for me. The little extra time to do a full strip and rebuild is worth it as it gives me a chance to see how much the loco has been used and what parts if any need to be replaced.
    Don’t forget the motor. Remove the brushes and clean them and the holders. Some people even oil up that area which is a no no.
    If you can get at the commutator, gently clean the copper segments with ISO, you will be surprised how much carbon gunk comes off from the brushes. When the commutator is clean get a tooth pick and sharpen it to a fine point and VERY GENTLY run it down the grooves between the segments to rake out the carbon build up. When done give the commutator one last clean and let it dry.
    Reassemble the loco and lubricate as mention by the guys above.
    Your loco should now have had a proper clean and overhaul and run to it’s best capability. If it doesn’t, you will know that it isn’t dirty and you will be able to look for split gears, binding shafts etc.
    If the loco runs well, my next job is to do the DCC conversion, but that’s another story……

  • Robertsays:

    Great responses. My suggestion would be to only use oils that come from model railroad manufacturers. I only use Marklin or Fleischmann oil on my locomotives. This way I know that I’m getting the right lubricant and it will not attack any of the Plastics. With regards to Dustin locomotives I have two methods. The first I prefer to use a photographic lens cleaning brush. The reason is the brush is extremely soft so there is no danger whatsoever of damaging intricate parts or Plastics and the air bulb on the end allows for short blasts of air to come out. However my favorite is to use an air compressor set at very low pressure so that continuous air can be blown throughout the locomotive. I also use this when cleaning the internal components of the motors as well. Again low pressure

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