A use for fibre optics

Discussion in 'HO Scale Model Trains' started by shamus, Jan 17, 2001.

  1. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    I first used fibre optics as a way to light up some signs I made, then came up with another idea. I had quite a few model HO cars on the layout and wondered if it were possible to have the headlights working, so I drilled out the lamp sections and inserted fibre optic strands into the headlamps. Drilled another small hole in the bottom of the car and pulled them through, leaving just the tips of the optics in view.
    Then I drilled a hole through the baseboard and inserted the optics. Got hold of piece of brass tube 1/2" dia. and 2" long and inserted a grain of wheat bulb into it. I then taped up the brass tube underneath the baseboards and connected the wires from the bulb to my transformer, it worked, my car now had headlights.
    Must do some more later.
  2. George

    George Member

    Great idea Shamus, but you only had to do half the work!

    You're right on about the headlamp drilling. You didn't mention if you sanded the ends or not. I've heard of people using them in street lights and sanding the exposed areas so that the light is visible, but the light isn't overpowering in a clustered environment.

    As for the grain of wheat bulb, save the effort and draw on your power supply. All you need is an old lamp with a standard lightbulb under the layout that's properly shaded, yet ventilated. Lead all your strands to some kind of mounting pointed at and not too close to the bulb and VOILA! Your vehicles and street lights are all driven by ONE SINGLE STANDARD BULB! [​IMG]

    Brass tubing isn't a bad idea, probably better than just painting the leads which doesn't always work.

    And Shamus, you forgot to mention to the gallery the best advantage of your project...When some visiting dolt bumps into the benchwork, the vehicles will not move! [​IMG]

    There's also a project I saw several years ago for taking a thick strand, heating and bending and then trimming, adding flocking material, painting the strands different colours and TA-DAAA! A Christmas tree! Sorry I didn't offer that one up a month ago, but there's lots of time to get moving on that project for this coming December, right? [​IMG]

  3. George

    George Member

    Shamus, you must have gone bonkers reshaping the fibre for the headlamps. I'll bet after the first one you were ready for a parking lot full of cars! [​IMG]

    Perhaps we're not getting bites on this topic because the idea was never widly pushed.

    Hey out there! It's CHEAP and it's EASY! Now, Shamus's craftsmanship and the christmas tree idea shouldn't dissuade anyone. Look at the history of the use of fibre in this hobby.

    I don't know when fibre was first utilized but I know when I first saw it. Around 1971, a friend brought over a brand new Geep painted in Burlington red, and manufactured by COX. This is the same COX corporation that manufactures model gas driven planes that fly.

    What first caught my eye was that the headlights worked on both the front as well as the rear of the locomotive. There was a light bulb in the lower part of the cab,which cast a convincing cab light glow. When we removed the body shell from the chassis, we were truly amazed to find one thick strand of fibre leading away from the bulb! A sanded area was the feed point, the ends were worked into the headlight housings inside the body. the length of the fibre was painted light to keep light from escaping and being seen underneath the roof. As Shamus bent his fibres to fit into the areas he was working in, COX did the same.

    Think about this. No more messy soldering in a tight space while worrying about melting plastic. No more complicated wiring to add another pea lamp housing. Isn't it a shame that Irving Athearn never opened up a COX motor and went; "GEE!"?

    Though there have been numerous articles in the mags regarding the use of fibre, people still opt for a complicated wiring installation to add ditch lights to their locomotives. I've seen one such job with fibre on ditch lights which one could never tell the difference from separate lamps. And the joy is when a lamp goes, it's a larger easier to procure type, and not a teeny tiny one with wire leads instead of a screw or plug in that's a headache to work with.

    I remember in the late 60's, people were making wooden boxes with various plexiglass forms mounted on the top. Various colours and shapes were used, with a standard 40 watt bulb inside the box. The effect was usually to give the impression of an urban skyline lit at night. Neat!

    As I mentioned in the previous note, a standard lightbulb can be used to drive your lamps. Buildings are quite different from smaller details such as automobiles and street lamps. One friend years ago who was taken with "Fibre Art" took a plexiglass cylinder and sanded the sides so that the light would be diffused around the cylinder, rather than travel through to the end. When installed, even using a 100 watt lamp underneath to feed the tubes to the individual structures, the glow wasn't blinding by any means.

    Shamus, you brought up the issue of heat. Good point for those not familiar with fibre. The bulb will generate some heat, a welcome commodity this time of year. I haven't used fibre since the 70's, and I don't really know why, but I remember this. Fibre conducts light, the the heat associated with it. Hence, you're not going to torch anything using it. Just make that the bulb is secure and away from anything that cold be moved, thus smashing it. My friend back then tried using 25 watt bulbs up to 100 as I said to experiment with illumination intensities. Needless to say, boulevard lamps will appear brighter than an illuminated window in an apartment building or a house. Thus, you will probably want to use more than one type of bulb if you go fibre.

    Wouldn't the doctor be thrilled that we've been talking about fibre so much?? [​IMG]
  4. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hey George,
    The way I have used fibre optics in the past to light up street lamps, was to put all fibres together in a bundle and encase them inside a small wooden box approx 2" square, by 1".
    One 16volt grain of wheat was used to light up a couple of dozen street lamps. The cost, should the bulb blow, 60p (UK). [​IMG]

    I wouldn't go this way again, it just about drove me nuts handling all those fibres optics and trying to keep them still. Like talking to a horse, or watching paint dry. [​IMG]
  5. George

    George Member


    First, I apoligize for the typo I left in haste. Instead of; "Fibre conducts light, the the heat associated with it." I meant to say that fibre conducts light, NOT the heat associated with it.

    I don't know about the ease of changing the bulb. I really like the idea of one major job and fugeddaboudit! Packed away I have a number of modern Tyco boulevard lamps with burned out bulbs. Wired individually, each bulb was a burning beacon. When wired in series to cut the harsh glare, the bulbs were too dim even when only joining two. When a fader was installed to control the glare, the bulb lost it's simulated flourescent lustre for a dingy East German brown. Nutshell, they're almost impossible to properly balance to a desired luminescence. Those bulbs didn't last a long time, and rewiring the fixture was always a pain as the bulbs had two wire leads. No socket of any type.

    Was your 16 volt bulb feeding multiple fixtures a screw-in?

    Another question that most might overlook. When you installed the fibre headlamps and you ran the fibre below the layout deck, did you run the fibres down into the wood next to a tire to hide the fibre from nitpickers looking underneath the car? I would think this would be a must for anyone building a layout deck height of around four feet. I've seen cars wired with lamps where the leads were going into the street directly under the centre of the chassis. Not very pretty. [​IMG]

    I'm surprised we haven't heard from more people about this topic. Even tales of woe are welcome, as one bright [​IMG]idea in development could already be someone else's proven disaster. I love tales of [​IMG]disaster [​IMG] as they help us all avoid costly mistakes, right Shamus?

    What other applications can we think of for fibre optics in the hobby?

    George. [​IMG]
  6. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi george,

    Okay, it looks like it's between you and me.
    I ran my fibre optics down a plastic channel, then fixed a top onto it. The box I mentioned was screwed to the underside of the baseboards, as was the plastic channel.
    What other applications can we think of for fibre optics in the hobby, could be a small person smoking a cigarette or pipe, or a person holding a lamp.
    That's for starters.
    Whats next? [​IMG]

    [This message has been edited by shamus (edited 01-18-2001).]
  7. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    Ok, You have me thinkin' now. LOL How 'bout a person, with a pager. Or a clown with a light up tie, or a kid with those sneakers that blink when they walk, or a cel phone's screen.
    I had an idea that would probably work for G scale: A switching tower, with a Track map with fibre optic lights, indicating the railroad's switch positions for the "operator" on duty. It could be adaptable for HO, but you would have to take great care in the viewing angles. See Ya!!!

    My wife says if I buy One more Train, she'll leave me...
    Gee I'll miss HER!!!! :) -- N Gauger
  8. George

    George Member

    N Gauger, I love your ideas, but I really want to see you make the little boy withthe flashing shoes walk!

    seriously, your idea about the train map for a tower is fantastic. Quite dooable in "HO" as well. Faller makes a brick tower adaptable to almost anywhere in the world complete with panels and maps just screaming for a jewelers drill to do the job, and with some thin clear non-reflective plexiglass to replace the provided window glazing, it would be most easy to view as well!

    Shamus, how about using fibre to install cat-eyes in the roadway in front of your illuminated "Fibremobile"? If I'm not mistaken, cat-eyes were invented in the UK, but are found everywhere. A low light from fibre could simulate all kinds of small reflectors on roadside details.

    George. [​IMG]
  9. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    George, thanks! .... I had the design on my mind for a couple of years now.
    Cats Eyes are a great idea too!! I'm gonna try it in G. I'll submit pics when I can "get around to doin' it" [​IMG]

    My wife says if I buy One more Train, she'll leave me...
    Gee I'll miss HER!!!! :) -- N Gauger
  10. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi George,

    I didn't sand the ends, I heated the ends and while they were warmish, I flattened them to the shape of a headlight. [​IMG]
    Hadn't thought about using just one main bulb, might work, might also get too damn hot as well. [​IMG]
    The Christmas tree idea Hmmmmmmm. just wait until next year friend. [​IMG]
  11. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    George, I doubt if they used CATSEYES on a logging layout, I expect that the log monkeys here at my sawmill would need cateyes to work in the dark though.

    Yes you are correct, Catseyes were invented by a Yorkshire man here in the UK, Guess what I am also a Yorkshire man. Born and Bred.

  12. George

    George Member


    Nice twilight shot! Just think of the energy people can save on large layouts going fibre for lighting?

    We've rolled about the pro's and con's of bulb replacement vs. fibre. Fibre strikes me as a great way to eliminate bulb replacement in those hard-to-get areas, say between buildings on a street which is only visible from a remote angle. Fibre is also perhaps the best way to go about lighting a detailed interior with small lamps, etc. as well.

    One thing we have not mentioned. If one wishes to construct a neon sign, by what means is the fibre bent into a permanent shape? It is a bit of a juggling act to use haemostats and a strand near a heat source which could destroy already finished intricate work. Have you any experiencing in molding fibre into words? What is the best heat source for this task? [​IMG]

  13. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi George
    If you were to bend the fibre optics, no matter what shape, the light is still only going to shine at the ends. [​IMG]
  14. George

    George Member

    Hi Shamus!

    If you sand around the end (sides), it's dull but there's some trace of light! People forget that every small light isn't a blaring beacon.

  15. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Get your point blue eyes [​IMG]
  16. JeffGerow

    JeffGerow Member

    I use 2" foam board to form mountains as part of my backdrop. Nestled in the mountains is a small village made up of various sizes of fiber optic strands, all connected to a 12 Volt bulb behind the backdrop. The various thicknesses give different sizes of bulidings and looks great. "Glass fibers - not just for foreground effects"
  17. Shay2

    Shay2 Member

    Hi Shamus,
    Ok, having been burnt on some fibre optics I bought on the net, I scrapped the idea and went with LED's instead. I did like the thought of using one light source to illuminate a few dozen things, though.
    My question is this, What diameter should the optic cable be? I now know that cable the size of fishing line has very little light emitted from it (my internet purchase).
    I would guess that the larger the size, the brighter the light.
  18. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    hi JeffGerow
    Welcome to the gauge, I would like to see a photograph of that some time if you have one.

    got a website?


  19. shamus

    shamus Registered Member

    Hi Shay2,
    The diam. of mine are just less than 1/8" or if you like 0.1225 decimal.
    I have still got about 20 of these lying around underneath the layout and they are 2' long.
  20. Dave Flinn

    Dave Flinn Member

    Hey, this thread is a great one! I have nothing to contribute, as I currently do not have a layout -- just lots of rolling stock. However, I think there are some great ideas here that perhaps I can/will use once my Housatonic and Cayuga comes into being. Thanks, guys.

    Dave Flinn, Northeast Regional Vice President, NRHS
    National Director, Cornell Chapter, NRHS
    Life Member NMRA, NER, NFR,
    Danbury Railway Museum

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