Adding light to your model railroad adds a new dimension to the operating experience and the fun of watching trains run, but how easy is it? John Shepherd finds out that it can actually be quite simple (ish) as he gets to grips with Woodland Scenics Just Plug® Lighting System.
I’d wanted to add lights to my nineteen-fifties Southern Pacific Western Division-based model railroad but had thought it far too complicated for a relative beginner to the hobby. All that wiring, switches, LEDs, and just how do you fit lights to poles and inside building? After much scratching of head and Youtube watching I came across Woodland Scenics Just Plug Lighting System.
You may recall that I wrote an article previously on why I ventured into modelling American railroads in a past edition and that my efforts were far from permanent. At the time they actually took up a space on the floor! Didn’t really want to try to add lights to that set-up... In hindsight the pike’s residence was a little paradoxical as in the loft was my late Uncle’s OO layout. Now this was nearly finished and ran around the perimeter of the large space (the property being a bungalow). However, it hadn’t run for nearly a decade, although I did manage to get a line working to remember him by…
Just before Christmas I decided that as a train lover and fellow modeller Uncle wouldn’t (probably) mind a little Americanisation of his creation… And so I began gradually removing what had been built and then converting the train tables so that they could stage the SP.
I used foam insulating boards and cut them to fit on top of the tables and this made adding the lights a lot easier (the joins in the boards could be conduits and could be sceneicked over, for example). A trip to Sheffield saw me pop into Rails and I purchased a kind of get-illumination-starter-kit – this included a Woodland Scenics’ Power plug (this can power up to 50 lights), Lights & Hub Set (this has four light ports and comes with two warm LED stick on lights. You can purchase additional Hubs as separate items, for reasons that will be explained); Auxiliary Switch to switch the lights on and off (which you don’t actually need initially as I found out with just the one hub – this plugs into the control port on the Hub); and a pack of Wooden Pole Street Lamps (3-pack), which seemed to look like they would work as yard lights.
It is actually relatively easy to set the lights up. Using just one port on the hub – of which there are four - you can connect three streetlights, for example. Each light comes with red and black wires (positive and negative, I guess) and you simply wrap the respective colours together at their ends - where the wires are stripped for you already - to form one chord (one black, one red) for the three lights that you plug into the supplied Linker Plug and then into one of the Hub’s individual port’s push-fit sockets. You can control the brightness of the lights by turning a small dial next to each port – the dimmer switch. (Do this before burying the Hub under your boards er… someone learnt the hard way). The stick on lights are even simpler in that you attach the attached linker-socket straight into another free port on the Hub and you’re ready to go – well, that’s after you’ve run the cables to where you want them on your layout. I decided on one in the roundhouse (a Banta Modelworks laserkit of the Port Costa prototype and the other in a Walthers Sandhouse, which I was using as an outbuilding in the yard (being a novice I didn’t realise that the light could bleed through small gaps, but mote disconcertingly filter through the plastic shell of the building – I now, know a bit about what to do to stop this happening).
What was not so easy for me was the ability – should you wish – to extend the height of the street lamp poles. This, I guess, is something that you would do if you wanted to model a street with taller builders which would require taller lights or a bigger yard. You are supposed to be able to thread the wires from the main lamp (with bulb) thought the extension pole. This I could not manage. Now there must be a way to do this, but I just kept catching the wires inside the poles, so that they would not peep out the end. In hindsight this did not matter (really) as the lower level poles seem to look okay on the layout. (Although I had examined pictures of SP yards from John Signor books and they did look taller in reality). Note the length of cable is, for example, two feet for the warm LEDs, so you can reach quite a way into your layout. (Again I’d suggest that someone who knew what they were doing could easily splice additional cable onto this if required – it’s 30AWG Gauge wire – whatever that means!).
The Switch operates on a rocker basis and enables you to switch on the lights independently to the power supply. This fits into a specific port which requires you to remove a plug to make the port live. With one Hub, you can get a way with using the main’s plug to control your lighting – as I noted previously for a small scale lighting set-up you don’t necessarily need it. However, the Just Plug system enables multiple Hubs to be joined together by use of an Extension Hub. This can connect up to four Hubs, thus offering 16 possible lighting options (and apparently maxes out, again as mentioned, at a possible 50 lights potential from the one electrical supply). The Switch/Switches (of up to three more) can then control zones or even individual building’s lighting, for each Hub, should you desire.
Well after a little frustration…
When I switched on the lights I got a great sense of “well, that looks quite good” and I must get some more of the wooden light poles. (Okay, I’ll be honest I did break one trying to thread those darn wires through. I must have caught the LED – they are therefore delicate.)
As you can see from the shots the lights do add that other dimension and add a little railroad magic. I hope that my novice-status commentary on the Just Plug Lighting System will help others in a similar position answer the Let there be light conundrum, and may show more experienced modellers that there is a kit-based way to add illumination to your models. Woodland Scenics also offers vehicles that can be connected to the system – so working head and tail lamps I believe, and that sounds like something fun to add…
Note: these are my experiences of using the Just Plug Lighting System, I hope I have explained it well enough, but there are numerous detailed videos available (as there are additional related products) see, woodlandscenics.woodlandscenics.com