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Loveably weird
I have heard that the idea for this type of track cleaning car originated with the late John Allen, who employed it on his legendary Gorre and Daphetid HO scale layout.
The idea is quite simple: A car (generally a boxcar) is fitted with a small piece of tempered hardboard or Masonite, to which two nails are affixed. The nails are inserted into two holes in the bottom of the car and the pad is free to move up and down slightly, allowing it to follow the contours of the track. The ends of the pad are beveled to prevent snagging on rails or points. The pad gently cleans dirt off the rails as it is pulled around the layout.
I decided to build one of these (although I will be building several more) to help keep my track clean. I am using a piece of 3/16" thick tempered hardboard 1" wide and 2-1/2" long. The length can be adjusted if you wish to use this idea under longer cars, but this length works well for a 40' boxcar, which is what I will be using here.

Tempered hardboard has a smooth side and a rough side. Regular hardboard is smooth on both sides. Regular hardboard or Masonite will work, but the tempered is best if you can get it.
The first thing I did was to build a jig. I did this to ensure consistency in the placement of nails and drilling the holes. I used some 3/16" thick basswood for the jig.

I marked centerline and determined where to drill the holes. I am using 2" electro-galvanized roofing nails this. I went with roofing nails because the heads are bigger and will provide more contact surface with the hardboard.

To ensure positive contact with the rails, I am using two 1/2 oz. egg sinkers which I drilled and tapped for 14" long 2-56 screws. This will keep the pad in contact with the rails. I drilled two 1/8" holes for the nails, and also added two more layers of 3/16" basswood on each side. That will allow me to epoxy the nails to the hardboard, but keep the epoxy away from the jig. I have the epoxy applied and am letting it cure here.

After the epoxy has cured, I removed the hardboard from the jig. I marked a centerline on top of the car weight and used my spring loaded center punch (the pen-like object) to located the hole to be drilled through the weight and car bottom.

You may have to go up a size or two on the drill to make a hole through which the nails can slide freely. I went up two sizes. I slid the nails through the holes and set the shell on the car to determine how far I was going to have to trim the nails. I marked the nails with a Sharpie.

Here is a pic of the beveled pad underneath the car. The angle of the pic doesn't show it very well, but there is clearance below the air tank.

I painted the pad and nails flat black to help hide them a bit. Here is the assembled cleaning pad on the car.

And the finished product.

This really was pretty simple to do. Waiting for glue and paint to dry took the most time. The egg sinkers do not add any weight to the car itself, but they do help keep the pad in contact with the rails. There is a noticeable increase in rolling resistance with this car, so don't try running a bunch of these behind an 0-4-0 up a 3% grade, cause it ain't gonna make it! I did add a couple of pieces weight to the car because it was a bit light. The weights are actually designed for Pinewood Derby cars, but since my former Cub Scout is 21 years old, I don't think Pinewood Derby cars are in the near future.
Now to finish wiring up the outer loop on the layout, and I can spend some time "cleaning my track"! :p
Oops! Forgot to add: This idea will not work well with boxcars having "fish-belly" under-frames. Fish-belly implies just what it sounds like: The center of the under-frame is noticeably lower than the ends. There may not be sufficient clearance for the hardboard pad with those types of cars.
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Same Ol' Buzzard
Nicely done how-to. I made my first one of these in 1989 following an article that I read in an early 70's MRR. You have gone into much greater detail. The only differences are that I use shorter roofing nails to avoid trimming, and I use CA glue instead of epoxy.


Well-Known Member
One of the best how-to's I have seen and excellent pictures. Thank you for taking the time to share this. 👍


Loveably weird
Nicely done how-to. I made my first one of these in 1989 following an article that I read in an early 70's MRR. You have gone into much greater detail. The only differences are that I use shorter roofing nails to avoid trimming, and I use CA glue instead of epoxy.
Thanks, Willie! I appreciate that! I wasn't sure just how long I needed the nails to be to be able to add the weights, so I bought them longer. It's easier to trim them than to stretch them!


Loveably weird
Is the pad easily replaced? Or removable in some way?
Yes, the pad is easily removed. Remove the shell, and unscrew the weights. The pad will slip right out. If you're replacing the pad you will have to glue a couple of nails to the new one, then install it just like the old one. If you leave the weights off you won't even have to remove the shell. Periodically give the bottom of the pad a few passes with sandpaper to remove any accumulated rail junk, but the pad itself should last for years.


Active Member
Thanks for the how-to! I'm for sure thinking through all of the old box cars I have boxed up - which one do I want to use???

Do you put any liquid on the pad before running? I know some people like to use a cleaning agent (alcohol for example), but do these pads work well on their own? Also, have some scrap pieces of Masonite, but it's smooth on both sides. Is there a real performance difference between the two on a smaller layout? A few go-rounds and I imagine the tracks would eventually be as shiny.


Loveably weird
No, I don't put any cleaner on the pad. I can't speak as to how well smooth hardboard works as compared to the rough (tempered) hardboard, because this is the first one I've ever made.


Loveably weird
I got the outer loop wired, and after spending some time fixing "trouble spots", I spent an hour cleaning my track. Or at least I let the car clean the track, because that's what it's for!

Looks like a success to me! :)


Active Member
Certainly looks successful to me!

Yeah, I definitely understand why the rough stuff would work better. I'm just trying to avoid buying a sheet of the stuff for a 2"x1" piece! I think the smallest available is 2' squares. I'll have to find another use for it somewhere in the house - you know, to justify spending the money!


Section Hand
bklynman01: Why not just purchase one or two of the A Line kits instead if a larger piece of Masonite that will also need to be cut to fit?




Active Member
Greg, That's amazing! Amazing in the realm that someone took $0.25 worth of parts and made a saleable product, $6.95 even! Home Depot has the 2'x4' sheets of tempered for $3.37 (, half the price of the kit. And nails are abundant in my garage, could probably even find a few rolling around under the bench.

Makes me think it's worth the cost of a tempered sheet. Nonetheless, it's a good tip for anyone. Thanks Greg!

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