Sunday, 22 May 2016

Lights, wiring, toasted marshmallows!

I hate wiring! To be perfectly honest I find it the least enjoyable aspect of model railroading. So exactly 12 months to the weekend since cutting the first piece of timber to commence construction of my bookshelf layout, I forced myself to wire the lights that would illuminate my model railway to be able to say that I essentially completed a model railroad layout within 12 months. What a disaster it turned out to be!

Using Wire Glue turned out to be much simpler than setting up a soldering iron.

A fellow model railroader from Brisbane by the name of Chaz Webber put me onto a product called Wire Glue. For a modeler whose soldering efforts often resemble award winning sculptures of abstract art, this turned out to be a positive start to what was supposed to be a positive weekend. Wire Glue is in a word, brilliant! I'll post a review on it at a later date, but for now let me say my soldering iron will forever be confined to the tool box in the garage!

I ended up melting the plastic coating from the tiny light pole wires using a match.

If you remember those cheap model train lamp posts I bought on eBay from China, you'll also remember how I went to a lot of effort to dress these up with station signs to add to my platform. The first problem I encountered with my weekend wiring project was the tiny wires that now dangled beneath my layout. No thicker than a strand of hair, it seemed the manufacturers saved money by leaving one strand of wire completely exposed, and the other dipped in the thinnest of red plastic coatings that to attempt to strip the wire ran the risk of breaking it altogether. No problem I thought, I'll just take out a match, and melt the bastard off. As it turned out, the problem was solved and I could now scrape the wire clean between my finger nails and splice it into position along the feeder wire I would run beneath my layout.

The Wire Glue applies over the wire join with a simple blob of paint.

For the interior lights to my buildings, I resisted the urge to once more buy the cheapest I could find on eBay, and this time ordered some 3 mm grain-of-wheat light bulbs through an online hobby store. These were much easier to strip back the coating from the wire and join to the 1.5 mm speaker wire I had bought from my local Bunnings Warehouse. Using the Wire Glue was as simple as thickly coating the join with a blob of the thick, black paint and waiting for it to dry.

I fed each light bulb wire through holes beneath the layout and joined them to the one feeder wire.

Having already drilled the holes beneath my layout to where the lights would feed up into the buildings, I began to join each leader wire into the feeder wire that would run the length of the layout using the 1.5 mm speaker wire I bought from Bunnings to my ancient control pack that would supply the power to the lights. So far things were progressing nicely.

I used Blue Tack to hold the lights in place for the Cement Plant.

To hold the lights into place inside each of the buildings, I used another simple method. The good-old Blue Tack. My reason being that if ever I need to replace a light bulb somewhere down the track, my buildings, (which are all removable), could simply be lifted up, the Blue Tack removed and the light bulb pushed back through the hole beneath the layout. A new light bulb can then be attached to the feeder wire, pushed back through the hole and Blue Tacked into place once more.

The model then sits in place over the light bulbs.

So I repeated this process with the Goods Shed....

I did the same with the Goods Shed.

....and the Railway Station building.

And the same for the Railway Station building, the light bulbs then pass through holes drilled into the floor.

Finally, I glued an end plug attachment to the end of my feeder wire at the point that plugs into my power pack. With the Wire Glue joins now dry and cured as per the instructions, I then thought to reinforce each join by covering them with electrical tape, and finally screwed some small hooks in place beneath the layout to keep all the wires hooked up in place so as to keep the appearance of my layout neat and tidy. Once night fell, it was time to plug the feeder wire plugs into the 12 volt D.C. socket on my old Hammant & Morgan Duette power pack to see how it looked. The lights all worked except for the Auscision Models CTC signal that was installed beside my main line. No problem I thought, I'll just try the 16 volt A.C. socket on the other side of my transformer pack. Instantly I had success. Not only was the CTC signal now up and running, but there seemed to be no difference with the light intensity of the 3 mm grain-of-wheat light bulbs that I had installed in each of my buildings. While the instructions that come with the Auscision Models signals say it is designed to work with 12 - 15 volt D.C., I guess my ancient H&M couldn't pump out to juice required on the 12 volt D.C. socket, and the 16 volt A.C. socket seemed to be working perfectly fine.

Using 2 light bulbs in the Cement Plant was perhaps a little overkill. I'm going to try removing 1.

My first impressions of the lighting effect in each of my buildings was mixed. The Faller Cement Works building I had carefully constructed and weathered over the past 12 months glowed like a roman candle. I put it down to the light coloured plastic components being a little too opaque. I'll definitely have to black-out the inside of the building at a later date.

I designed the Goods Shed platform to have cracks in the floor to let the light filter through.

My Model Train Buildings NSWGR G-2 Goods Shed on the other hand looked amazing. The cracks I had modeled on the floorboards of the goods shed were doing their job at letting just a few slithers of light shine down beneath the structure, while the sturdy laser-cut timber building doesn't require any black-out effect to subdue the lighting.

I am really pleased with how the waiting room stands out at my station....

My Model Train Buildings NSWGR A-4 Station Building also got the thumbs up! By installing 3 separate light bulbs into each compartment of the structure, the lighting makes each room appear well-lit, and really makes the passengers and posters in the waiting room stand out.

....but the lamp posts on the platform were too bright and later turned out to be a disaster altogether.

The lights along the station platform however were glowing a little too brightly for my liking. I only envisioned the domed heads of my station signposts giving a subdued lighting effect on my model, but here they were shining as brightly as the UFO from Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

The view of the illuminated railway station before it all went horribly wrong.

From a distance, the station sign lamp posts were doing just as good a job of lighting up my layout as the LED strip lighting I had installed overhead, and the above photo actually shows my layout with the overhead LED lighting turned off! It was about this time while I was merrily walking back-and-forth with my camera to photograph the crowning achievement of 12 months of handiwork, that my wife interrupted me. "What's burning?" She asked as she walked over to inspect my layout. By now I could smell it too. A horrible burnt plastic smell now filled our apartment. I quickly unplugged my power pack and opened the window. I didn't take long to see what the problem was.

The burned out remains of the el'Cheapo eBay light poles.

The el'Cheapo Chinese light poles had melted! The white plastic heads on top of each of my station lamp posts had each swollen, sagged and come into contact with the light bulb inside, melting the top section of the black pole in the process. As you can see from these photos, the lamp posts now resemble giant toasted marshmallows on the top of a stick.

The station lamp post signs will now need to be cut back to just above the name board.

Things like this can be real discouraging, and it seems the old saying 'you get what you pay for' has come back to bite me on the ass on more time. While boasting in a past blog post that these neat light station sign lights had cost me less than 25 cents each to make, I'm now going to have to go back to the drawing board. Not only that, but that painful wiring job that I hate doing is going to have to be revisited one more time to remove the wiring joins for each of my marshmallow lamp posts, and re-join the replacement light posts into position. While the more traditional 3 mm grain-of-wheat light bulbs have held-up fine running from the 16 volt A.C. power socket, I'm guessing the power voltage had something to do with the melt-down of the $5 eBay specials. Still, I would like to have known if the lights would have had the same problem running on 12 volt D.C., or if they were just cheap garbage to begin with.

Thankfully the Auscision Models CTC signal is working perfectly fine on 16 volt A.C. power.

As for my Auscision Models CTC Signal, as you can see in the above photo, it seems to be working okay on 16 volt A.C. power. Having not been able to draw enough power to work on my 12 volt D.C. setting anyway, there is nothing more I can do but to closely monitor its performance on a setting that is slightly higher than what is recommended. For now, I'm going to leave the re-wiring project for another day. Even with the added benefit of using the Wire Glue, wiring a model railway is still not high on my 'fun list'. As for the station signs, I'm going to remove the wires and cut the poles off just above the sign name. The 3 station sign poles can then remain on the platform with their own unique story to tell.

So I'm now going to take this as my opportunity to install LED lamp posts, as they require a resistor to regulate the output to 3 volts anyway. For the few lamp posts that my layout requires, I should just be able to wire the resistor parallel rather than in a series. And I think I will also try rewiring the CTC signal direct to the 12 volt socket to see if that provides more direct power than linking it to the same feeder wire that powers the other lights. Just to be sure that I'm not causing any damage by running it long term on the 16 volt AC setting. The new LED lamp posts that I now have coming look more like a NSW station platform light anyway. One thing is for sure. Anything will look better than a toasted marshmallow!

See also; Really simple block wiring and Installing Auscision's CTC Signals


  1. It's been years since I did any, but from memory those platform lamps needed to be wired in pairs, each two in series connected to the power in parallel with the others. That way each globe gets 6V rather than 12V.

  2. I did not know that. I hadn't been able to find the suggested power output on the plastic packet they arrived in. When I do find some more suitable replacements, I'll definitely try wiring them in pairs first, before joining them to the feeder wire. Thanks so much for the tip!

  3. Hi Phil,

    You could try using warm white LEDs instead of grain-of-wheat bulbs.

    Warm white LEDs give off a yellowish white light rather then the bluish tone of normal white LEDs. Each LED requires a resistor, which will regulate how much current the LED will draw and therefore control the brightness. The advantages of LEDs over bulbs is that they run nowhere near as hot (if getting warm at all), draw less current, and last much longer.

    An 820 ohm resistor on a 12VDC supply is a good place to start for lighting.



    1. Thanks for the tip. I'll look into it some more.


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil