N Scale Track Maintenance – The Mundane Part of the Hobby

Every good thing has a darker side, Model Railroading is not exception. Maintenance of a Model Railroad is a topic that gives headaches to the best of model makers out there and is the source of frustration for may. And let’s be honest, there is no way around it if you want a working Model Railroad – everyone who’s got one will have to do it; whether you have a small oval with two forks or hundreds of scale miles of track in a hundreds of square feet basement is irrelevant – you have to clean your track and the layout, and you have to maintain your locomotives – there is no way around it.

What makes it difficult for smaller scales is that smaller the scales, lighter the locomotive, hence less reliable is the electrical connection between the loco and the rail. Since you cannot rely on the weight of the models, the ONLY way to achieve better electrical connection is to have a clean contact, so that the loco receive the maximum amount of electron juice possible even at 2V (I run DC, but even if you are in DCC running at 16V, the same principal applies. Note that in DCC, it is the data packets and not just the electrons, and noise and disruptions in those data packets would create reliability issues nonetheless, even though technically you are running at 16V).

Now if you have seen my last video in YouTube you’d know that I want to run trains in realistic speed – far less than 10 scale MPH and never more than 15. And on top of that the fact that 80% of my track is embedded in concrete makes it even difficult to keep the tracks squeaky clean. So how do I do it? Sheer grit and habit. First I had to reason with myself that this is an essential part of the hobby, then I tried as many methods as possible and finally zeroed in on the most effective ones. And the most effective one turned out to be the very basic one that successful model railroaders are using for decades. Yes, it seems like wasted effort and re-inventing the wheel, but given this is one area in model railroading that nobody likes, anytime you see something that says it can make things even slightly better, you get tempted to try it out. So here is what I do today for track maintenance:

So, in a way to summarise this is that it may be better in many cases to stick to the basics and often, basics turn out to be the best. Yes, due to the complexities of my layout, I had to alter my methods a bit, but overall it is the same old same old – scrub it with emery and then wipe it with alcohol!

There are two things that I did extra however that many model railroaders don’t do (not that it is not known to them, but somehow I don’t see may example of those) – first, covering my layout, and second a no-ox treatment on the track.

The no-ox treatment also was quite a headache at first. I had at least 4 trials over a year or so to get it right. The trick is to realise less is more and for no-ox treatment, it should be the ‘mantra’ if you are trying that. I think over the years I have unlocked the mystery of making no-ox a success. However, it still takes considerable amount of concentration to make sure I get only a microscopic layer on the tracks.

In India, weather is another big reason why maintenance is such a headache. High degree of humidity and pollution makes dust and grime to stick, and metals oxidise faster. In summer it gets even worse. So I am still looking for a little better option to reduce the maintenance cycles if I can, especially when there are many projects in the making in the coming days. Vinny from Arizona recently suggested CRC 2-26 and surprisingly that is available at a reasonable price in India, so that’s my next experiment on track maintenance.

But that is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is the locomotives! That’s coming right up in my next episode in YouTube, so feel free to subscribe to my channel and blog to receive updates.

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