I recently purchased this item from a seller on ebay.  The quoted condition was C-6.  It is painted red and according to what I have read it was an early model manufactured in the late '40s.  It was missing the lens and light bulb, but the lens base was included. The item is in quite good condition with all metal framework including the ladder structurally perfect I ordered from other vendors a new repro lens, light bulb and, just in case, a new repro lens base.  First, I installed the light bulb and placed the lens on top so it would rotate freely.  Then, I hooked it up to a small test transformer and the bulb lit.  Thus, the accessory worked electrically.  But, as I expected, the lens would not rotate even up to 18v.  After about 5 min, the lens got hot.  Had to turn it off to prevent a lens meltdown.  A closer look at the base revealed it was not seated completely in the tower frame.  I thought I had found the culprit.  But the base would not seat; it would raise up on the opposite side when I exerted careful hammering.  I removed the base, examined it and the platform it seats in.  Saw no observable reason for the seating problem, so installed the new base, which seated completed and reassembled the parts.  Then, tested it again with same results.  Lastly, I dug out my Greenberg's Lionel Repair and Operating Manual to see what might be the problem.  Recommended were two solutions:  check that the lens' vanes are equally opened (no info on how open they are supposed to be); and try bending that pivot needle inside the top of the lens.  As far as the second reference, I don't want to go there.  I can envision breaking that needle, which will render the lens useless.  Plus, the lens appears to my eyes to be level; and it will rotate quite a few times with a manual spin.  Not specified in the manual is the appropriate voltage to operate the lens without causing a meltdown.

Sorry for the long winded description of my problem, but I wanted to describe as completely as I can what I have done to save posters time when responding with suggestions.  I am aware that repro parts can sometimes be a problem, as the lens or the dimple bulb could be out of specs.  Any advice/help provided will be greatly appreciated.

Original Post

  Bill I think you’ll find this is very common 394 problem.  The issue being that they simply DO NOT WORK.  This is why the 494 was produced shortly thereafter.

 I tried 20 volts from a KW.  Tried balancing all rotating parts out to several decimal places on a digital scale.  Tried a myriad of top vent positions.  All to no avail.  

If you do a search on the subject, you’ll find others have rigged small fans nearby to create an airflow, but even this has its limitations. 

I toiled with my 394 for months, nothing worked... eventually, and thankfully, my LHS had a lightly used MTH copy 494 very cheap.  It was a revelation.  It turns at an exacting 8-10 rpm at 11v, which is dead on prototypical, and has needed no attention whatsoever.  Because of this, and far as I know, there have been no O scale aviators that were unable to find my airport in darkness or fog.   

If it helps, the red 394 base makes a lovely platform for a water tower...AEA54807-ED77-4BC0-B2E6-765250CF0CD4

Tom

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Last edited by FlyPlanes-PlayTrains

Tom,

Thanks for the reply.  I will check out the MTH version.  Had not heard the 394 was such a bummer.  Were you able to use the 394 wiring to add a light on the water tower?

I had one as a kid and recall it worked OK. Fast forward 50 years and they seem very recalcitrant.  What seems to get them going are some additional air currents like in the path of a heating/cooling duct or small fan. Still they seem to work one day and nothing the next.

A better choice is the Lionel 494.

Pete

 

 

BILL HUDSON posted:

Tom,

Thanks for the reply.  I will check out the MTH version.  Had not heard the 394 was such a bummer.  Were you able to use the 394 wiring to add a light on the water tower?

Yeah Bill, I had no idea when I purchased my 394 as well.  I was determined to get it working, until fate intervened...

The MTH 494 is identical to Lionel’s,  I suppose price & condition would be the only determining factor in purchasing either brand.   I’ve read the original postwar Lionel 494’s are getting a bit tired nowadays & can buzz quite loudly.  Of course there are many well documented ways to mitigate this noise.  

The flashing light is a bespoke product from Evan Designs- a forum sponsor- specifically for water towers/smoke stacks/antennas etc.  comes with extra long wires to suit this purpose perfectly.  I didn’t want to dismantle the 394 too much, so I just ran the wires down the center black conduit, and through the bottom.  There are plenty of existing holes on the 394 for this...no need to drill.  93547EA5-CFF8-4629-838A-698A727D429BKind of hard to see, but the tiny feed wires are zip tied to the center pipe. The bigger black square near the bottom is the included bridge rectifier. Nice slow flash

Tom

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Haven’t heard anything good or bad...although the price is a bit dear.  

There is an MTH one on the same auction site for less than half of the Lionel’s price.  I think that’s what I paid fo mine.

Look under “ MTH Operating Rotary Beacon 30-9033”

I’m not trying to sway you towards either brand, I’m just epically cheap.  A lower price will always pique my interest.

Tom

 

Mine works fine. I have heard that currently available bulbs are lower-wattage than the originals and don't produce enough heat. I don't know if this is true or not.  You can try a higher voltage at the expense of shorter bulb life.

--pete

 

 

My heart is warm with the friends I make, 

And better friends I'll not be knowing;

Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,

No matter where it's going.

                        Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

katy409 posted:

Tom, what did you use for the top of your water tower?    

Art

It’s the top 40% of a grain silo from an old Ertl farm set. I hadn’t realized how big everything was when I bought it, probably 1/32 scale. The farm house and barns are huge...

Tom

Pete,

I ramped up the volts to 18, then waited until the lens got too hot to handle and turned it off.  There should have been enough heat generated to spin the lens like a  top.  Thanks for the post.

Regards

FlyPlanes-PlayTrains posted:

... eventually, and thankfully, my LHS had a lightly used MTH copy 494 very cheap.  It was a revelation.  It turns at an exacting 8-10 rpm at 11v, which is dead on prototypical, and has needed no attention whatsoever.  

Tom

Glad you had good luck with your MTH version. I've fiddled with several of my Lionel 494s, and then got a new MTH version to try that. It worked no better than the Lionel ones.

I'll have to dig these out and fiddle with them some more.

This thread got me curious again so I got my 394 out started to fiddle with it. Then remembered what would get it to work. Vibration from the trains running. A few years ago I had it set up on my little Christmas tree loop which is just an oval of 031 and a few straights on a piece of 3/8" plywood. Needless to say its noisy but its also what I ran trains on as kid where I remember the tower spinning.

After powering it up to 16 volts and waiting for just a minute or two I starting tapping on the platform my transformer is on and it began to spin on its own.

So if your track is on cork or homosote or the tower is up on a paper mache mountain it likely won't spin but if the layout is more typical of what we had back in the day with nothing to absorb the vibration it just might work.

Pete 

Last edited by Norton

Yes, these can be a pain. I got mine working by continuous adjustments to the vents on the rotating piece. Can't even describe the process. It's very hit or miss. 

TCA, LCCA

Last edited by johnstrains

I've also had difficulties with mine, but have had some success by replacing the bulb. It seems that the dimple on top of the bulb can be an issue. On the advice of the dealer, I bought three bulbs at a show one time and, of the three, only one worked. The dimples on the other two bulbs prevented the lens from balancing which would not allow it to turn. 

One would think there would be some wisdom out there regarding the vent openings. It seems to me that narrow vane openings would cause the lens to rotate too fast and overheat.  But I am getting a hot lens with no rotation at all.  I still think that some repro parts are not the same as originals and may not have been thoroughly tested prior to production.   Anyway, I have ordered from an eBay seller a MTH 494 version.  Will turn the 394 into a water tower as suggested earlier.

Regards

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jim Brenner posted:

I've also had difficulties with mine, but have had some success by replacing the bulb. It seems that the dimple on top of the bulb can be an issue. On the advice of the dealer, I bought three bulbs at a show one time and, of the three, only one worked. The dimples on the other two bulbs prevented the lens from balancing which would not allow it to turn. 

I think there is a lot of truth to this. I noticed after spinning mine by hand it came to an abrupt stop. I suspect when Lionel was having the bulbs made back in the day, quality control was much better. I doubt the new bulbs are even made here anymore. Be nice to find some new old stock to compare.

I have a 494 too but there is much more nostalgia in the 394 for me. Plus its silent.

Pete

Last edited by Norton

I have one of those MARX sheet metal dual flood light towers, that was in very rough shape when I got it. I turned it into a rotating searchlight tower, similar to the Lionel 394, being discussed here, albeit with a much smaller footprint. I make my own "dimple" bulb but found the heat generated from the bulb was insufficient to rotate the beacon top.

THE FIX: In a box of items being thrown out by a neighbor, I found an smaller aquarium air pump complete with a good length of the air tubing.

I drilled a couple of holes in my sheet metal tower: One in the base and one at the top. I ran a piece of Plastruct pipe, which I painted black to match the tower color, through the tower, leaving enough to go through the layout surface, which I also drilled a hole through after making an accurate measurement for the position of this hole. The hole through the deck of the tower NEEDS to be within the diameter of the spinning beacon top.

So the pipe goes through the tower and through the layout surface. I then attached the air tubing to this tower pipe, and then to the aquarium air pump. The holes I drilled in the tower are snug enough to hold the Plastruct pipe in place, but also allow it to be moved up and down. This is because, one everything is assembled, a little "fine turning" is needed for vertical height of the pipe going through the upper deck of the tower. The air pump sends air through the tubing and up into the beacon top, causing it to rotate, regardless of the bulb temperature. I didn't have to play with the air slits in the beacon top either.

My beacon top now spins effortlessly. I've seen aquarium air pumps at yard sales for a couple bucks. So depending on your level of creativity and drilling skills, certainly less costly that buying a searchlight tower with a vibrator motor. Which if anyone that has one knows, are not immune from problems: The rubber "feet" washer needs to be the correct size and in good shape. I had one of the modern K-Line versions of the #494, which eventually just stopped working. Hence, my little project here.

A few notes about the 394. The older reproduction beacon tops are too heavy to work well. The newest repos (like sold from Train Tender) are lighter weight aluminum. If you can find an original top on ebay, that's good too. Bulbs. The 461 bulbs made today from China are not the same as good old USA made ones. You have to run the 14 volt bulbs at 16 volts to generate enough heat. At first issue of the tower, they had 465 bulbs which are 12 volt bulbs. Apparently they burnt out quickly, so Lionel requested a dimpled 14 v. bulb.  A tower in New York will work better than one in Colorado.  At sea level there is more dense air to heat than one at a higher elevation.

Interesting Brianel. I hadn't considered making my own but observed a few months ago when heating some bulbs to make a hole in the glass that they would first cave in due to the vacuum. I may see if I can make some now. I have plenty of 14v standard bulbs to play with. Anyone else, I was using a one of the micro butane torches to melt glass.

Pete

 

Last edited by Norton

What Tom said.  After much experimenting and tinkering,  I finally gave up and simply screwed a blinking red lightbulb into the 394's socket.   Works fine, now!   

Mitch 

It's crackers to give a rozzer the dropsy in snide!

 

Remember, SCROUNGE!

Chuck Sartor posted:

A tower in New York will work better than one in Colorado.  At sea level there is more dense air to heat than one at a higher elevation.

Very interesting observation, Chuck. 

Enclosed is the simple fix I managed to do.  Transformed the unit to a lighted water tower using a repro tank and red lens.  Used a screw in LED bulb.  Also bought on EBay an MTH #394 rotary beacon tower in excellent shape.  Thus, I am a happy camper that I have two functional towers.

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I have a different issue with my K-line rotating beacon.  it requires a rubber washer that vibrates and a paper washer that sits between the rubber washer and lens housing.  

driving rubber washer

 

 

 

 

 

 

paper friction washer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any idea where I can find these parts?

Thanks

Mac

Thanks Mitch.  I had already checked there but will try again.  I did find a rubber driving washer at TRAINZ and ordered it.  Once it arrives I will attempt to make my own paper washers out of wax and parchment papers.  hopefully one of these two materials will work.

 

thanks again,

Mac

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