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Author Previous Topic: Life Like vs Atlas and Kato Topic Next Topic: Sunday Night Photo Fun (SNFF) - 2010/01/31
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Posted - 2010 February 01 :  12:14:17 AM  Show Profile
Few weeks ago I was involved in couple of heated threads about using and properly powering up LEDs. At that time I was also in the middle of a project which makes extensive use of LEDs. The project is now finished (it was on display at the Springfield MA show).

This is N-Trak module featuring a Royal American Shows carnival scene circa late 60s / early 70s. It is a collaboration between Roland Kelley and me which begun in 1996. Roland built the N-Trak modules and detailed the carnival area. All the concession stands and trailers are scratchbuilt. My task was to animate and illuminate the carnival. I installed motors in all the rides and illuminated them using both LEDs and Miniatronics 1.5V 30mA micro light bulbs. Some of the original motors included with the rides were either unreliable or too large and placed next to the ride (instead of under the table). After my conversion all the motors are hidden from view. We have been displaying these modules at many model train shows per year. Since the entire carnival scene is removable, Roland also scratchbuilt a nice circus scene which can be installed in place of the carnival so we sometimes display the carnival and other times the circus.

Fast forward 13 years to 2009. Carnival needed maintenance. Rides had to be cleaned and lubed and many of the light bulbs have burned out since they have been in use for hundreds of hours. Since the LED technology has advanced quite a bit since 1996 I decided to replace all the remaining light bulbs with white LEDs. Not only they are now more affordable and small enough, they also consume much less power, run cooler and are brighter than the mini light bulbs. After conversion this carnival scene is now illuminated with 282 LEDs. Replacing light bulbs with LEDs made a dramatic difference in the appearance of this model. The LEDs are bright enough to clearly illuminate the entire midway (light bulbs were not).

Photo of the entire N-Trak module displaying the carnival insert. It also shows Roland's mostly scratchbuilt Royal American Shows train spotted in the yard.

Here is a photo of the carnival during daytime. These photos just show the carnival area (not the entire N-Trak module) because it was much easier for me to photograph the carnival by itself.

Nighttime photo taken from a similar angle. All nighttime photos utilize only the lights on the carnival module. No external lights were used.

View from the front of the carnival.

For fun I used Helicon Focus software with stacks of about 25 photos to create the following images with large depth of field.

This image was taken close to eye-level view.

Here is a link to a video showing the carnival in-action.

Now for some more construction details: The first ride Roland built for this carnival scene was IHC merry-go-round. It is a very nice kit where the horses even go up and down (if it is assembled carefully). Roland's wonderful paint job greatly enhanced this kit and inspired me to join the project.

Even in this daytime photo the illumination is still visible.

As far as illumination goes I decided that fiber optics would be the best way to light this one up. I showed Roland how to install the fiber optics then he installed and tied hundreds of fibers. All the fiber optics were originally illuminated with couple of 12V 40mA grain of wheat bulbs I installed in the center of the merry-go-round. I now replaced them with a couple of 5mm warm white LEDs (from a Christmas tree light string). Power is delivered by a slip-ring/brushes assembly. This photo shows the illumination details. Roof is removed to allow a peek inside. The underside of the roof is painted flat white to reflect some of the light down to the rider's area. That illuminates the horses. Since light coming out from fiber optics is directional they look a bit dim in this photo. They are much brighter when viewed straight on.

Next is the chair-o-plane ride.

This ride was designed to utilize a low-RPM AC motor from Faller. Over the years we found the AC motor unreliable (it would often stall when first powered up). It also had a fixed speed, based on the frequency of its power (in this case 60Hz). I decided to re-power it using a DC gear-head motor I picked up from Electronic Goldmine (electronic surplus seller). Since the AC motor was a structural part of this model I just hollowed it out and installed the new DC motor inside it. This photo shows the new motor and also the slip-ring and brush system for delivering power to the rotating part of the ride. I used the same method of delivering power to all the rotating rides. There are 2 brass slip-rings on the motor shaft sleeve. They are electrically isolated. One is +12V while the other one is ground. Rotating part of the ride has 2 pairs of brushes. Each brush is made from 3 thin phosphor-bronze wires. Each pair of brushes contacts one slip ring. I used 2 pairs for reliability and to equalize forces applied to the shaft.

Helicopter is another ride where I replaced original AC motor with a DC motor. It is illuminated with SMD 0603 size LEDs. If you look carefully you can see the LED wiring and resistors (all painted over with silver paint).

Here the slip-ring is composed of flat circular copper rings etched on a copper-clad printed board. I again used 4 brushes made from pairs of phosphor-bronze wires (visible in the holes in the rotating part of the ride).

Here is a motor I used on other rides. This assembly is a power-eject mechanism used in 3.5" floppy drives. Those were being scrapped at the company where I used to work so I grabbed bunch of them. These have nice gear reduction system built-in and are perfect for powering all these rides.

Here are the "guts" of the Ghost Train ride. It was originally terribly oversized (in part due to the fact that is utilized the large Faller AC motor). I have re motored it and then I was able to chop it down (vertically) by about 11 scale feet. It now blends much better with the other rides. The circuit board farthest away from the camera was included with the model and it flashes LEDs in the eyes of the Dracula head on the front facade and emits ghost-like sound. It was battery powered. The circuit board in the front is a voltage regulator to eliminate that battery and another flasher to flash LEDs I installed in the skull's eyes.

Next are details of this latest conversion to LEDs. For the light towers I used very bright SMD PLCC2 sized white LEDs. There are 4 LEDs per light tower. They are arranged in pairs of two series-connected LEDs and a current limiting resistor. This photo shows all the parts used and couple of assembled units. Since these were leadless LEDs, for their leads I used some extra leads I cut off standard 3mm LEDs. The LEDs and resistors were then soldered to a custom-etched circuit board. As a last step I masked the LED faces with liquid mask then painted the entire assembly with primer then Floquil silver. Not shown are 2 wires soldered to each circuit board which then run down the light tower to the 12V power supply.

I also etched several other circuit board for illuminating all the trailers and concession stands. Here's a photo of these boards and other components I used. The larger LEDs are SMD PLCC2 size. Smaller LEDs are SMD 0603 size. Resistors are SMD 0803 size.

Larger circuit board is for the concession stands. It will hold the LED and current limiting resistor. Smaller boards will provide interconnect between LED and wire and will also facilitate easy mounting of the LED assemblies to a structure.

Here's an example of assembled LED boards with wires attached. The amber paint on the LEDs filters out the bluish tint giving the LED warmer white similar to incandescent light.

Here are those LEDs illuminated.

To illuminate the facades of trailers I mounted the LEDs on 0.010" brass rods. That will simulate spotlights mounted on extended arms on the front of the trailers. The circuit board again provides convenient gluing spot.

Here is a rear view of a trailer with these LEDs mounted to the back of the facade. Also visible is wiring between the LEDs and then going to the bottom of the trailer. The wire is bare copper, single strand taken from a standard lamp zip-cord. All of those will be painted over with matching gray paint to blend into back of the trailer's facade.

Here is a front view of one trailer.

...with a dime for size reference...

In order to power up all those lights and motors I designed and built special power supply. It contains 1.5, 5 and 12V voltage regulators and 8 adjustable timers with adjustable output voltage to power all the rides. This allow for "random" cycling of the rides (to simulate action of a real carnival) and also ability to adjust the speed of every ride.

Here is the back of the power supply circuit board.

Front of the circuit board.

Here is the entire power supply. The gray box houses 2 transformers, power switch and a circuit breaker. There is also a cooling fan blowing air through the heat sink. It is a bit of an overkill but I rather over design than have the power supply overheat. It is capable of supplying 3A at 12V, 3A at 1.5V and 1A at 5V. Since I replaced all the 1.5V bulbs with LEDs, the 1.5V supply is almost unused.

Last photo is the bottom view of the base. This shows all the motors and wiring. There is a also a 25-pin connector (standard DB25 computer connector) to attach wiring between the carnival and the power supply. The removable wooden bracket stabilizes the base to allow me to work on it in a vertical position (this is possible since most of the items on the top are glued down).

That basically covers all the modifications I made to make this model nicer and more reliable.

Edited by - peteski on 2010 February 01 05:32:42 AM

Country: USA | Posts: 3324


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  12:45:23 AM  Show Profile
Very nice job with all of the LEDs, Looks Great!

Mark G.

Country: USA | Posts: 887 Go to Top of Page

victor miranda

Posted - 2010 February 01 :  01:46:38 AM  Show Profile
oh tht is a lot of work....

and you use relays.

new school meets old school.


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Posted - 2010 February 01 :  01:52:37 AM  Show Profile  Visit sschaer's Homepage
wow ! that is an amazing piece of work.

btw, i could use a couple of these :

have fun


Country: Switzerland | Posts: 785 Go to Top of Page

Rob de rebel

Posted - 2010 February 01 :  02:56:23 AM  Show Profile
what are you using for a camera? lenses? etc,
great close up photos (especially of the dime)


Country: USA | Posts: 5025 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  07:21:22 AM  Show Profile  Visit Zug's Homepage
Ok, I thing these may be the most impressive model railroading photos I've ever seen, bother for the images themself and the detail in the work.


author of ZugDCC - Simply the best software for Lenz ExpressNet *

Country: Canada | Posts: 1033 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  07:58:25 AM  Show Profile
The pity of this, is that most people would look at it without realising just how much work went into it all. Absolutely astounding.


Oh for the days when coal was king and steam ruled.
For pics etc -

Country: USA | Posts: 1996 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  08:22:34 AM  Show Profile  Visit asarge's Homepage
Awwesome! Most Awesome!

All I want is an AS616

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Posted - 2010 February 01 :  08:30:39 AM  Show Profile
My wife and I spent about 20 minutes talking to Roland. My wife is into cross stitching and it is "normal" for a 6"x6" project to take 40 or more hours of work, so both of us were able to apriciate the amount of work that went into that project. It started with my comment that the "show" looked a little under attended. I realised that the far end of the "show" was under construction but there were no people. LOTS of nice work in the module.

Do your part buy stuff!

Country: USA | Posts: 2536 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  08:47:50 AM  Show Profile  Visit wm3798's Homepage
Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of animated circus/carnival scenes, but this is mind blowing stuff. Just goes to show what can be accomplish when a little imagination is blended carefully with some electronic wizardry!

Now, if you put all that lighting to work on say, an oil refinery, now THAT would be something!


Mill Street Studios - Custom N Scale Offerings.

Country: USA | Posts: 4416 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  09:43:03 AM  Show Profile  Visit JEReising's Homepage
Peteski, I stand in awe! An absolute masterful jaw-dropping achievement! That's undoubtedly got to be a crowd pleaser wherever it's exhibited. My shoulders ache and my eyes burn just from THINKING of what it took to do that.

Thank you for sharing the details.

Jim Reising
Visit The Oakville Sub - A Different Tehachapi - at:
And on Trainboard:

Country: USA | Posts: 576 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  10:00:40 AM  Show Profile

Very nice indeed, Pete. I'm curious as to what the silver rectangles associated with each relay are.Capacitors?


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Posted - 2010 February 01 :  10:37:41 AM  Show Profile  Visit diezmon's Homepage
Wow pete! that's incredible work :)

In the words of a co-worker of mine.."I think I'd slit my own wrists trying to attempt something like that".. LOL

I'd like to hear your soldering tips.. I've ruined many-a-surface-mount in my practicing..

Country: USA | Posts: 58 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  10:48:10 AM  Show Profile  Visit mmagliaro's Homepage
Wonderful work, pete. Not only beautifully done modeling, and careful electronics assembly,
but VERY inventive solutions to the engineering problems. Bravo!

Question: How do you solder those spare leads to the surface mount LEDs and then solder the leads
onto a circuit board without the joints on the LED coming unsoldered again from the heat?
Do you just hold the LED in a spring tweezer or something to keep those leads in place, or
just "be quick" before the LED joints can heat up and come unstuck? That's what I end up
doing with joints like that. But it is a tricky
thing to do so I'm always looking for a better way to do it.

-- Max

N Scale steam for the masses

Country: USA | Posts: 3890 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  11:45:16 AM  Show Profile
Peteski, thank you very much for all the info. My wife and I have two circus modules and want to do the lights. This is very helpfull. Would you please elaborate on the scratch built trailers and wagons, maybe what you used for the light towers and such? Please?


Freight shaken, not stired.

Country: USA | Posts: 416 Go to Top of Page


Posted - 2010 February 01 :  1:13:26 PM  Show Profile
Holy guacamole , PCB etching , custom signs , animation , re-fab'ed motor/gear drives , super detailing , custom designed ckts , custom structures , custom vehicles , and probably more . That one project should get you most of the way to becoming a NMRA Master Model Railroader . I think you need a loco WhoopieDoo , ever think about a z scale bazaar train ride ? Mind blowing Pete .

Richie Dost Photos

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