MAPCON Maintenance Software Article Series

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Understanding Model Train Maintenance

Sean Spencer, Software Development Expert and Author

Model railroading involves the novelty of collecting radio-controlled railway cars. Model train aficionados take pleasure in constructing permanent layouts, scenery, and buildings. No two hobbyists approach model railroading exactly the same; however, many model train experts suggest that beginners follow some basic guidelines before implementing their own designs. For instance, beginning model train enthusiasts often become uncertain about the scale of a model train, or the measure of the size of a model train's engine, railroad cars, and accessories. The scale of a model train indicates its size relative to an actual railroad. The scale can range from the palm of a hand up to life-size model trains that can only run outdoors. Beginners also need to understand the gauge of a model train track, or the distance between rails set along the track. In other words, a “9 gauge” track indicates that the tracks sit 9 millimeters apart. Understanding this terminology enables the emerging model train enthusiast to determine what size setup they will use in their layout.

Beginning model train enthusiasts only need a few materials to set up their layout, including a locomotive to pull the train, three to five rail cars, a loop of track, and a transformer to control the speed and direction of the train. Beginning model train enthusiasts can find starter kits that include all of the necessary materials and information to help kick-start their hobby. Beginners can find these starter kits at nearby hobby shops, or even online if they look hard enough. Many of these retail shops offer tips and suggestions for beginners. Beginners can also contact their local model railroading associations for advice on developing clever layouts and improving their operational skills.

Beginning train enthusiasts will need to perform routine maintenance on their model trains after learning the intricate process of setting up layouts and operating their locomotives. Routine maintenance enables the model train to perform optimally without undergoing major repairs. Even advanced model train aficionados perform routine maintenance on their locomotives and layouts, such as cleaning the tracks and wheels on a regular basis. If the operator has not run their model train in more than a month, then he or she should perform a quick clean of the train and tracks to ensure it runs smoothly. Many model train manufacturers make special cleaning products, such as track rubbers, track cleaning cars, and electronic cleaners; however, beginners can use some ordinary household products in a pinch. For instance, rubbing alcohol, transmission fluid, and liquid cleaners can remove the dirt and grime from the rail and wheels. Model train enthusiasts should consider dusting their train's components, tracks, and accessories to minimize the accumulation of particulates.

Beginning model train enthusiasts should refrain from carrying out locomotive maintenance until they gain the proper knowledge to fix the engine without damaging it. After gaining enough experience, the hobbyist can work with locomotive engines. The first step in maintaining locomotive engines involves lubricating their components properly by applying model train oil to any movable parts. If the hobbyist can see the oil on each part, then it probably means that he or she added too much. Use a static-free cloth to wipe off any excess oil. Avoid getting oil onto the wheels to maintain traction with the railroad tracks.

Model train enthusiasts should conduct regular checkups of the locomotive’s gears, wheels, tires, carbon brushes, and commutator. The gears should have all of their teeth. If only one tooth has loosened from the gear shaft, then the train can lose traction in one of the two sets of powered wheels. Model train operators can identify this problem by listening for an increase in noise. Replace the appropriate gear to avoid worsening the problem. In order to clean the train's wheels, hobbyists should turn the locomotive upside down while firmly supporting it. Connect the controller and then press the power button until the wheels start to spin. Use a track rubber to clean the dirt off the wheels. This method only works with powered wheels; however, train enthusiasts can use a track rubber or damp cloth to clean the wheels manually.

Hobbyists should check the tires to ensure they are in good condition. In some conditions, the train's tires become too loose to grip the wheel of the train. Replace all bad tires immediately for optimal traction. Exercise caution when changing the locomotive's carbon brushes. If the operator opens the plate too abruptly, then each of the springs could fly off into the room. After removing the carbon brushes, make sure to replace them with the flat end first; otherwise, it could cause unforeseen damages to the motor. Lastly, clean the commutator with a cotton-bud without getting pieces of it stuck in the motor. Clean off any black deposits that may have accumulated from the wearing away of the carbon brushes. Some engines have a slot to enter the cotton-bud without exposing the motor. Exercise caution while rotating the gears to clean them.

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