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Peter's Model Railroading | Articles | Rolling Stock | PRR N5c
Construction: Interior Lights


This page describes how I installed interior and marker lights using a Richmond Controls custom module. To be quite honest, even though their web site lists all different kinds of lighting solutions, it is difficult to figure out what you need. The way I did it was via e-mails to Jim Hinds, owner of Richmond Controls, directly, and explained to him what I wanted. As luck would have it, he had just (this was back in 2010 when I ordered this module) completed a similar configuration for another well-known S-scale modeler who wanted interior lights for the same Kaslo model. Nonetheless, there were some differences and going back and forth with Jim asking him questions about my options eventually yielded a custom design perfect for my model. He eventually e-mails you an invoice. I live in nearby Houston, so we just met at a local show and exchanged parts for money, but he can handle online transactions. I opted for the cheaper I-will-assemble-it-myself option. However, at the show, Jim handed me the fully assembled module, ready to go (as seen below). He's a really nice guy! The system is based around the EZLS Lighting Strip. This is a long, skinny circuit board that has the LEDs mounted on it. These LEDs are incredibly tiny, so they would probably require some special tools and/or skills to install safely. Since I use DCC, the board has some additional components to deal with that. Another feature I wanted was flicker-free operation. Since electrical pick-up can be an issue at times, an extra "supercap" capacitor is added to the circuit (the rounded disc on the left in the photo) to provide temporary electrical power to the LEDs. What's interesting about this solution is that capacitors these days as so powerful and the LEDs use such little power, that the LEDs will remain on for a very long time after power has been cut-off. Think 10 to 15 minutes long! Plenty for temporary power interruptions on a layout!
(external link: Richmond Controls)

I have found very few prototype photos of PRR N5c cabin cars with caboose marker lamps, but, to me at least, this seems like such a typical feature, that I wanted to have those as well. Again, Richmond Controls can accommodate you. Make sure to specify this feature, because that means the wires will be attached to the LEDs such that they "exit" the LED on one side. This makes mounting them easier. The interesting feature about the EZLS Lighting Strip is that when you specify DCC as the power source, the circuit can work with just about any power source. To test the module, I hooked it up to a straight 9V battery, as shown below. Look closely and you'll see four LEDs on the circuit board itself and two LEDs that are loose, which will be inserted into the caboose marker lamps.

The next photo shows the flicker-free feature. After "charging" on the battery for a few minutes, I disconnected the board and put it in the dark so that you can see it better. This set-up was lit-up for a good 10 minutes or more.

With the confidence that the circuit works, the next step is to provide for electrical pick-up via the wheels. I am using the American Models scale Bettendorf caboose trucks. These provide electrical connectivity between the axle and one wheel, while the other wheel is electrically isolated. Perfect for this application. It is then just a matter of remembering to put one truck facing one way and the other the other way (and, of course, making sure the wheels are in the same orientation within each truck). I ordered a set of wheel wipers from Richmond Controls when I ordered the circuit board. You can get those at any model railroad store, though. These are meant for HO-scale, but they are long enough to fit S-scale axle spacing. I removed the truck from the model, removed the mounting screw, installed the wiper, and then installed the washer and nut I use to keep the car at the correct height. I did have to enlarge the hole in the wiper to get it to fit better on the screw. As you can see, the wiper "blades" are long enough for this truck's axle spacing. These will be trimmed to size later on.
(external link: American Models)

I thought I could solder a wire to the wiper, but the solder just won't grab. I then cut a small strip of brass from the left-over brass sprue of the kit, drilled a hole in it to slip over the screw and then attached the nut and washer. You can see the one for the other truck next to this one. I soldered a thin, flexible wire to the brass strip. A digital multimeter verified that there was an electrical connection between the wheels and the wire.

I drilled a hole through the floor of the car, and routed the wire through the hole as I installed the truck. Note that the wiper "blades" have been trimmed.

Another test is needed. I connected some temporary test leads to the two wires coming in from the car's floor, connected them to the circuit board, and turned on the DCC system. As you can see, it all worked.

The LEDs stayed on for about 30 minutes after I turned off track power to the layout.

Although I mentioned to Jim how long the interior of the cabin car was, the circuit board as shown above didn't quite fit. I decided to unsolder the super capacitor, attach some extra leads, and solder them back to the board. This does make the capacitor more visible in the cabin, but the board now fits better.

I experimented with some ways of installing and attaching the circuit board so that the roof would be removable, but in the end I decided that since the electronics are working, I have great faith that they will continue to work, so I am going to permanently attach the roof to the car. The roof, since I had built the car over a year ago, has started to warp (curved up at the ends). A permanent attachment would make the car look better. That being the case, I decided to glue the circuit board to the underside of the roof using five-minute epoxy.

Next up are the two marker lights. I bought a package of B.T.S. Caboose Marker Lamps, part #02308. These are very nice parts. They are hollow on the inside, and have four openings; one on the bottom (for the wires), one facing the front (or rear of the car), and one on either side. A mounting pin makes it easy to attach the part to the car. (FYI: Adams & Westlake 1907 marker lights; Steve Sandifer's HO-scale caboose marker lamps installation). The few prototype photos of PRR N5c cabin cars I did find that had marker lamps, had those lamps painted yellow. I applied one coat of Polly Scale "Railbox Yellow" directly to the brass marker lamps. The paint doesn't completely cover the parts, but that gives the lamps a more weathered/worn look, as seen in this extreme close-up photo.
(external link: B.T.S.)

The next photo is an excruciatingly close-up photo of the part, taken free-hand hence the out-of-focus. However, it shows the small LED installed in the marker lamp. The way I did it was I used two vises and a small plastic clamp to hold the LED in the brass part. I then filled the interior of the marker lamp with Formula '560' canopy glue. It goes in white, but it dries clear. I tried to have the LED aim out the front (or rear, depending on your view) of the marker lamp. The wires come out of the bottom, of course.

I folded the wiring in the car to be as out of the way as possible, and used five-minute epoxy to attach the roof to the car. And here's the final result. I lightly painted the front-facing hole of the marker lamp (remember, the glue fills up the entire inner chamber of the brass part) with Floquil "Soo Line Red". The LED shines through it. I left the sides "exposed". The LEDs are no where near as bright as the new bright LED I used in the RS-1 shown in the background. I would probably have preferred them a bit brighter, especially the ones in the interior. You can just make out one of the interior LEDs in the photo. The four LEDs do light up the interior, but not so much that you can clearly see the "furniture" in the car.

Just for fun, I turned off the layout power and the layout's lighting, and took this photo (by hand). You can make out the interior a bit better this way. Again, the lights stayed on for about 15 minutes after the layout was off. All in all, it was a fun project to do. The Richmond Controls circuit makes it a lot easier to implement. I would recommend this, if you like subtle lights. I would have preferred the LEDs to be a bit brighter so that they are more visible when the layout's lighting is on, however, it does add to the overall effect.