What signal mast do you use?

pdavidson Dec 26, 2018

  1. pdavidson

    pdavidson TrainBoard Member

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    I am in planning stage to add signaling to my layout. I intend to use LCC components for control. I think I want to use a two light mast with multi color LED's that will allow me to display green over red, red over green and red over red. I may decide to add yellow to the mix as I get deeper into an understanding of signaling. I want to keep it very simple and am not trying to replicate any prototypical setup. I expect to use the "basic" signal setup in JMRI. My first problem I have encountered is finding any N scale two light mast that looks halfway decent. Most of the ones I have seen have dummy lights or are a simple red/green combo that cannot be changed. They are added to a layout just for some color. I want mine to have some meaning (to me) so I can indicate two things..... turnout position and occupancy in the next block. Also, cost will be a major factor.
    I have seen some that look real nice but would cost a fortune if I bought 50-60 of them. Even those did not typically support the light combos I waned.
    I am beginning to think that my best option is to build my own and install the right LED's that fit what I want. I have two options in mind.
    Option 1) Buy a bunch of the cheap dummy signal mast, drill out the dummy light or remove any existing LED's and install the LED's I really want. Would be a fair amount of work but is doable.
    Option 2) Use some ground level dwarf lights and mount them on a mast to represent a signal mast. I would need to add a ladder and some railing to make it look reasonable.

    A related question is about the viewing angle for the lights. Since the signal lights would be pointed along the track, many would not easily viewed by an operator standing at the facia. The only way I can see to deal with this it to use LEDs that would protrude a lot or add some type of reflector next to the LED so an operator would see some indication of what LEDs are lit up.

    Before I jump into this project, I wanted to hear from those of you who have added signal lights to your layout and what you used to make them? I need some more ideas.
     
    Tim Holmes likes this.
  2. Onizukachan

    Onizukachan TrainBoard Supporter

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    I haven’t added any yet, but the LEDs you want are common anode green red if negative switched, and common cathode if positive switched. Running green and red at the same time gives you amber.

     
  3. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

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    I've got a far smaller layout but have been evolving the signals toward 100% tricolor LED's with proper prototype indications. I started with diode-controlled DC grain-of-wheat bulbs based on switch position and CTC-board type controls, and it's evolved forward. That diode-routing matrix based on switch position 'generally' follows ATSF practice, but the tricolor LED's let me do restricted signals and diverging clear displays on the two-aspect masts. I have the issue with a prototype that used Rule 251 left-hand running that evolved over to bidirectional CTC, so 'everything' has to be overridden with a direction-of-travel switch on the CTC board.

    I've had really good luck with the Tomar signals, they can be pricey, but the two-aspect masts they have are the best out-of-the-box I've seen. The signals are rugged, brass, scale-sized, and the tricolors have nice color rendition. The wires are just coated magnet wire, and they are damn delicate during installation.

    One of the biggest issues you need to be aware of is that not all tricolor LED's are created equal, there are common-cathode and common-anode designs, and once you figure out what you're doing, stay consistent to ones that work. My system was built on diode routing for track switch position and direction of travel, so there's no walking it back now.

    I've modified and scratchbuilt a lot of signals to fit specific situations on the prototype. You can evolve into that over time. But with that ATSF icon up there, you're basically looking at scale-size tricolor LED's. I mount mine inside the brass signal heads that 'used' to be available from BLMA. I also got some stainless etchings to make these, based on the signals at Winslow, using prewired Tomar heads. I've mounted those heads to various BLMA, NJI cantilevers as well.

    [​IMG]

    I won't say that cost isn't an issue here, I have a smaller layout. And mine are functional only for routing, not occupation, but having them snap over from red, yellow to green on a single aspect, yeah, I really like that.

    This is a typical, single-aspect modified BLMA bridge, with the tomar heads in the BLMA case:
    [​IMG]

    I have two spots where it's difficult for an operator to see the aspects from the side. One is from the 'other side' of the backdrop, there's actually a car rear-view mirror up on the ceiling edge so you can glance I that and check signals on the other side of the backdrop from the wrong side of the layout. The second is one where you're on the side of the signal bridge, and I extended the LED just a hair out of the target so it was more visible from the side.

    I have one BLMA signal bridge that's now gone from NJI two-aspect bulbs to two aspects with one red or green LED in each to now redoing it a third time with dual tricolor LED's in it, as it controls a major interlocking and I really want that diverging clear indication. This is the way it looks now, with single-color LED's in two heads. It's an evolving project.
    [​IMG]

    That TRAINS article on the signaling on the Gallup sub really got me going, too.
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2018
    Hardcoaler likes this.
  4. pdavidson

    pdavidson TrainBoard Member

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    Thanks. I have used bi-color before in a control panel so I am familiar with them. The comments from randgust emphasize one f the issues I have found concerning availability. Many good sources from the past are no longer available. I found one good signal from traincat2 but his web site is frozen now due to death of his wife. May not open back up???? I did find some useful stuff on Shapeways that I need to look at more.
     
  5. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

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    Yeah, Bob was 'developing' an ATSF bridge that was a lot closer to what I needed, and it never was marketed.

    As painful as it may be, brass is the way to go, not only because it takes a beating from being trackside but also because you can use the mast as the 'common' for your wiring. I ordered my signal heads direct from Tomar - they are actually cast brass with the LED already mounted.
     
  6. randgust

    randgust TrainBoard Member

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    Yeah, Bob was 'developing' an ATSF bridge that was a lot closer to what I needed, and it never was marketed.

    As painful as it may be, brass is the way to go, not only because it takes a beating from being trackside but also because you can use the mast as the 'common' for your wiring. I ordered my signal heads direct from Tomar - they are actually cast brass with the LED already mounted.
     
  7. pdavidson

    pdavidson TrainBoard Member

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    Shapeways has a ATSF bridge
     
  8. SP_fan_1951

    SP_fan_1951 TrainBoard Member

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    If you don't mind working with SMD LED's, there are tri-color (R-Y-G) LED's available from Digikey or Mouser. The Kingbright APTF1616SURKCGKSYKC or the Bivar SMTL-4RGY are the easiest to use. They are common anode LED's with three separate dies in each package. The red and yellow colors are very good, but the green really should be a little more blue, but it still looks really good. The simplest way to use them is to put a resistor in series with the anode, and switch the cathode leads to ground through a switch, a relay, or a transistor. The are also available prewired but I can't remember who sells them. The LED's are about a buck and a half, while the prewired LED's were about 10 bucks. Wiring them up using solder through magnet wire is a finnicky task best done with a good iron and magnification. The LED's are tiny - .06x.06 inches, or about 9.6" square in N scale. That's about right for searchlight signals which had an 8" lens.
     
  9. pdavidson

    pdavidson TrainBoard Member

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    The best RGY LED I have found is the one sold by RR-Cirkits. It is a surface mount and prewired with 36ga wire. They say it measures 0.05 x 0.06. They had them custom made to match the light wavelength used in RR signals. $4 each.
    I am still struggling on which direction to go. The right answer is to build up my own with this LED and parts from Shapeway. That would give me a prototypical looking signal mast for my ATSF timeframe. However, building it would be a challenge for my old hands. The easy way out (and less expensive) is to go with some of the premade units from eBay.
     

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