Having just purchased some new passenger equipment, I decided to add some lighting. Rapido Trains has a very nice kit for just this purpose. It’s called the “Easy Peasy Lighting Kit” and frankly, it’s the bee’s knees when it comes to lighting passenger cars.
The kit consists of a battery-powered light board that you install in the roof of the passenger car using double-sided tape (not provided) or your favorite “other” means of attachment, and a magnetic “magic wand” that is used to turn the lights on and off. There is a magnetic reed switch in the center of the board. When you bring the wand near the car roof, the lights come on. Bring the wand near the roof again and the lights go on. The system doesn’t require track pickup, so you don’t have to worry about DC vs. DCC or metal wheelsets or loading down your booster or power pack with lighted cars.
On the other hand, the batteries will eventually die, and if you used a strong adhesive (like I mistakenly did), replacing the batteries could be a bit tricky.
Installation in most passenger cars is pretty easy. You just install the batteries, pull off the car roof, tape the board in place, and replace the roof. Done. Here’s the board installed in a Con-Cor Union Pacific smooth-side coach…
… and the same car in the dark…
All is not dandelions and lollipops, though. I bought these boards to go inside some old Rivarossi varnish that I had repainted for the CH&FR Railroad. To my chagrin, I discovered that the board does not fit in the cars. On all three cars (coach, diner and Pullman), the clear plastic ends of the roof/glazing part are too close in, and the board is too long to fit between the ends. In addition, on at least the coach, the bathroom walls on both ends of the car are too high to allow the batteries to fit inside the car.
Clearly some modifications are required. The diner and Pullman are going to have to be modified fairly significantly, so I will cover them in a later post when I’ve figured out how I want to do it. I will document here how I made the lighting fit in the coach.
The first step was to shorten the length of the light board enough to fit inside the roof-and-glazing part of the coach. To do this, I used a razor saw to trim as much of the battery end of the board off as possible. I got right up against the battery holder here, so much so that you can see I opened up the hole for the one of the battery holder legs. This is a tad risky, so use good judgement.
This is almost, but not quite enough to make the board fit. Unfortunately, the other end has a fairly narrow but important circuit trace around the end, so cutting it with a saw would be dangerous. Instead, I used some 300-ish grit sandpaper to file down the end just a smidge, enough to make it work.
Alternately you could cut the board with the saw, breaking the trace, and then solder a wire to re-establish the circuit.
Now the board fits lengthwise, but we still haven’t solved the “too tall battery” problem.
To make room for the batteries, I used the razor saw to trim 1/8″ off the height of the bathroom walls on one end of the car’s interior part, and then sanded the cut edge smooth. This frees up enough room for the batteries, but leaves the walls tall enough to look OK through the windows.
Finally, after a test fit, we add the tape and reassemble the car.
And that’s pretty much it. Voila! … almost…
The custom paint job on these cars didn’t include the roof, which I elected to leave the original silver. Trouble is, as you can see, the paint has worn thin in spots, so I’ll have to repaint it to keep the lights from bleeding through.
This isn’t a perfect solution. The foam tape I used is pretty high-adhesive. Probably too high. I’m quite concerned that I’m going to have some trouble when it comes time to replace the batteries, especially since I carved off all the “wiggle room” on the battery end of the light bar. I might actually find myself buying another car to scavenge a new roof from it, if things get bad enough.
In hindsight, it may have been better to cut the ends off the roof/glazing part to make room from the bar instead of shortening the bar to fit in the roof. I could easily have added some thin clear plastic to re-glaze the car ends. But, the car is lit and ready to go, once I replace the couplers again.
I’ll also point you to Mike Fifer’s succinct how-to on installing these lights in a Micro-Trains Heavyweight car. Notable differences (and I should have listened to Mike!) are that he wraps the LEDs and the light spreader in tape to stabilize the board, and he doesn’t secure the board to the roof, instead just letting it rest on the tops of the seat backs. That latter difference will certainly make battery replacement easier.