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Clean locomotive wheels

By Cody Grivno Group Technical Editor | January 14, 2021

70 percent isopropyl alcohol and paper towel is all you need

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Towel offset on rails with front truck of H-16-44 on clean section of towel wetted with isopropyl alcohol.

Over time, a locomotive’s wheelsets will gather dirt and other gunk that will affect its ability to run smoothly, but regular wheel cleaning keeps your steam or diesel locomotives running at their peak. By using 70 percent isopropyl alcohol and a paper towel, two items that you most likely have in your house, you can give your engine a quick cleaning that greatly improves its performance, 1.

Bachmann HO scale Virginian Ry. Fairbanks-Morse H-16-44 diesel locomotive with rear truck on towel wetted with isopropyl alcohol and front truck on rails.
1. Paper towels and 70 percent isopropyl alcohol are all you need for cleaning locomotive wheelsets.

 

First, I set some paper towel on the tracks. Then I use a pipette to apply some isopropyl alcohol to the towel (wet but not soaked), 2. Next, I run the locomotive on the alcohol-soaked towel and let it build up some speed. I hold the locomotive and let the wheels spin for a few seconds. As you can see in photo 3, there’s quite a bit of dirt on the towel.

Streaks of dirt and grime on towel wetted with isopropyl alcohol and rear of H-16-44 visible at right of frame.
2. Place a paper towel over the tracks and wet it (but don’t soak it) with isopropyl alcohol. Let the model start running, and then hold it in place and let the rear wheels spin for a few seconds.
Towel offset on rails with front truck of H-16-44 on clean section of towel wetted with isopropyl alcohol.
3. Offset the wet towel and repeat the process for the front truck. Then run the wheelsets over a dry towel when you’re finished.

I offset the wet towel and clean the rear trucks, 4. If you don’t offset the towel (or use a new one), you’ll just spread the dirt onto the other wheels. To finish, run the wheelsets over a dry towel.

Streaks of dirt from front and rear trucks on paper towel with front of H-16-44 visible at right of frame
4. After just a few seconds of running, the towel picks up a lot of dirt and gunk that impede a locomotive’s ability to run smoothly.

 

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