Last Updated on April 14, 2022 by Dave Farquhar
In 1965, Linn Westcott, the longtime editor of Model Railroader magazine, wrote an article about how he never cleaned the track on his layout. His secret was a product called No Ox ID A Special. Let’s talk about No Ox ID for model railroading.
No Ox ID A Special and model railroads
No Ox ID A Special is a conductivity enhancer. In the 1960s it came in liquid form. Today it comes in a grease-like carrier. The advantage is to that form is that it keeps longer without evaporating.
Before you use it, clean your track for the next-to-last last time with alcohol or mineral spirits. Use a mild abrasive if you have a track type that tends to oxidize, to knock off the layer of oxidation.
To use it, you dab a small quantity of it on your miniature rails, spaced apart every few feet. It doesn’t take much. By most accounts you need about 1/4 teaspoon per 500 feet of track. So I’d recommend measuring out about a quarter teaspoon or so, then applying small amounts along your layout, perhaps even using the tip of a toothpick. Start on one side of the layout, then apply a bit every few feet. Then repeat on the other side, spreading out whatever you have left in between. You don’t have to be precise, because of the next step. Just get a small amount down and spread it out a bit to keep wheel slippage to a minimum. Get some on both the tops and the insides of the rails, where they come into contact with the wheels.
And then you just run your trains for about 30 minutes to spread the compound around. Running all your locomotives treats your driver wheels as well, which helps them to stay cleaner and reduce arcing.
Wait 24 hours.
Then wipe down your track again with a clean rag to remove any excess that remains. Don’t use a solvent this time. Wipe down the drivers on your locomotives as well.
Does No OX ID work on all scales of model railroad?
No Ox ID is fairly well known among HO, N, and Z scale model railroaders, because that was the target audience for Linn Westcott’s original article. It’s much less well known among large scale hobbyists. But I’m a 3-rail O gauge guy. I found out about it somehow (I don’t remember the details anymore) and tried it out in late 2016. I’ve had great success with it on O scale and S scale track.
Larger trains are more forgiving. When the track is dirty, the train will probably still run. It’ll probably spark a lot and may have fits and starts, but it’ll run unless the track is too far gone. But after this treatment, my trains run more smoothly, with minimal arcing, and I’ve never had to clean my track again. Even my Marx trains, which tended to arc a lot, arc very little after this treatment.
With smaller scales, it’s even more essential, since gravity doesn’t help as much as a conductivity enhancer at 1:160 and 1:220 scale.
What about traction tires?
Large scale trains sometimes have rubber traction tires to help with pulling. Conventional wisdom is that conductivity enhancers damage traction tires. I only have two trains with traction tires and the No Ox ID hasn’t harmed them. If you’re concerned about it, don’t run any trains with traction tires in that initial run, then only run them after you’ve cleaned off the excess. The trace amount that’s left on the rails at that point isn’t likely to harm the traction tire.
If you’re still nervous about it, and you run 3-rail O gauge like I do, just treat your center rail. The center rail is more essential.
What about those people who say you shouldn’t put anything on your track but trains?
Some people aren’t happy unless they’re arguing with someone. Conductivity enhancers can be problematic when you use too much, and the only complaint I’ve heard about them was when people didn’t clean their track before using them, and then used too much. Even then, problems seem to be limited to nickel silver track, and they are rare.
Applied sparingly to clean metal, conductivity enhancers solve a lot of problems, and not just in model railroading. I’ve used them to solve intermittent problems in my vintage computers too.
Conductivity enhancers are like grease and oil. It’s much better to apply half as much as you need than twice as much. So apply half as much as you think you need.
The claim seemed strange to me when I first heard about it, but Linn Westcott had no reason to lie about it in 1965. If anything, it cut down on the number of track cleaning cars his advertisers sold. And I’ve never found a complaint from someone who tried it. Just from people who don’t want to try it and want something to argue about.
And if you ever need to remove it, just wipe the track down with alcohol or mineral spirits.
David Farquhar is a computer security professional, entrepreneur, and author. He started his career as a part-time computer technician in 1994, worked his way up to system administrator by 1997, and has specialized in vulnerability management since 2013. He invests in real estate on the side and his hobbies include O gauge trains, baseball cards, and retro computers and video games. A University of Missouri graduate, he holds CISSP and Security+ certifications. He lives in St. Louis with his family.