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First post. Nice to be here, and thanks for letting me on your forum. I have my dad's old Lionel trains, plus a bunch of MTH. I'm half-way through a 10x16 Big City Skyscraper layout with double elevated subway loop and slot car highway underneath. I could use some guidance on how to light all the buildings. I suspect I went about this the wrong way, but the buildings are up and I'm hoping I can remove the smaller ones to wire 'em up and work on the big ones where they stand. Power is two ZWs (275w ea) and a KW (190w). Seems like that should be more than enough to run two engines plus 60-70 buildings. What kind of little LED bulbs should I be using, should I get the reels of LED strip lights, and is there a simple schematic that could spread out the electrical burden across the transformers so I don't burn the house down? And is there a simpler way to do all of this? I can't find any LED bulbs pre-wired with longer than an 8" lead. I appreciate any guidance you can give me.IMG_5985IMG_5986IMG_5987IMG_5988IMG_5989

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check out evans design it is listed in the scenery source list or google it.  all kinds of leds and accessories. he definitely has longer leads if u want them.   i have used lots of his products i power most of the leds with 12v power supply(s) from them. don’t worry about much load leds take almost no power. might have to get creative on adding leds it’s much harder after the buildings are built.

Hi Mark- welcome to the forum. Great looking layout. I agree that LED strips or strings would be your best option at this point. Check out Evan's Designs for sure and also look at 12v strips (tape light). They typically come in long flexible tape. Most can be cut to various lengths (groups of three typically) Make sure you get warm white, not cool. They will look more realistic.

I would recommend a separate DC power supply to run all of it. It will be easier than using the AC from the transformers.

Keep the pix coming as you make progress.

Bob

Last edited by RSJB18

I use these for variable DC voltage from AC.  They are "rated" at 2 to 3 amps, but in reality, about half of that is the practical maximum.  If you look around on eBay or places like AliExpress, BangGood, etc. you can usually find them or similar units for less than $5/ea.

Be sure you check the ratings, many of the hits on a search will be 110/220 input modules, that's not what you want!

Search for ac-dc power supply buck converter step down module.

Here's a couple of the styles I've personally used, each of these have similar capabilities.

2Pcs AC/DC to DC Step Down Buck Converter AC 5-30V DC 5-48V 24V 36V 48V to DC 2.5-35V 12V Voltage Regulator Board 2A

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Last edited by gunrunnerjohn
@third rail posted:

I'm using battery-powered LED Christmas lights for my large buildings.  They come in strands of 10 to 50 lights. Pull off the battery pack, add wire to lengthen the leads, then connect them to a buck converter.  Set the voltage for 3 -4.5 volts and attach to a power supply.

That is a great idea, Bill!  I love the Christmas lights.  I have been looking for 4.5 volt lights because I made a transformer (from tips on this forum) for my Menards' buildings.  I've also been playing around with the 12 volt led strips mentioned above.  You can paint the bulbs to tone them down.

Markf, I also would suggest O Gauge RR magazines' video, Great Layouts Volume 11.  Bill Bramlage’s city layout is featured and he talks about tower kits (kid's toy set) that look like the tops of your unfinished buildings,  how to get them and light them.  I bought a kit on Ebay and it is in my pile of "to do" stuff to build.  Even if you don't use his lighting ideas he has the most awesome city scene ever and your city is very cool and could use his tips.

Love your city buildings!  Do share photos as you fine tune it.

Mike

@Markf posted:

...snip...

IMG_5985

I recognize the tall white building (American Skyline) in the center and had one (or more) of their kits as a kid, my only complaint about them is that they are smaller than 1/4".

Is the red-frame one a Kenner Girder and Panel? I had them too, and they are 1/4".

Some really impressive building could be built with either of those as you have shown.

What are the sources of the other tall ones? TIA

@Mannyrock posted:

Definitely go with a separate DC power pack, perhaps even a Throttle Pack if it will work.  It would be nice to be able to adjust the brightness of the lights with a simple throttle, if that works.

Mannyrock

They also make a breakout board that has an adjustable voltage along with the fixed voltage terminals.

Adjustable ATX Brakout board

John

Amazon also carries these.

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Thank you so much for all of the replies. It's a little overwhelming, frankly, since I am not good at the electrical part. But it's also forced me to whittle down my questions to be more specific.

First, to answer one of the questions about what type of buildings they are: A combination of stacked MTH, Girder & Panel (1/87, but just enlarge the entrances and build them taller), American Skyline, Arkitex (1/42), Tiny (1/64 but just build them taller), and Magnuson Models. I'd be lying if I said living in midtown Manhattan for 20 years was the only reason for a skyscraper layout; I also saw Alan Arnold's unbelievable layout more than a decade ago and I've been stockpiling building kits ever since.

The Elevated subway is my concoction of 100-year-old Erector Set girders, square dowels from Lowe's, small screws from a local screw specialist, literally), foil tape, silver spraypaint, and wood stain to mimic rust.

Highway under the Elevated system is mostly Atlas O track in 054 and 045, with 1/32 Scalextric R4 slot car track running 1960s 1/43 Motorific cars. The wider 1/32 slot car track looks way more realistic for the O-size cars. I got very lucky that the radius of the R4 Scalextric slot car track (their widest) matched the radius of the Atlas 045/054 rails above.

My remaining questions:

1) What voltage of LED bulbs do you recommend to light the buildings, if I'm gonna power them with my Lionel ZW transformers? Years ago, in my older layout, someone helped me hook them up to the ZW and its levers served as good "dimmers", with nothing ever burning out. I can't remember the bulb voltage, and I doubt he would either.

2) Considering that I have about 70 buildings, can I just hook up the lights down through the building to one or more terminal boards underneath, and then just wire the terminal boards to the back of the transformer? Is it that simple? I've heard there are pre-wired LED bulbs that are all ready to use with the Lionel ZW (as in, they've been converted to the right type of AC/DC power?)

That's it! Thank you again if you have answers to the above questions, and in return for your advice, here's some additional64348436938__965CCBFD-2E3B-4107-AB75-B09149A940ACIMG_0067IMG_0159 pics of the various stages so far.

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Images (11)
  • 64348436938__965CCBFD-2E3B-4107-AB75-B09149A940AC: Some of the post civil war cast iron facade buildings
  • IMG_0067: Elevated subway work
  • IMG_0078: Testing radius/fit of slot car track
  • IMG_0159: Trying to master rust...
  • IMG_2172: American Skyline building in progress
  • IMG_2461: Side view of layout
  • IMG_2547: Working on Chinatown
  • IMG_3077: Custom framework to support an extended MTH bridge
  • IMG_5112: Combo G & P building
  • IMG_5410: Different angle
  • IMG_3442: Beginnings of Monorail line

I used evans LED's. Some come with the resister included which makes it easier to go from 14v down to the 3-5 volts the LED's need. I have a dedicated MTH Z1000 14 volt transformer for accessories. Transformer is wired to a distribution block which feeds switches etc. I have a smaller distribution block,  fed by the larger block, that I have my LED's running into. I just used small 28 guage wire running from the distribution block to the LED's. I have relays and switches in between to turn the different sets of lights on and off.

Awhile ago I ran across an interesting video about a factory that produces architectural models, among them skyscrapers: Strange Parts. Pertinent to this thread is the segment running from 21:42 to 25:30 demonstrating how they light their buildings, with wire "power rails" tacked to the ceilings using hot glue, and surface-mount LEDs soldered across the rails anywhere a light fixture is needed. The wires are gathered together in the core of the building and run to the base, where they're connected to a control box.

---PCJ

Markf - consider buying a 12 volt DC LED reel from Menards (or other bigbox store). It has the wall wart included. Cut the LEDS into sections of 3 or more depending on your lighting needs.  Solder  +/- wires to the LED contact pads and then attach those leads to whatever terminal block you want.  I ran mine through dimmers and switches to control upper and lower floors. I cannot imagine a single reel will not provide enough LEDs and you do not have to mess with other power conditioning or pulling off your transformer. (I did buy the water proof ones which are a pain to cut that stuff off.)  I also bought a reel of 24 gauge, 4 wire copper stranded sensor wire - relatively dirt cheap and flexible.  The wire colors are red/black  yellow/blue or whatever combination you prefer making it easy to identify where the leads belong.  NOTE: I have soldered the wires to the wrong terminals several times and wonder why the lights won't come on. Reverse the leads and they work - yet another installer blunder. The strips already have resistors attached so no need to consider OHMs on LED circuits. I have also used 2.5mm and larger 2 wire connectors for buildings which will move from time to time.

If you want individual "bulbs" or the flat micro LEDs that is a different story. 

Why the dimmers - I find the 3 led clusters too bright for many lighting needs. I can easily tone down the light output with the dimmer. Each dimmer can handle the entire amp draw of the entire reel so no electrical issues.

@John H posted:

Most all these strips require DC. I use a salvaged computer power supply for all my lighting. You can share a ground with the train AC, and over 300 watts of cheap power.

The more expensive ones I listed supposedly are AC or DC.  Or are they just selling the same thing for more money?

https://www.superbrightleds.co...ht-12v24v-ip20/5140/

John

Last edited by Craftech

I'm sorry if I'm missing something, but all I see is a choice of 12 VDC or 24 VDC. They do have a number of AC wall adapters, but they put out DC. If you use a diode in series with 12 VAC for each hookup, that would work also.

12 VDC
24 VDC
Select Color Options:
Whites
Cool 6500K
Cool 5000K
Natural 4000K
Warm 3000K
Warm 2400K
Select LED Density:
18 LEDs/ft (48 LEDs/m)
36 LEDs/ft.

All great ideas above.  Here is my two cents.  I'm not an electrical expert, either, so I had to dumb it down for myself before I could move forward, thanks to the help from several forum members.

I bought and made a simple 12 volt DC transformer based on the forum experts (including tips from some of the guys here). I cut off an old cord from an old device for the cord.  You must get the polarity right, + and -, with DC.  I used a Lionel transformer and a voltmeter with wires to test each wire on the cord in order to know which color wire belonged to each prong on the old cord  (the wires had multi-colors).  You can also use a 10 -18 volt bulb instead of a voltmeter.  I then connected the cord to the transformer I bought on EBay (transformer pic with terminals connected is from another forum member).  Then, like ScoutingDad says above, you can cut the LEDs and connect them via soldered wires to the transformer.   You can also buy 12 volt DC LEDs with black/red wires on EBay (in my transformer picture) for individual bulbs. I built a box for the transformer to make it a little more safe so I can hide the terminals for the wires that plug into my house outlet.  This gives a full 360 watts of 12 volt DC power.  You can also add a digital 12 volt DC meter to test the output.  For added appeal, this 12 volt transformer then allows you to also power other 12 volt DC accessories like the Hamburger shop building pictured that I also bought on EBay.

extension cord12 V TRANSFORMER12 V LEDSSAFETY 5VDC12 v dc transformerhamburger building

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Hi all, before this conversation goes off the rails, LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) require DC voltage in order to operate and require the correct polarity. Meaning if you wire the positive and negative leads in reverse, the LED will not emit, fortunately it will not burn it out. LEDs typically need 3volts dc in order to emit light. Anything less - nothing happens. Any voltage above the threshold will cause the LED to emit - this happens with a "flash", voltage drops off, the supply charges it back up and "flash" again. This happens so fast we cannot see it. Unfortunately this "flashing" also creates heat which must be dissipated. If you do not have some sort of power limiter, such as a properly sized resistor, the LED will happily flash, build up heat, get too hot and burn itself out. This will happen in about a second where you will see a bright "flash" and then its dead. Same thing happens when you put in more dc voltage than the LED can handle.

If you look at many of the Evans Design products, they provide the proper resistors and power rectifiers for your particular application.  If you have the proper power source, you may only need the LED and a resistor. Batteries self limit their power output so often do not require resistors between the LED.

Vendors of strip lighting have a completed package. Plug it in, turn it on, it lights, you do not need to know how it works, unless of course you want to take them apart. The strip lights I use are the 12volt dc variety. They include the power rectifier which changes the wall 110 ac to 12v dc. The strips are made to be cut apart and reconnected as needed. Usually there are sections of 3 LEDs and their resistors making up the strip with places to cut indicated on the strips. We can use that design to our advantage, by cutting up the strips into sections. There are roughly 6 sections per foot. A 15 foot roll gives me 90 LEDs for lighting purposes - no more than 25 cents per light. Of course you will use these where you cannot see the strip and wires - only the light emitted.

Lastly, will 12 volt LEDs work on 12 volt ac power. There are plenty of videos out there showing people who have done this, so it does work, but it is not necessarily a good idea. Remember we think about alternating current as a wave,  in our case moving between +12 volts and -12 volts. We already know the LEDs will not light at negative polarity. We also know the LEDs need a minimum voltage to emit. For argument sake lets assume this is a range from 3 volts to 12 volts and then back down to 3. This should tell you what you will observe is the LED going from off to dim to bright to dim and them off again 60 times per second. Its going to be off more than half the time. Most likely you will see this as a flicker. There is also some thought that the continuous cycling applied to the LED puts stress on the device and leads to early failure. Just use the proper dc source for your LEDs.

My opinion - I prefer to isolate my accessories from my track power, so I use separate transformers. Its not much of an issue if running transformer control, but it could be running DCS.

@John H posted:

I'm sorry if I'm missing something, but all I see is a choice of 12 VDC or 24 VDC. They do have a number of AC wall adapters, but they put out DC. If you use a diode in series with 12 VAC for each hookup, that would work also.

12 VDC
24 VDC
Select Color Options:
Whites
Cool 6500K
Cool 5000K
Natural 4000K
Warm 3000K
Warm 2400K
Select LED Density:
18 LEDs/ft (48 LEDs/m)
36 LEDs/ft.

You're right.  I found that using their click through search for "12v AC" and it turns up mostly DC.

These are their overpriced AC (outdoor) strip lights.

https://www.superbrightleds.co...12v+ac+strip+lights/



John

@ScoutingDad posted:

Hi all, before this conversation goes off the rails, LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) require DC voltage in order to operate and require the correct polarity. Meaning if you wire the positive and negative leads in reverse, the LED will not emit, fortunately it will not burn it out. LEDs typically need 3volts dc in order to emit light. Anything less - nothing happens. Any voltage above the threshold will cause the LED to emit - this happens with a "flash", voltage drops off, the supply charges it back up and "flash" again. This happens so fast we cannot see it. Unfortunately this "flashing" also creates heat which must be dissipated. If you do not have some sort of power limiter, such as a properly sized resistor, the LED will happily flash, build up heat, get too hot and burn itself out. This will happen in about a second where you will see a bright "flash" and then its dead. Same thing happens when you put in more dc voltage than the LED can handle.

If you look at many of the Evans Design products, they provide the proper resistors and power rectifiers for your particular application.  If you have the proper power source, you may only need the LED and a resistor. Batteries self limit their power output so often do not require resistors between the LED.

Vendors of strip lighting have a completed package. Plug it in, turn it on, it lights, you do not need to know how it works, unless of course you want to take them apart. The strip lights I use are the 12volt dc variety. They include the power rectifier which changes the wall 110 ac to 12v dc. The strips are made to be cut apart and reconnected as needed. Usually there are sections of 3 LEDs and their resistors making up the strip with places to cut indicated on the strips. We can use that design to our advantage, by cutting up the strips into sections. There are roughly 6 sections per foot. A 15 foot roll gives me 90 LEDs for lighting purposes - no more than 25 cents per light. Of course you will use these where you cannot see the strip and wires - only the light emitted.

Lastly, will 12 volt LEDs work on 12 volt ac power. There are plenty of videos out there showing people who have done this, so it does work, but it is not necessarily a good idea. Remember we think about alternating current as a wave,  in our case moving between +12 volts and -12 volts. We already know the LEDs will not light at negative polarity. We also know the LEDs need a minimum voltage to emit. For argument sake lets assume this is a range from 3 volts to 12 volts and then back down to 3. This should tell you what you will observe is the LED going from off to dim to bright to dim and them off again 60 times per second. Its going to be off more than half the time. Most likely you will see this as a flicker. There is also some thought that the continuous cycling applied to the LED puts stress on the device and leads to early failure. Just use the proper dc source for your LEDs.

My opinion - I prefer to isolate my accessories from my track power, so I use separate transformers. Its not much of an issue if running transformer control, but it could be running DCS.

This sounds like the right advice for the OP.

John

@ScoutingDad posted:

Ironhorse - I think I bought that same power supply and voltage indicators. As it turns out I do not need them as yet. I use the 5 volt power supply from Miller Engineering for my signs and the 12 v supply from the strip lights. Works fine so far.

ScoutingDad,

Buying the LEDs strips with the plug-in adaptor as a complete package is great advice -- and there is no work involved.  Dimmer capability is a major plus as well.  I went the other route so I can power as much as I want. 

I also made a similar transformer at 4.5 volts  (again, thanks to all the tech people on this forum) to power all of my Miller Engineering signs and Menards buildings.  It works great.  No more multiple cords and no more power strips.

Mike

Do the tall buildings have floors between the stories or are the insides open?  If you have any with floors you could cut a hole in the center of each floor and insert one dowel rod  to the upper most area.  At various increments, tape a bulb to light that 'floor'.  If each bulb has its own circuit, you may turn the individual bulb on and off via an electric switch which will light or darken each individual floor.  John

Last edited by rattler21
@Markf posted:

Thank you so much for all of the replies. It's a little overwhelming, frankly, since I am not good at the electrical part. But it's also forced me to whittle down my questions to be more specific.

First, to answer one of the questions about what type of buildings they are: A combination of stacked MTH, Girder & Panel (1/87, but just enlarge the entrances and build them taller), American Skyline, Arkitex (1/42), Tiny (1/64 but just build them taller), and Magnuson Models. I'd be lying if I said living in midtown Manhattan for 20 years was the only reason for a skyscraper layout; I also saw Alan Arnold's unbelievable layout more than a decade ago and I've been stockpiling building kits ever since.

The Elevated subway is my concoction of 100-year-old Erector Set girders, square dowels from Lowe's, small screws from a local screw specialist, literally), foil tape, silver spraypaint, and wood stain to mimic rust.

Highway under the Elevated system is mostly Atlas O track in 054 and 045, with 1/32 Scalextric R4 slot car track running 1960s 1/43 Motorific cars. The wider 1/32 slot car track looks way more realistic for the O-size cars. I got very lucky that the radius of the R4 Scalextric slot car track (their widest) matched the radius of the Atlas 045/054 rails above.

My remaining questions:

1) What voltage of LED bulbs do you recommend to light the buildings, if I'm gonna power them with my Lionel ZW transformers? Years ago, in my older layout, someone helped me hook them up to the ZW and its levers served as good "dimmers", with nothing ever burning out. I can't remember the bulb voltage, and I doubt he would either.

2) Considering that I have about 70 buildings, can I just hook up the lights down through the building to one or more terminal boards underneath, and then just wire the terminal boards to the back of the transformer? Is it that simple? I've heard there are pre-wired LED bulbs that are all ready to use with the Lionel ZW (as in, they've been converted to the right type of AC/DC power?)

That's it! Thank you again if you have answers to the above questions, and in return for your advice, here's some additional64348436938__965CCBFD-2E3B-4107-AB75-B09149A940ACIMG_0067IMG_0159 pics of the various stages so far.

Very impressive Mark....I think you need to take lots of pictures and do a how to article for the magazine.  I would be more than happy to write you a check!

@Markf posted:

First post. Nice to be here, and thanks for letting me on your forum. I have my dad's old Lionel trains, plus a bunch of MTH. I'm half-way through a 10x16 Big City Skyscraper layout with double elevated subway loop and slot car highway underneath. I could use some guidance on how to light all the buildings. I suspect I went about this the wrong way, but the buildings are up and I'm hoping I can remove the smaller ones to wire 'em up and work on the big ones where they stand. Power is two ZWs (275w ea) and a KW (190w). Seems like that should be more than enough to run two engines plus 60-70 buildings. What kind of little LED bulbs should I be using, should I get the reels of LED strip lights, and is there a simple schematic that could spread out the electrical burden across the transformers so I don't burn the house down? And is there a simpler way to do all of this? I can't find any LED bulbs pre-wired with longer than an 8" lead. I appreciate any guidance you can give me.IMG_5985IMG_5986IMG_5987IMG_5988IMG_5989

AH...!  A kindred spirit!  Love the city Mark!

Alan- I have not forgotten about you or the elevated subway or this incredibly knowledgeable crew of operators on the site. I had to add an 11th leg under a section of the layout that was beginning to sag slightly under the weight of some of the skyscrapers. Nothing that was in danger of collapse, but you really notice even a 1/8th inch slant when the buildings are 5 and 6 feet tall. And I'll sleep better now. That said, time to vacuum the whole thing and get wiring!

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