Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Straco Layout, Part 3 - Cleaning the Track

The top piece of track has not been cleaned.
The bottom piece has
Read more about the whole project here.

The next step in the process of building this layout was working with the track. Although the sections came from three different sources, every piece of track had three things in common: age, grime, and corrosion. The age of the track (approximately 50 years!) wasn't something I could do anything about, but the grime and corrosion (accumulated over that same half-century) I could.

Someone asked me if I was going to use steel wool. While that's a good way to clean metal like this, it's not such a good idea for toy train track. Sometimes little shavings of steel wool remain on the track and can get pulled into the locomotive as it rides over the rail. And a small sliver of conductive metal rattling around inside an electrical motor can lead to real trouble.

So instead, I took it in stages. I happened to have an electric eraser that I used to get most of the superficial dirt off of the track. If you're not familiar with the device, it's used primarily  in drafting (I used it for music copying in pre-computer days). It spins the eraser very quickly, letting you erase in a very small area without smudging everything around it.

My goal wasn't to completely clean the track -- that would have been very difficult. Rather, I wanted to clean all of the surfaces that would help relay the electrical current from the battery pack through the rails and then to the contacts on the wheels of the locomotive. The eraser took off most of the corrosion off the top of the rails, ensuring the locomotive would make good contact.

After cleaning the track with the eraser, I then scrubbed it with silver and metal polish. This pulled up, even more, grime off the tracks. The third step was to use a track cleaner solution to ensure the tracks were as clean as possible.

I then assembled the sections. There's a reason why I got the track operational before trimming the table to fit. These sets came with enough curved pieces to form a circle and two pieces of straight track. I had some extra straight tracks from the three combined sets, so I was hoping to use them in the circle.

No such luck. The power pack uses two "D" cell batteries and adding just two extra track sections caused a significant voltage drop in the circuit.

As I've said before, the operability of this Japanese train set is marginal at best. It was designed for a circle and two straight pieces of track, and no more.

I pieced the oval together, making sure I crimped the open sections of track to ensure a better connection with the pins. Just one more step, and I would be ready to test the track with the train.

Read more about the whole project here.


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