In the January 2021 issue of Model Railroader Magazine, pages 56-58 Paul McCarty described his experience with using the fiber optic system from Dwarvin Enterprises. He had switched from HO to N scale and found wiring lights to be, in his words, “hard to use”. That is the experience of many of us railroaders. See what he wrote as to his reasons for adopting fiber optic lighting, which are taken directly from the article.
A wiring-free solution for adding illuminated scenes to your layout
By Paul Jack McCarty (photos by the author unless noted)
Lighting adds beauty to any model railroad. Illuminating buildings, roads, and scenery enhance the layouts operational works of art. A move to a new home with less space for a layout necessitated switch from HO to N scale. The switch resulted in a larger scenery-to-track ratio, longer trains, and larger yards. However, when it came time to add lighting, the techniques I'd used in HO scale were hard to use it on my compact N scale layout. There had to be a better solution. And there was:fiber optic lighting.
A trip to the clinic
Over the years I've used grain of wheat bulbs and light-emitting diodes, but wiring was a drawback. As I added LEDs for structure interiors, street lights, vehicles, and other accent lighting on my end scale layout, the wiring quickly became a confused, tangled mess.
I tried small, tiny, and mini lightbulbs and various LEDs, including megas, chips, nanos, and picos. Nothing satisfied me. For a long time I procrastinated installing additional lighting on my end scale railroad. My frustration came to an end at the 2019 National Model Railroad Association National Convention in Salt Lake City. I attended a curious, but intriguing, clinic titled, 'Lighting Without Wiring'. I wasn't disappointed. The presenter was Michael Groves, owner of Dwarvin Enterprises, (dwarvin.com). His products use a single light source, remote from structures, and end-glow fiber optics to deliver the light. This system had everything I was looking for.
Setting up the system
I purchased a Lamplighter 1 starter kit and some swan-neck lamps from Dwarvin Enterprises after the clinic. When I returned home I mounted the light source, the Lamplighter, underneath the layout and central to where I wanted to put the lighting. This limited the length of the fiber runs I'd need to make.
Next, I had to determine where to put the lamps. i wanted some areas to be well lit and other areas in shadows, much like you'd find in real life. To re-create that look, I placed the lamps about 3" (or 35 to 40 scale feet) apart.
With the locations selected, i used a 3/16" bit to drill holes in the layout. I inserted the fiber optic cable into the hole from above. The shafts of the lamps, which are made from thin-walled metal tubing, fit into the holes securely without the need for glue. Once all of the lamps were in place, I inserted the cables into the Lamplighter box.
My biggest fans and cheerleaders as I ripped out the old LED wiring and installed the fiber lighter were my grandchildren, Philip, 4, and Rachel, 2. They sat under the layout table as I installed the Dwarvin Lamplighter system. "Ohhh, its magic, Grandpa!" they said. In fact, they liked being underneath the layout and looking at the lit fiber optic cables the best.
Beyond the basics
After I had the Dwarvin system installed, I started experimenting with it to try different lighting effects. For example, I was able to adjust the light's intensity by selecting larger or smaller cables as appropriate and adjusting how far I inserted them into the Lamplighter. Pulling the cable away from the light source slightly dims the output.
Changing the color of the light is easy to do with fiber optics, too. I've used translucent paints, such as those offered by Tamiya, and permanent markets on the end of the fiber optic cable to get the color I wanted. One of the features I was keen to try to create was the effect of moon glow on the scenery. To do this I used 4 mm solid side-glow fiber optic cable inserted into the Lamplighter box. Then I put the cable under dark blue cellophane wrap. This resulted in a soft moonlight glow that illuminated the rest of my layout, especially the mountains.
Worth a look
fiber optic lighting has been a real game changer for my layout. The lit fiber optic cables can be located virtually anywhere and take any form without the concern of heat. It's extremely cost effective when compared with other commercial lighting systems. Best of all, no wiring is required.
Using fiber optics has opened the door to a lot o creativity and imagination. I'm able to add lights to a structure in minutes. If you're looking to illuminate scenes on your model railroad, give fiber optics a try.
Paul McCarty and his wife, Rebecca, live in Draper, Utah, happily surrounded by their grandchildren. Besides model railroading, Paul enjoys camping, fishing, canoeing, and genealogy. He's a member of the Wasatch N-Scale Model Railroad club of Utah.
Paul also gave us a great takeaway:
6 Reasons to switch to fiber optic lighting
On the fence about making the switch to fiber optic lighting? Here are six reasons I quit using grain-of-wheat bulbs, light-emitting diodes, and other lighting source is to illuminate my N scale layout. - Paul McCarty
1. Fiber optics transmit light, not electricity. No longer was I overwhelmed with hundreds of feet of wire and the complexity of soldering them, and their associated resistors, together.
2. Fiber optic cables don’t emit heat. This is a plus, as some of my scenery materials are heat- sensitive.
3. Fiber optic cable is immune to temperature changes and moisture. My layout is in the basement, which has moisture and humidity issues at certain times of the year. The damp basement affected the traditional wiring on my model railroad. Those issues went away when I switched to fiber optics.
4. Fiber optic cable isn’t bothered by electromagnetic interference ( EMI) that can interrupt data transmission. Our computer server is near my model railroad layout. This has caused EMI interference in the past. When I switched to fiber optics, the problem went away.
5. I’ve always wanted imaginative and detailed lighting. I’m amazed at all the innovative and creative uses that fiber optic lighting offers. It can be used to light buildings and individual lamps. A single fiber can stimulate can simulate many smaller lights in a row. Nearly all of this was impossible when working with traditional wired lighting.
6. Putting nicks in the cable allows a small of light to escape. These nicks can be painted with translucent paints to create such things as runway or Christmas lights.
“Game changer. A Dwarvin Enterprises swan neck lamp illuminates the City Hall on Paul’s layout. The system allows him to add lights to scenes and structures in a matter of minutes.”
Take a look at the range of products, which will allow you to quickly and easily Illuminate and Animate your layout.