Cleaning track is one of those never-ending and never-enjoyable projects that come with model railroading. Woodland Scenics has tried to take some of the fuss out with a new line of "Clean Tracks" products. One of those are these new "Dust Monkeys" pads which attach to the axles of an HO or N scale freight car. (Separate products are available for each scale.)
While the idea of a track cleaning car is certainly nothing new, these disposable pads are a somewhat novel approach to the problem. So the big question is, how do they work?
Attaching the Dust Monkey
The Dust Monkeys are designed to attach easily onto a typical HO Scale wheelset. They can be used on typical plastic or metal wheelsets.Simply snap the tongs around the axle. Make sure the pad side is down against the rail.
Although the Monkeys have a thin profile, they will hang up easily on cars with hoppers or tubs like rotary-dumping gondolas. Even cars with lots of low-hanging brake details can be a problem. If the pads hang up, not only will they not clean properly, they could easily cause a derailment.
Mounted on a car with no low obstructions, the pads fit easily and can move up and down with any changes in the track.
Operating with the Monkeys
As expected, the Dust Monkey does add a little drag to the car, but not nearly as much as I had expected, nor as much as other track cleaning cars I have used. These cars could be put any place in a train without causing a problem.
Rather than subject these pads to the riggors of switching in general road service, including regular routing through hump yards, they will probably be most effective on trains that make routine moves over the entire mainline. Unit trains, passenger trains and the like will work very well. This will also prevent the cars from sitting on an industrial siding for months at a time while your track gets dirtier. The goal of course is to make running the pads part of regular operations, so you don't have to think about keeping up with the cleaning.
The pads can be pushed or pulled. I found however that they operate much more reliably when they are in front of the axle to which they are attached. In this fasion, the rotation of the wheels helps push the pad down on the rail. When trailing, the reverse occurs and the pad can be lifted up completly off of the rail.
To prevent this, Woodland Scenics recommends filing the outer sides and inner contact surfaces of the Monkey with a small needle file. I tried this and found the results were much better, though I'd still prefer to have the pad pushed when possible.
Does it Clean?
How long you'll be able to go before replacing a pad will depend on how often you run your trains and of course how dirty your tracks get. I would suspect however that a pad should last for one to three typical running sessions.
Removing and replacing the Monkey's is easy. Simply pull the dirty Monkey off the axle and snap on a new one. The cleaning pads themselves are not replaceable, you've got to put on a new Monkey each time.
The Dust Monkey isn't the final solution to your track cleaning chores, but it can be a big part of them. The Dust Monkey is best for what it is designed for - routine cleaning and light dirt build up. In other words, think of this as preventive maintenance.
If your rails are already so dirty that locomotives are having a hard time making contact, then you've probably gotten beyond the abilities of the Dust Monkey and you'll have to resort to some tried and true hand-cleaning techniques. After all, these can't work if the train isn't moving!
And don't forget that cleaning the rails is only half the equation. The rails won't stay clean for long if the wheels traveling over them are always dirty. The Dust Monkey won't do anything to clean your locomotive and railroad wheels, but there are easy tips for this too.
As a preventive tool however, these do the job very well, and may help reduce your need for those other jobs overall. A pack of four Dust Monkeys retails for $9.99 for the HO Scale pads and $8.99 for N Scale. You could equip four cars all at once or save a few for replacements. Given the cost of similar track cleaning cars, the price point is very reasonable.
Woodland Scenics has also released several additional cleaning products in the Tidy Track line, helping to round out your cleaning arsenal.