"Rail Broom" / Sweeper Car

What is it?

Bill Wilcox ( This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) makes a wonderful "sweeper" or "broom" car kit. It is basically a large brush spun by a DC motor. It works great.

Bill was inspired by a real sweeper car he saw on a trolley line in a Midwest city. He considered the 45 degree angle, but it lead to problems through tunnels or bridges

The Product:

Bill's first creation was made from brass parts. I have not seen one of these.

Later he changed to a heavy gauge aluminum for the main brush bracket, and more aluminum for the other parts.

The 2 pulleys are solid brass.

There is a large brush rotating in ball bearings in a "U" shaped bracket and a motor all mounted in an adjustable aluminum bracket.

The picture below shows my first unit, a clean design, but you had to pry the bracket apart to replace the drive belt, since it was all one piece.


Below, you you can see Bill's revised design, with the new style bracket, where you can unbolt the end of the bracket to get the belt off.

Much easier!


From the side view above, you can see that both the brush and the motor are on 2 rods that are adjustable up and down. (Note the piece of wood will be removed and the unit bolted to your rolling stock.

For optimum performance, Bill recommends that the brush should extend to just touch the top surface of the rail - the air turbulence will aid in moving the debris between the rails so direct contact with the rail ties is not needed. As mentioned before, this will avoid unnecessary drag on the brush and drive belt. This will allow you years of life, mine is way over 10 years old.

The unit is supplied as shown with the toggle switch, and the motor/brush assembly all mounted to a temporary wood base.

Upgrades for earlier models:

Bill offers an upgrade kit for the earlier versions to the newer "removable" bracket shown above. Contact bill for pricing and how to ship.
Again, contact  Bill by email:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Drive Belt:

The drive belt is a 70 durometer, 1/16" diameter, and 1.75" I. They are not "O" rings, but drive belts for this purpose.

Initially I was losing belts often, but Bill upgraded the belts and they now last much longer than the original ones I received. (these are special belts, made of a special rubber, so be sure not to waste your time trying "O" rings like I did!).

Here's the brush in motion:


The motor is designed to run on 7.5-12 volts DC.

I run mine from the track voltage on my DCC layout.  I use a 5 ohm 20 watt resistor. With a track voltage of 21 volts DCC RMS I got about 18.5 volts to the motor and no load current was about 0.5 amps, and hooking up the belt and with some more resistance by putting my finger on the pulley gave me about 0.7 amps.

I changed my DCC system and have more like 23 volts now, so with the same resistor, it's about 20 volts to the motor.

So be sure if you are connecting electronics to control the motor speed, have at least 1 amp continuous capability.

My Tips:

Bill cautions you to unhook the belt from the pulleys after use, to extend it's life. He's right. The newer belts are tougher, but this is an easy to do thing.

At the expense of wearing the brush out more quickly, I have my brush about 1/4" BELOW the rail head. This will clean out frogs and guard rails on switches and also will clear errant ballast. I'm happy with the quicker wear in exchange for the improved function, re-ballasting my layout is now not a chore, and I have to admit it's fun watching the ballast go "zing"!

Examples of different cars:

The picture below shows the basic system on an ore car:


Here's a unit on a USAT 20 Tonner that Bill made up:


And here is one on an Aristo slope back tender Bill likewise made up:

My observations:

I run DCC, so I decided to use track power. Battery power is fine, but figure on 1/2 amp draw.

I have had problems with the bristles bending over near the pulley, and then getting "run over" by the belt, and staying bent over, obstructing the belt and usually throwing the belt off. Bill informs me that spinning the brush and using a hair dryer about 1/2" away will straighten them back out... let them cool before stopping the brush.

I have made a small shield out of thin plastic, just slightly larger in diameter than the pulley. This has worked great, and only took about 5 minutes to make. (need picture here). 

My car has worked flawlessly, and the motor seems very robust. Bill indicates that he has had no motor failures in all the units he has sold. I believe him. (especially since I am running it way over 12 volts!)

I highly recommend this product for it's utility, and the "fun factor".

More examples:

You can add some "extras" to the sweeper car, see the following pictures:

The sweeper below was done by Thom Filbert:

Thom added a 12 volt blower to the car too, the fan is a "Tracker Turbo Fan". Several people have used these too. Here's a link: Victor Tracker the part number is 023-550 and the UPC#: 020126223053.



Here's R.J. DeBerg's sweeper car. I like the Aristo searchlight car, and will build mine in a similar fashion:


R.J. relocated the equipment box from the end to the side, and put in the on off switch:

Here's the unit disassembled. You can see the piece of wood that holds the brush bracket and the motor bracket, as the kit comes from the manufacturer:


My sweeper car:

I decided to finally make a nice looking sweeper car, and I liked RJ's idea best. I bought the Aristo searchlight car and started.



First, I removed the Aristo couplers, the smokestack, and carefully levered the center of the "caboose" up and off to see inside. Do not bother with the 4 screws in the roof they connect to nothing.

Be careful not to damage the marker lights as they stick out the furthest. Once the smokestack is off, the safest way to hold it is upside down.


Next I unscrewed the truck on the "caboose" end in preparation for Kadees. I trimmed the coupler tang back, but left the small mounting pad for pickup brushes, you can see that you could mount a set of brushes for every axle on this car if needed.


The underside of this car is the newer one with the "Kadee pad" on it, which actually does not match the Kadee coupler box, but looks similar. By trying the lsrger "slack type" gearbox, I confirmed the Aristo mounting lugs did not match the spacing, and as often happens, the gearbox is so wide, the wheels hit the gearbox, and would not allow even moderate curves.

So I marked the end bolster with the kadee gauge, and milled out the 0.8" notch needed for the standard center mount couplers.

Your remove the end bolster with 4 every small silver Philip head screws.




Wonder of wonder, the tail of the gearbox sits on a transverse rib and the height and level of the coupler are perfect.



I mounted the coupler with a single screw, the nearer hole would have come outside the caboose housing.




Removing searchlights, switch, and wires above the deck:

Next time to work on the wiring. Since I am going to run DCC and with a decoder, I wanted to disconnect any lights from the track pickups. The searchlights come with a lot of wire, I removed the bases from the deck since I will reposition them and use them later.


Look underside and you see that there is a little plug of the rubbery hot glue in the center sill. Carefully pop it out, without stabbing the wires inside, and as you pull it out, carefully peel the embedded wires free, this was pretty easy.

Ok, unwind with wires on the searchlights and you will be removing the "black" side of the wires first underneath. You will find that 2 of the searchlight wires go into a heat-shrunk connection of 2 more black wires, one from the near truck and one from the far truck. With a small pair of nippers, you can actually reach into the heat shrink a bit and cut the 2 searchlight wires, and not expose any bare wire. Pull the 2 black searchlight wires out from the deck.


Now you need to work on the "red" side, but that connection is not underneath, but on the cheap switch in the tool box. Unscrew the 2 screws holding it, and you should have enough slack to pull it out to get at it. It has 2 terminals, one unused, one with red wires and one with black wires. Cut off the black wires, they are the final wires to the searchlights, and fish them out, the searchlights should be completely free.

Now clip off the outer 2 terminals of the switch flush, so you can get to the middle one with the red wires. The goal is to cut this one flush, leaving the 2 red wires still soldered together. After you have done this, you can fish these 2 soldered wires out underneath the frame to be next to the black ones. You will have some extra slack in the wires from this truck to the other side, and you can take that slack up by putting little "S" curves in the wires in the several "pockets" in the center sill.

Disconnecting and freeing wires in the "caboose":

Now you want to separate the wires in the caboose section. First, remove the sticky tape that holds the wires to the "hoop". be very careful, as these are thin wires, and if you break a wire inside, removing the caboose shell from the deck is very difficult and makes a mess visually.


Once you have freed the wires from the sticky tape, my best recommendation is to cut the wires free from the light bulb on the hoop, and then unwind the wires that were wrapped around the hoop. If you are careful, you can free them entirely from the hoop. Be careful, usually there is that rubbery hot glue everywhere.

Once you have freed the wires, you can go underneath and remove the screws that hold the hoop, and then by grabbing and pulling chunks of the hot glue at the base of the hoop, the entire hoop will lift out. Seems silly that they added all that glue when the hoop is already secured by screws underneath.

Now you can pull out the light bulb socket and solder 2 wires to it, and you have nice long leads to the marker lights and the power pickup wires.



Remove the tool box:

Removing the tool box: I wanted to remove it intact and use again, and cause minimal damage to it and the floor. It's glued to the floor, but trying to break it all away at once is pretty much impossible.

So I thought I could pull it apart into 4 parts and then break each part away from the floor. I was successful.

first remove the 4 tiny screws, they take a larger driver than you would think, make sure you have a good fit to the screw head.

Next, I slowly wedged the larger walls away (outwards) to sort of "disconnect" the tabs that lock the sides together, start rocking one of the long sides away and the tabs will be apparent. Once I wedged one side away enough that the tab popped out a bit, I was able to put a thin flat blade between the deck and one short side and easily pop it away. Remove the other short side.

Now I carefully rocked one of the long sides away, and slipped a thin screwdriver at one end betwen the side and the deck. By carefully wedging, twisting and advancing, I managed to pop the long sides away with minimal damage to the deck. Reassemble the tool box now to not lose those tiny screws!



Mounting the broom system:

With the deck clear, it's time to mount the broom



I left the end bolster on, but to close fit the unit to the end of the car, there were some small projections on the end (rivets and mounts for the removed grab bars). Then I noticed that there were nuts that project from the 2 square bars that hold the brush bracket on. You can see the nut and a bit of the screw bottom center. I countersunk the holes and used a flat head stainless screw so that it was flush with the square bar. That allowed butting the unit to the very end.



Here is is installed, and I do recommend vibration proof "locking nuts" in the above locations and to mount the unit. I used a small 1/16" shim on the deck underneath to compensate for the raised "edge" at the end of the car. This allows an nice squared up mounting of the unit on the end of the car.


Below all wired up for testing. Clearly the motor wires and searchlight wires will need to be run underneath, and the cover made on the end of the car to cover the bracket and motor.


Test video:

My DCC setup:

I used a simple motor decoder and run the searchlights, interior light, marker lights, and of course the sweeper motor, NCE D808.

The searchlights and interior lights are miniature screw base bulbs E10 size, like in an old flashlight, 16 volts, 0.125 amps. I found some 24 volt screw base LED "bulbs" on Amazon, they draw about 33 ma at 24 volts, great screw right in the interior hoop. I had to sand the end down to fit in the searchlights. In both cases no dropping resistor.

The marker lights seem to be in series, so I fed them 18 volts, measured the current, and calculated a dropping resistor to consume 6 volts at the same curren, too much work to re-lamp them.

DCC connections and programming (NCE D808 decoder)

  • 2 searchlights (want to have ditch light mode and constant on) - outputs 3 and 4, will be on with headlight and will alternate if horn is blown (F2)
    • CV36 = 12 (F2 mapped to outputs 3 & 4)
    • CV122 = 56 (Output 3 = right ditch)
    • CV123 = 60 (output 4 = left ditch)
    • CV118 = 1 (minimum ditch light output off delay)
    • CV35=0 (clear default that could control output 3)
  • motor connected as normal, CV2 set so the brush just ticks over on SS 1 (so you know it's on, not just stalled heating up
  • 1 interior light F3 - output 5
    • CV37 = 16 (F3 controls output 5)
  • 2 marker lights F4 - output 6
    • CV38 = 4 (F4 controls output 6)
  • sweeper motor - normal motor output


  • F0/lights turns on the searchlights
  • F2/horn makes the searchlights alternate
  • F3 turns on the interior light
  • F4 turns on the marker lights
  • Speed controls the motor of course.


I will make some kind of cover like RJ did and relocate the searchlights on top, and put the toolbox off to the side


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