You probably came here to get a simple answer. Sorry, simple answers are easy for simple questions. This is a subject worth understanding, and it can have quite an effect on your "stuff".

First off, make sure the lubricants you use say they are plastic compatible. Make sure! It is foolish to try to save a few bucks and risk your equipment.

I further recommend you purchase plastic compatible oils and greases that state specifically they are plastic compatible, and preferably from a known and reputable manufacturer. Of course there are always exceptions, but why experiment?

Also, I am not a fan that "one lube" works for all. It sounds convenient, but different areas need different lubrication. Often this advice to you will be motivated by "saving money". Unless you have dozens of locos (and then clearly cost is not an issue), the cost of one good set of lubricants will probably cost you $30 and will last 10 years. In this case, cheap is foolish.

Cleaning or lubrication?

What am I talking about? (yeah sometimes I don't even know). In this case some simple concepts: if you lubricate a place that is full of grit, water, corrosion, is this a good idea? All this stuff can cause trouble, and just adding lubrication to this will all the "junk" to help wear things out and cause issues.

Clean first!

If you can "flush" the area to be lubricated with the lubricant, that sometimes works, but make sure you get the gunk out before lubricating. Usually the best way is to clean the area first with a mild sovent and then lubricate. An areosol spray with the extension tube is great.

Cleaning conductive areas

Interestingly this also goes for electrical connectors too. I have found some really good products and one stands out in particular, have been using it for years, and it's pretty close to magic for electrical connectors, it's called DeOxit D5. They make other specialized formulations, but don't use them unless you really know why. This stuff is magic on connectors, it leaves a very thin film that resists corrosion and lubricates the contacts. You will notice that connectors work with less force after treatment. Try some and you will agree with me. It has a mild solvent (naptha) and an anti-oxidation component. You can buy this on Amazon, or many local electronics stores.

Solvents for cleaning

When using a solvent, use the mildest solvent you can to get the area clean. There are plastic-safe cleaners for electronics, and if things are ALL metal, automotive brake cleaner will often degrease very well, test on paint first. Be careful of solvents on the plastic sideframes and gearboxes, even if the plastic show no damage, it can crack later. If the solvent you try softens the surface even the tiniest bit, don't use it. I've used some stuff called "lift off" that removes tape, it's a very mild solvent. Available at Lowes, Home Depot.

Also, consider using water-based cleaners like 409 or Fantastik, which are designed to break up grease and oil, they are always safe for plastic.

So, get it clean first, and then lubricate, and lubricate sparingly, so you don't have excess that runs or unnecessarily attracts grit.

Stopping corrosion

There are some surfaces you just want to protect from the elements. Often coatings do not last. One thing I have found is a spray lanolin, called Lanocote. I spray on exposed terminals, metal, etc, and it is plastic compatible.

Get the aerosol can, the "windex style" spray bottles do not store well, and the stuff gets thick. It does work great. Often used for marine applications, so you know it's tough.

Plastic non-compatible example:

OK, I know you just want the answer, but I want to really drive home the mistakes you can make not getting a plastic compatible lubricant.

An example: Aristo-Craft made and advertised their "Electralube" CRE-29602 grease as plastic compatible. This product has been proven to cause plastic to crack, causing catastrophic failure in plastic sideframes. You can search for "catastrophic" on the Aristocraft forum, and you will see. Since Aristo is out of business, this is not the danger it once was.

I received a bottle of it with no note from Aristo one day, unasked for. Maybe they were hoping that my rolling stock would be destroyed or as a joke. I left the bottle on a shelf in my garage. I finally went to throw it away (I never used it except to verify that it was indeed somewhat conductive) It  actually "digested" the container itself! I tooka video of it sitting on the metal shelf, in a pool of lubricant caused by the likewise catastrophic failure of the bottle caused by the "plastic compatible" lube. This is way too  funny, but sad in a way.











The two pictures above are from Ted Doskaris in his detailed article / vignette. click here to read his vignette.

Bottom line: if you think a lubricant is compatible but you can't be sure, then just don't use it. There are too many choices PROVEN to work. The cost of a quality lubricant is TRIVIAL compared to the cost of the car or locomotive you are using it on!

More of what not to use:

Don't use 3 in 1, no matter how your O scale buddy swears by it. Also, WD-40 is not a lubricant:

WD-40 is not a lubricant. It happens to be the 40th formula the company tried for displacing water in moving parts It does just exactly that, displaces water. WD stands for Water Displacement and 40 for 40th formula, the fact that they promote it as a lubricant doesn't make it a good choice for lubrication. It doesn't work for much longer than a week or two, then it's gone.

Another reason not to use it is that it will form a "gum" and attract contaminants as it evaporates.

From the WD 40 site: "

In 1953, a fledgling company called Rocket Chemical Company and its staff of three set out to create a line of rust-prevention solvents and degreasers for use in the aerospace industry.

Working in a small lab in San Diego, California, it took them 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out. But they must have been really good, because the original secret formula for WD-40® -which stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try—is still in use today.

Convair, an aerospace contractor, first used WD-40® to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion. The product actually worked so well that several employees snuck some WD-40® cans out of the plant to use at home.

A few years following WD-40®'s first industrial use, Rocket Chemical Company founder Norm Larsen experimented with putting WD-40® into aerosol cans, reasoning that consumers might find a use for the product at home as some of the employees had. The product made its first appearance on store shelves in San Diego in 1958.


Don't use cheap stuff, here is some stuff, that was not cheap, and it has congealed into jelly in the bottle, just think how nice this would be in your bearings?


What works:

I like the Hob-e-lube and the Aero-car lubricants, as well as good old Labelle. There's others out there but these are high quality and proven products.

Hob-E-Lube is distributed by Woodland Scenics:


Labelle is distributed by Con-Cor: (remember them from the early days, est. 1962)

Dry vs. wet lubricants:

I prefer to use dry lubricants for situations where there is plastic on at least one bearing surface, like most wheel journals. The dry lubricants tend not to gather grit. The dry lubricants I recommend are powdered graphite/molybdenum mixtures. The "moly" tends to "plate" the plastic and works very well.

When it's metal to metal, then I like a lithium-based grease with moly in it. Again, the moly tends to "plate" the surfaces and make them very slippery.

On metal journals with metal axles, the "heavy motor oil" is also good.

A light oil is usually good on the rods on a steam loco. A heavy lube will attract and hold grit.

Grease is good for sleeve type bearings (USA Trains)  where there is a higher load, and grease on the gears.

On motors, a drop of medium oil on the shafts, and heavier oil on really big motors.

Here's some of the recommended Aero-car lubricants and their applications:

ACT-3753-conducta - one drop per brush, or any other electrical contact point, including power pickup wipers. Don't use on sealed motors. Clean the motor with plastic-compatible motor or tuner cleaner.

On motors, use 2112-motor bearing lubricant, or act-2752 heavy duty bearing lubricant on larger motors.Use this heavier lube on bearings, side rods and valve gear.

ACT-111, NG Jel, use a little applicator to put a small amount on the gear teeth. It will spread itself. If you see excess, you used too much, wipe it off. This is really great stuff, it's a gel, and clings to gears and does not fly off, but under pressure, becomes more liquid, and coats the surfaces better. Neats stuff.

Update: Atlas sells their #190 Gear Lubricant, and it's identical in looks to the Aero lube. The container is identical, and it has the same unusual deep blue-purple color. So here's another alternative to find it.

Here's my favorite products, by Hob-E-Lube:

Sold/distributed by Woodland Scenics, nice stuff, wide range of products, and reasonable price. I have some favorites:

  • Graphite with moly powder (seems to work better than graphite alone, and the moly "plates" plastic surfaces better. I use this in plastic sideframes of rolling stock, and the powder works into the plastic, and it does not hold moisture or grit like oil.
  • Lithium grease with moly (as found in cars, the moly makes the grease slipperier) Very good for gears, again the "moly" works into the surfaces of the plastic gears well.
  • Heavy gear oil (clings to gears better, and I have found this best on metal axles in metal journals) Also for use on the "sliding" axles of Aristo locomotives, essential to keep these lubed.


Conductive lubricants?

Briefly: There ARE such things as electrically conductive lubricants, but they are very expensive and you do NOT want to use them.

Now, everyone has seen the word "conductive" on lubricants, and also, it SOUNDS like a good idea, right?

Wrong! Real conductive lubricants, which are usually greases, get everywhere, and often cause shorts where you don't want them.

Really conductive?

Most "conductive" lubricants you see advertised are actually not conductive, they maintain conductivity by keeping air out, from oxidizing the conductive surfaces.

The short story is that real conductive lubricants have to be controlled so that they don't short out things and they are normally filled with silver or gold.

People who have tried conductive lubricants on their trains have often wound up with shorts, like between the axle and the insulated wheel.

Not really conductive, just keep air out, oxidation and corrosion down.

On the LGB "conductive" grease, it has small bits of graphite. Sounds conductive right? Nope, the pieces of graphite are surrounded by non-conducting grease.

A conductive paste on rail joiners might be a good thing, but way too expensive. Anywhere else, it would be an electrical nightmare.

There are also some insanely funny stories as some companies tried an explanation of "conductivity on demand"....

LGB claimed a few times that their "conductive grease", which carries graphite, is conductive. When confronted by measurements that showed infinite resistance, they countered (they have since given this up) that under pressure, like in a rail joiner, the pressure smashed the little balls of graphite into conducting between the joiner and the rail... That was pretty funny. Of course untrue, but hard to disprove, unless you really think about it.
Also, I have found one lubricant that is actually somewhat conductive, but it washes away with water, and has proven to "eat" plastic, Aristo Craft still sells it
Many companies sell a conductive lubricant, most well known is "conducta-Lube"... it's really a light solvent and a little extremely light lube, and you can use it on motor commutators and the carbon pickup brushes on the backs of wheels. It works, but be sure to clean first, and then use just a little bit.


Why/when to lubricate, is it enough?

To determine when something needs lubrication, lube the equipment, measure amp draw, and establish baseline measurement. When the equipment draws more current, it needs lubrication (and possibly cleaning).

Aero-car / aero-locomotive recommends removing other types of lubricants before using their products, clean with isopropyl alcohol.

Here's a set of failed bearing/journals. A brand new car right out of the box. I noticed something wrong, like too much effort to pull this car after 2 laps on the layout and it also seemed that the car just didn't "sit right".

Pulling the trucks off the car:

It looked a little funny... looking from the side:

Now, there is DEFINITELY something wrong here! I took the truck apart:

Wow! how did this happen? Maybe I needed to check the fit of the wheels in the journals first!

I hope this is enough said, check all new items before running!


Other lubricants:

I'm testing out some other lubricants, now trying some of the Gunslick line, specifically Gunslick Graphite lube, comes in a 0.2 oz squeeze tube, recommended by TOC. This is stock number 83012, made by Onalaska Products, PO Box 39, Onalaska WI54650, Blount Incorporated has the same address.


Article originally posted on Aristo forum 3/26/2006 by Ted Doskaris

This thread topic concerns the issue of Aristo-Craft journal box cracks for both heavyweight passenger cars and 40 foot type freight cars. I have noticed that I have many that are failing, which is of much concern since my layout is under my house protected from the weather and that many of my cars are New Old Stock - having never been operated very much.

First, the 3 axle truck jounal box failures:

Below are example pictures of my new brand new Aristo-Craft ART-31610, SP Daylight RPO heavyweight car showing a developing journal box hairline crack originating from the brass axle bushing's circumference area.
(These pictures don't show the crack down the side toward the brass bushing too well, but I did not want to take the truck apart to get a better picture of that area; however, this side crack can be seen with a magnifying glass.)

A view of the same journal box area from a slightly different angle.

Below is a picture of a different journal box.

The picture below shows my SP RPO heavyweight car with one of is journal box crack progressions since the prior pictures were taken a short time ago.


Below is a close up view of that car's journal box crack progression.


I also discovered some of my Napa Valley Wine Train cars have developed journal box cracks, and these include a car's 3 axle truck center journal box, too! These cars were retrofitted from 2 axle trucks with the Aristo, P/N ART-29103, 3 axle truck kit about a year or so ago. At that time they were lubricated with Aristo's Electralube "plastic compatible" lubricant.

Below is a close up view of the example Napa Valley Wine Train car's 3 axle truck center journal box that has developed a crack.
The plastic friendly Aristo Electralube I had used to lube the axles can be seen oozing from the crack!

The 40 foot Bettendorf journal box failures:

Below is an example picture of my Aristo-Craft CN reefer car with a cracked Bettendorf 2 axle truck journal box.
The proper Aristo Electralube plastic friendly lube had been used.

Below is a closer view of my Aristo-Craft CN reefer car with its cracked Bettendorf 2 axle truck journal box.


Below is the underside view of my CN reefer car with its cracked Bettendorf 2 axle truck journal box.


Below is my CN reefer car with its Bettendorf 2 axle truck side frame showing the journal box broken pieces.

When repairing my CN reefer's truck with a replacement side frame, some issues came to mind:

Below is the replacement Bettendorf side frame shown with its bearing / bushing hole recess ridge that is 0.250 inch below the surface.
The total hole depth is approx. 0.350 inch. The plastic bearing should not be forced past this ridge during its installation. Going beyond this point would invide cracking the journal box.


The truck side frame replacement bearing / bushing (which is approx. 0.230 inch in outside diameter) should be installed with finger pressure only until it rests on the sideframe hole internal ridge. (Any protruding excess bearing length can be trimmed with a utility knife.) I happen to have a bag of replacement bushings I purchased from Aristo-Craft some time ago. In going through them, I had to select one that would fit into the sideframe hole with just using finger pressure. Other bushings would require being driven in with too much force which would likely stress the journal box causing it to crack or eventually crack at a later time.

Since I used Aristo-Crafts ART 29602 Electralube plastic compatible lube EXCLUSIVELY on all my Aristo 40 foot freight cars and heavywight passenger cars, and if I assume I do not have a defective bottle of lubricant, my suspecion at this time is that use of the lubricant may be acting as a kind of liquid wedge when in the presence of a developing journal box crack will hasten the demise of the journal box to catastrophic failure. Since my experience shows that journal box bushings - whether they be brass for passenger car side frames or plastic (Delrin?) for the Bettendorf 40 foot car type side frames may have an interference fit, that factory installations procedures that may not take into account this fact are inviting failures.

In my case, I spent much of this winter season on completing the retrofit of approx. 60 of my New Old Stock cars with lowered floors and metal wheels using Aristo's lube. Having only preliminarly inspected about 15 of them shows about 1 in 4 with cracking journal boxes. The heavyweight cars also have a high percentage of developing failures.

Both Aristo-Craft and Forum users are welcome to comment and offer their experiences and explainations.


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