"Rail Broom" / Sweeper Car

What is it?

Bill Wilcox ( ) 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 aluminum for the other parts.

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

(The product has recently been updated with a toggle switch as shown below. The original style switch was a red push button, you can get either by request. You will notice both types in the pictures here.) 

The "guts" are on an aluminum bracket.

There is a large brush mounted on ball bearings in the large U shaped bracket. 

The aluminum bracket is adjustable to allow setting the height of the brush, which should just clear the rails.

For optimum performance, 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.

Solid brass pulleys transmit the power from the DC motor.

The picture below shows the " kit".


July 2009 update:

Bill made a change to make it easier to change the belt.
The picture below shows the new style bracket, where you can unbolt the end of the bracket to get the belt off.

Upgrades for earlier models:

Bill offers an upgrade kit for the earlier versions to the removable bracket shown above. As of July 2009, is $23.50, return postage included. You remove the frame/brush/bearings as an assembly and send it it. Bill reuses your bearings, pulley and brush, and installs them into the new frame and supplies a new belt.
You can add $2 for a spare belt. Bill also offers upgrades for the earlier brass units (not pictured here).

Again, contact  Bill by email: 

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, I received some new belts in late 2008, and they last much longer than the original ones I received, and last much much longer than just ordinary "O" rings from the auto parts store. (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.

The belt should be unhooked from the pulleys after use, to extend it's life. As of October 2008, replacement belts cost $5.50 for 4 belts, postage paid. It's best to check with Bill by email first on current pricing.

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.


Another implementation using a Rule in-line blower (marine type) by Sean Migillicuddy:

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:


More ideas:

I want to put some fans in the car and blow air under it. Stay tuned for this.


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