Thursday, April 28, 2011

Trackside Signals

My trackside signals are finally complete! When I purchased the little trackside signal face plates and matching LED lights off eBay for about $8.00 last year, I thought I was being really thrifty, which I was, however I then realized that I was now faced with the responsibility of having to make the light standards to hold these signals. Wiring was not an issue as I had incorporated these into my main wiring system, but I now had to find a way to make them look at least somewhat realistic on my layout.

Layout with all trackside signals

As I mentioned before, the signals themselves were purchased off eBay for about $8.00. This included 10 black signal face plates which held 3 LED lights each, 30 LED lights (red, green, and yellow), and 30 matching resistors. Once the LED lights were glued into the face plates, I used telephone wire, which I soldered to the contact points on the LEDs. Telephone wire worked great as not only because it’s cheap and inexpensive, but the 4 wires are red, yellow, green, and black, which matched perfectly with the LED colours!

Lit scratch built trackside signalScratch built trackside signal

 To build the light standards, I went to my local hobby shop and visited the Evergreen Models styrene plastic display. Evergreen makes bulk styrene strips in almost every shape and size imaginable, which is great for these types of projects. I used 7/16” tubing for the mast, which is a little larger than most prototypical-sized masts, but this is the smallest size that would allow me to run the 8 wires through for the dual signals. I then cut notches in the tops of each mast to allow the signals to fit into them.

Styrene for trackside signalScratch built trackside signals

 I then used slightly larger tubing that allowed the 3/16” tubing to fit snugly inside for the base support, as well as around the base of each signal to act as a support. The mast and support where then glued to a 1/16” base. I glued small rectangular pieces of thin styrene on the sides of each signal. This created a smooth transition from the signal to the mast. A second, smaller piece of styrene was then glued to that, simulating a maintenance door. I use poly-filler to fill in any gaps, and to smooth out any really rough edges.

Handmade access ladder on signal mastMountain tunnel trackside signals

 The maintenance ladders were all hand made using .04" styrene strips. I carefully cut every rung to the exact size I needed, then carefully glued them to one of the side supports. I did this on a flat surface to ensure the rungs were all aligned with the support and were all level and square. Once dry, I glued on the other support. Once dry, I glued them directly to the signal units.

Front staging trackside signalsHandmade railroad signal

 For paint, I used steel coloured enamel for all of the metal parts, such as the ladder and mast. I used a flat grey to simulate concrete on the base. The signal units themselves were painted flat black on all sides. Once the paint dried, I drilled holes through my benchwork, allowing the wires to run through to the underside, where I connected them to the rest of the wiring. I used temporary screws to hold them in place until I start my scenery.

Installed trackside signal

The end result looked pretty good, considering I have never scratch built anything with styrene before. The cost was a lot less as well. Signals can run anywhere from $25 right up to $50 or $60 or higher for really nice ones. I spent in total about $30 for all 5 of mine. I know they aren’t exactly prototypical, but compared to some that I’ve seen in stores, I’m pretty satisfied with how they turned out.

Close up of dual trackside signal

For a diagram of how I wired my signals, click HERE, or visit my Wiring Diagrams page for other examples.

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