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How to build inexpensive 1950 era urban street lights.

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  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,136 posts
How to build inexpensive 1950 era urban street lights.
Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:13 AM

Hi everyone:

I needed a number of 1950's downtown street lights for my city scene. Walthers Cornerstone offered them for a while but there were two things I didn't like about them. First was the price - $13.99 on sale, $17.99 regular IIRC. Second was their size. The lamp heads were a bit too big IMO, although the poles were fine.

Here is my solution to the problem:

Here is the Walthers light next to a partially assembled pole:

I wanted only one wire coming out the bottom so I decided on a copper or brass pole. It doesn't matter which. I used both because that is what was in stock. The pole acts as one conductor.

I wanted to be able to remove the lights as needed just like the Walthers ones. That required a socket and plug system. I searched eBay and came up with a power jack that was small enough to fit into the bottom of 5/32" copper tube. The jack is 2.0mm x .06mm. With a small amount of grinding the jack fits tight in the tube. To grind the plug I chucked it into a variable speed drill and then turned the drill on, and then I held my Dremel with a grinding disk up to the plug at low speed. Very little material needs to be removed. It will be soldered to ensure a good connection.

The jack is entirely optional. If you don't care about easy removal then go without it. That will allow you to use smaller sized tube instead of the 5/32" which would be more to scale. Note that these poles are a lot fancier than most of the originals were. My style of lamp would have only been used on major downtown streets, not in the suburbs. If you want a very simple design and don't care about the jack just use 3/32" tubing all the way up. It won't have the slight taper that the originals had but so what?

The next step was to cut and assemble three different sizes of tubing so the pole tapered towards the top. Fortunately the tubing is designed so that the next smaller size slides very nicely into the next larger size of tube. In other words, a 1/8" tube fit perfectly inside the 5/32" tube that I started with, and a 3/32" tube fit inside the 1/8", and a 1/16" tube fit the 3/32" tube etc. etc. The length of each piece doesn't particularly matter as long as the pole will be pleasing to the eye. You can see that the 1/8" brass tube barely shows on the pole. It was mainly used as a reducer but having a bit of it showing looks good, at least to me.

The base is a #6 "flush washer. They had to be reamed ever so slightly to fit over the 5/32" tube.

I used a Weller 100/140 watt soldering gun to assemble the tubes. A bit of heat is required because the tubes disapate the heat quite well.

The next step was to add the arm which is 1/64" x 1/32" brass stock. I used the "that's about right" method of calculating how long to make the armSmile, Wink & GrinLaugh.

Next is the LEDs. I bought 500 3mm warm white LEDs through eBay for $21.00. That's 4.2 cents each and the colour is quite nice. I hope they will stand the test of time. One of them quit as I was testing them, but that might have been my fault by causing a short. In any case, they are easy to replace. I bent one lead at 90 degrees just above the LED. I experimented with bending the lead right at the surface of the LED but they just didn't look right IMO. The other lead was clipped to the same height. Make sure you keep the same polarity on all the LEDs, as if that needed to be said. Soldering the leads takes just a quick touch with a hot iron so there isn't too much risk of frying the LED. I used the Weller iron for this because it made the joint almost instantly. The trickiest part is being able to hold the LED lead on the pole arm while you solder. I used a small clamp to hold the pole still with it resting on the bench. That allowed me to brace my hand holding the LED on the surface of the bench.

Next task was to feed a 30 ga. insulated wire through the pole, and then solder it to the other lead of the LED. The wire runs along the top of the arm and then curves up to go into the top of the pole. When it is painted it will simply look like a brace for the arm. That's why I only wanted one wire. The wire is CA'd in place along the arm. I used small aligator clips like those used on test leads to hold the wire in place while the CA set. That avoided me getting my fingers glued to the arm.

With the LEDs in place I decided that they would look better with a globular lense like the Walthers unit. The answer was 6mm clear acrylic faceted beads (the Walthers globe is a bit over 8mm). The hole has to be drilled out to 1/8" to fit over the LED. Holding the bead was a challenge. I finally figured out that some masking tape around the jaws of a pair of pliers, sticky side out, held the beads quite nicely. The beads are stuck in place with CA. The leads sticking out of the top of the lamp are hidden with 1/8" styrene tube. The tube is cut to length and then split in half lengthwise. You have to remove a small amount of material from each piece equivalent to the thickness of the leads so it looks round. Be warned, this is very fussy work! I can only do a few at a time before I go nuts.

Here are some pictures of the unpainted poles (some of you will be asking if this guy will EVER get around to painting anything?!)

You might notice that I extended the 5/32" tubes because I realized that the first length wouldn't project through the bottom of the layout. How long you make them will depend on what thickness they have to go through. I haven't fully decided on how the layout below the street scene will be constructed so I made them longer than they need to be. They can be cut down if needed.

Here you can see the bead. It looks a bit rough this close up. In fact the facets are barely noticeable and they do a good job of imitating the lenses on the prototype. The top half of the bead will be painted the same colour as the pole.

The night shot makes the lamp look very bright. In reality they emit a nice even incandescent-like light. The one in the picture is being run at 9 volts with a 1000 ohm resistor.

I made 24 street lights. I calculate that they cost me about $3.00 each.

Hope you found this interesting.

Dave

  • Member since
    February, 2004
  • From: Knoxville, TN
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Posted by farrellaa on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:49 AM

Dave,

Very nice work and great looking lights. Glad you went into detail on how and why you made them the way you did. I may give this a try but with shades instead of the globes. Thanks for sharing and please post photos of the finishe/painted ones.

   -*Bob

Life is what happens while you are making other plans!

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    September, 2003
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Posted by mlehman on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 12:54 AM

Dave,

Great job on those poles!Thumbs Up

Mike Lehman

Urbana, IL

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  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
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Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 2:41 AM

SUPER Job!

Those acorn lamps are my favorite, too. There were hundreds in my neighborhood and in the evening I always had to keep an eye on them 'cause when they turned on it was time to get my carcass home!

I started a similar project a few years ago with a gooseneck lamp and 1.5v grain of rice lamps and Campbell shades. I may have to revisit that project now that the nano and pico LEDs are available!

Thanks for sharing this! Ed

  • Member since
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  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 3:22 AM

Bob, Mike and Ed:

Thanks for your comments!

Dave

  • Member since
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  • From: Reading, PA
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Posted by rrinker on Wednesday, March 05, 2014 7:57 AM

 Those look great! Very clever using the required wire to be the nicely curving brace at the top. I was going to ask if you made a jig to bend them all the same, then I read more carefully and saw that the top piece is actually the power wire.

The plug-in thing like the Walthers ones is almost a requirement. That was a great advancement for them to start doing that - no more trying to be careful when cleaning things or adjusting scenery, just unplug them ang get them out of the way instead of bumping one and breaking it.

If only a small portion of the largest tube shows above the surface, it's quite realistic, many lamp posts have a thicker base anyway.

Now I have another project to add to the list. I can build up a supply while I am working on a track plan once I get settled in to a new place.

            --Randy

 


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

Visit my web site at www.readingeastpenn.com for construction updates, DCC Info, and more.

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Posted by zstripe on Thursday, March 06, 2014 7:55 PM

DAVE,

I have been busy and did not get a chance to respond, but is that My pre-order, that you just have to paint and ship to me?? Just remember, they should be green.

All kidding aside, Great Job! Yes

Frank

  • Member since
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  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, March 06, 2014 8:23 PM

Frank:

I'd be happy to charge you the $17.99 each that Walthers tried to get for their version! NOT!!Smile, Wink & GrinLaughClown

I have sooooo many projects on the go that I couldn't possibly consider doing some to make a buck.

Thanks for your comment.

Dave

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
  • 9,136 posts
Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, March 06, 2014 8:48 PM

In the first post I didn't address how to mount the socket under the layout so the pole would slide right in. That was because I hadn't figured that bit out yet.

After giving it some thought I think I have a solution:

The first step is to drill a hole where you want the light located the same size as the diameter of the bottom of the pole, in my case 5/32". The hole has to be vertical or the pole will be slanted. Next, slip a pole into the hole. You will then be able to go under the layout where you will be able to see how far the power jack is below the bottom of the layout. The next step is to clip the socket onto the jack. Then, cut a block of wood that the socket can be mounted to. The size of the block will depend on how far the socket is below the bottom of the layout. I would suggest that you wire the socket first because it will be a PITA to solder leads to it once it is mounted.

With the socket in place on the bottom of the pole, slide the block of wood up to the socket and screw the block to the bottom of the layout. Next step is to CA the socket to the block of wood. Be careful to not let any CA get inside the socket or the pole will be permanently mounted! To prevent that I used gel CA applied just to the edges of the socket on the opposite side from the terminals. Epoxy would likely work as well but it has more of a tendancy to flow before it sets which could jam up the socket. The bond needs to be strong enough to stand up to the removal and insertion of the pole. My test unit using gel CA seemed pretty strong but I wouldn't use too much force inserting the pole. If it doesn't go in easily then loosen the screws and adjust the position.

One thing I did was to bend the solder points on the socket out at 90 degrees from the socket body, just to make soldering easier.

Randy Rinker made a suggestion that if my design seems a bit too big on the botton 1/3rd of the pole then just use the 5/32" tubing as part of the base by only having it stick up a fraction of an inch above the surface.

Any other suggestions for improving the design would be much appreciated.

Dave

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Thursday, March 06, 2014 9:03 PM

Frank!

Good Luck Frank! Nice try though.

I have soooo many projects on the go that even if I was going to charge you the $17.99 ea. that Walthers wanted for their version I couldn't find the time to do it. Besides, I will admit that there is some fussy work to making the lights. It's the sort of project that you say "whew - I'm glad thats over!" when it's done.

Please don't anyone be put off by that comment, but as I said in an earlier post, some parts of the process you may find that you can only do a few at a time. Worth it though, I think.

Dave

Oops - SignAnswered the same question twiceDunce Senior's moment - seems like those moments can last for hours some days!Smile, Wink & GrinLaugh

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Posted by tstage on Thursday, March 06, 2014 9:12 PM

VERY nice job, Dave!  Those look great!! CoolThumbs Up

And thanks, too, for sharing your technique.  It's these types of projects that we need to have more of on the forum and the best reason I've seen so far for adding an additional category to the MR forum.

Tom

http://www.newyorkcentralmodeling.com

Time...It marches on...without ever turning around to see if anyone is even keeping in step.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Friday, March 07, 2014 12:21 AM

Very nice work on those lights, Dave, and a nice how-to on making them, too. Thumbs Up


Wayne

  • Member since
    July, 2006
  • From: Bradford, Ontario
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Posted by hon30critter on Friday, March 07, 2014 12:43 AM

Tom and DoctorWayne:

Thank you for your comments.

Now my head is starting to swellSmile, Wink & GrinLaughBow

Dave

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