Using the Relco with O27 Handcars

      Back in 1990, I came across an advertizement for a device, a high frequency alternating current rail cleaner, called the Relco, made in the UK. Because I had been interested in a high frequency alternating current lighting generator, it caught my attention. (My use of a home-built HF AC lighting generator is another story.) Fast forward to late 2014 and I finally bought an unused Relco. The Relco has not been manufactured for at least a decade, but GaugeMaster currently makes one that works the same.

      I use it for the O27 handcars which are temperamental due to the least amount of a dirty film on the wheels or track, often the film is transparent. This film of oils, pollutants, oxidation, or whatever, creeps up at the most inconvenient time and your handcar runs herky-jerky or stalls due to loss of electrical contact with the rails. So one solution, although not a perfect fit for all situations, is the HF AC rail cleaning device. Easiest way to explain its operation is to say it prevents stalling by breaking through the dirty film with a tiny spark of HF AC. Doesn't hurt anything when used correctly, but you do have to modify the handcar by removing the rectifier and installing a small ceramic capacitor across the motor. And it is only for use with DC on the rails. Some of my handcars I run on only DC. If you are running a handcar by itself on its own dedicated loop of track, this device is a great help. When you remove the rectifier from the handcar, you now have the ability to reverse the handcar by reversing DC track polarity. But the handcar cannot be run on AC without that rectifier. Running on DC has many advantages, including obtaining very smooth operation at slow speeds. The best thing about the HF AC device is that you don't have to have it working when you don't need it. When hobbyists in N or HO scale reported track or wheel pitting, there was usually a very large track to wheel physical gap and the extreme arcing gradually wore a pit in the metal. I feel that the device is a lifesaver when you just want to run a handcar without having to wipe down the track or wheels for an impromptu session. It is not a substitute for routine maintenance, but a great help for the special occasions, like Christmas, when you want to run a handcar for yourself or your guests, without any issues.

     So this is only for a very simple DC set-up with the modified handcar (no rectifier, and a tiny non-polarized ceramic capacitor across the motor). If you want to go the route of having another piece of rollingstock with electrical pick-up connected to the handcar, you wouldn't need this device. But it is important to recognize its effectiveness for certain situations. It seems to "clean" the whole pathway from track to wheels to wheel contacts to the motor. I have found that it corrected an issue with one eBay handcar that always seems to act up and stall no matter what I did. Just a few laps around the track with the device working and it was running well thereafter with the device switched off.

     I re-enacted a test from one of the Relco's early ads where they coated the rails with permanent marker and waited for the Relco to "burn" through the coating. No joke or trick, the handcar "sputtered" a bit but shortly made its way through the coated section of track. The indicator light on the unit illuminates when the HF AC is working. Most of the time, the HF AC is not flowing.

     You do sometimes get a very tiny static electricity type of shock if you touch the center and an outside rail at the same time when nothing is running on the track. If you only switch the device on when you need it and not let it run all the time, you won't have a problem. Kids and pets, same issue, just don't use it in its passive "always on" mode, but rather switch it on only when you need it, like for the first few laps when you haven't run the handcar for a while, for a few days, weeks, or even months, and you can keep the kids and pets away for a couple minutes. Now you can't use it with any type of electronic reversing board or whistle board, or for that matter, any type of circuit board in the handcar or trackside. It would ruin the boards. But a nice device for some circumstances.

     I have a few handcars that are modified with a bi-polar capacitor or electronic reversing boards, or they have the original rectifier in place and I CANNOT use the HF AC rail cleaner with them. Again, the rail cleaning device is only for the handcars without anything on-board, not even the rectifier, just the small non-polarized ceramic cap across the motor. It works!!!

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