Proper Oiling and Lubrication

Proper Oiling and Lubrication

By Roger Heid

oilcan

The Squeaky Wheel

It is said that the wheel that squeals the loudest gets the most grease. Well, on my model railroad layout I never really hear a wheel squeal; therefore no grease? Naw!

When I unpack a Maerklin locomotive or car, there is usually some manual that tells me to lubricate this and that after about 40 hours of use and what lubricant to use. Other manufacturers don’t mention that so much as far as rolling stock is concerned.

In all locomotive manuals it will tell you where and what to lubricate. In many cases the instructions are not overly specific. They leave it to your own discretion how to go about the lube job.

One thing I learned the hard way, many years ago: Do not over lubricate, like in don’t use too much oil. Oil seems to have an uncanny ability to find its way into places where it has no business, at all. It does that when you are not watching, because it knows it ain’t supposed to do it. Naughty, naughty!

Here is an example. You want to lubricate your loco’s motor bearings according to the instructions. You feel generous on that day and you flood this poor bearing with your oiler. Maybe just a little more will get things going even more so. So she runs like a charm. You re-inspect the bearing and you notice it sucked up all the oil you gave it. So you add a little more just to make sure. You love your engine, you want to do the very best you can to keep her happy. You run her for a few more minutes, put the housing back on and put her away. You feel good about what you did.

A few weeks later, you decide to run her again. But now the strangest thing is happening. It stutters, runs a few inches, comes to a stop, tries again for an inch and stops again. By now there is smoke billowing from the inside. You cut the power off. The smoke will quit and dissipate.

Here is what happened. After you put the shell back on and put her away, you were not watching the oil. It took this opportunity to find its way to a spot on the motor’s commutator, slowly oozing toward the brushes. You are giving it plenty of time to complete this dastardly deed. It is now just waiting for you to try to run that loco again. I don’t believe I have to explain any further. A good spraying with a contact cleaner and a little drying time will cure this problem.

The lesson learned here is quite clear. When I lubricate the axle bearings of my rolling stock, I do not put the applicator between the wheel and the bearing housing and squeeze. Most likely I would apply to much oil. Now that you know something about oil’s behavior, you can easily imagine immediate and future problems that will undoubtedly occur. Instead, I remove the whole axle, clean things up with a cotton swab, and I carefully put just a dab of oil into the bearings. Any excess I will wipe off with the cotton swab before I reinsert the axle.

For all bearings you use a thin oil. For gears, including worm gears, you use a pasty grease, and very little of it. Not all oils are created equal. Do not use the so-called household oil from the hardware store, and do not use any oil or lubricant used in the automotive industry. Bad oils and those that are too thick will harden over time causing your loco not wanting to work at all. Can motors do not need lubrication.

Most all oils and greases offered by model railroad manufacturers and hobby stores are ok to use. The dispenser nozzle of your oiler should be a very slender metallic tube. There is no need for me to pitch brands or show pictures thereof. The most important aspect of all this is to use only a little oil, not a pint.

One of my favorite oils is a synthetic. It works wonderful is used properly. I do not use it for all purposes, only for stubborn cases. It is also quite expensive. The synthetics you have to be very careful with.  Mine wants to cling to everything like Velcro. If it winds up in the wrong place it almost takes a sandblaster to get rid of it.

In closing I will say that, over the years, I have adopted the philosophy: Don’t fix what works. In many cases, oil does not help; it is not a cure all. After some time, you will become sensitized to the point where you know when it is time for a cleaning and lube job.

Please, do not post questions in the Blog System. Instead, go to the Forum under the ‘Technical Corner’ topic. Thank you.

Happy Railroading!

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One Response to Proper Oiling and Lubrication

  1. Peter M. says:

    Excellent points! I have tried to set-up a realistic service schedule for my locomotives; generally speaking I make a point of running them all for as much equal time as possible. The over lubrication problems is something I cannot agree with enough, having committed the sin on two locomotives a few years ago. Too much is not a good thing, as you mentioned the oil or grease ends up every where including the track and the wheels.

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