Tree Lighting



Lighting Changes to Consider: 


Power Supply Upgrade: 


Lighting Power SupplySome collectors have reported problems with the Olszewski lighting kit not having enough power to operate all of the buildings at full brightness with all buildings attached.  I didn’t have that problem.  In fact, I tested the 5vdc 5 amp power supplies provided with the Lighting kit and they were well regulated.  Even at twice their rated output they still pumped out 3.5vdc.  But, enough people reported the issue that I replaced the three Olszewski provided power supplies with a single 30amp 5vdc supply.  Dimming is definately not an issue with this unit and a single unit simplifies wiring. 


You may have noticed that when the 10 minute timers trigger that sometimes simply turning off and on the AC power doesn’t always reset the timer and some buildings stay dark.  Only by turning off and on the little blue switches can you be sure that the lights will always come back on.  I wanted a single switch that both turned on the power supply and also duplicated the action of the little blue switches so I replaced the three little blue switches with a single relay.  This allows me to have a single switch that powers on/off the power supply and also duplicates the operation of the switches and it works perfectly.  I used a 3pdt switch 110vac relay - it's to the left of the Power Supply in the above picture.  Send me an email for the (very simple) schematic if you need it. 


Tree Lighting: 








With (left) and Without (right) Tree Lighting. 



Olszewski website blogger ImissWalt suggested adding lighting to the trees because you can’t see either the trees or the trains when the Platform lighting is on and the room lighting is off. 


The more I looked at the platform in a darkened room the more I agreed with ImissWalt.  The unlit trees make the platform narrow, a bit akward, and out of proportion in the darkness.  In the “real” park the trees and structures surrounding Main Street pick up quite a bit of ambient light so they appear lit.  But, the lights of Main Street on the Platform don’t pump out enough light toward the trees to illuminate them.  So, thanks to ImissWalt for the inspiration to add lights to the Trees. 


Here's how the Platform appears in my Family Room with the lights on.

I purchased about 30 white 20ma LEDs from  They cost about 1$ each (white LEDs are somewhat expensive).  They were all 3mm in diameter (very small) LEDs.  Half were 45 degree spread and the other half were 90 degree spreads. 



After several days of experimentation I learned the following difficult lessons: 


1.      I ended up using the 20ma LEDs at very low intensity, between 3% and 10% of their rated power depending on placement.  This makes the trees and trains clearly visible, but dimmer than the Street so the trees don’t pull your eye away from Main Street.  The idea was to create the same sense of ambient light hitting the trees as you see in the “real” park maintaining a focus of attention on the street and not the trees.  [Note: I also ended up dimming the white LEDs on the Main Street sign for the same reason – they were way too bright in proportion to the Street.]


2.      The lights produce the most uniform and “natural” looking light when they’re placed back several inches from the trees.  This created a challenge in placing the lights but was necessary to create a reasonable light without using hundreds of LEDs.  When back 6-10 inches I used the 45 degree LEDs.  In the cases where I was closer than 3 inches I used the 90 degree spread LEDs.


3.      Every LED needs to be “hooded”, that is, they need to have a sleeve placed around the barrel of the LED to direct the light on the trees and prevent the light from straying up and out of the platform blinding anyone trying to admire the collection.  Even running at low intensity the LEDs are very bright and with 30 of them pointing upward to the trees they created a blinding starfield of light that made viewing the platform virtually impossible.  With the hoods in place they’re much less noticeable.  Unfortunately, every LED needs a different hood – so that adds time to the installation.  [Note: I also added hoods to the white LEDs on the Train Station, the ones that illuminate Mickey’s face, because those were blinding, too.]


4.      Since the lights will be quite visible they need to look presentable. 





Light Construction Details:     



The lights end up looking like this when they're finished.  Only the top most portion of the light will be visible on the Platform.



1.      Solder a 10” section of 26 gauge red wire to the anode (the longer/positive) lead of the LED as close to the base as possible and cut off the rest of the anode lead.


2.      Cut a 2” section of 3/32” (2.4mm) tubing (I used Aluminum tubing from the local Ace hardware store) 


3.      Bend the cathode lead and red wire as shown so they can slide into the tubing.


4.      Cut a 10” section of 26 gauge white wire and strip 2 ¼” of insulation from the wire.



5.      Slide the LED leads into the tubing from one end and slide the white wire up from the other end.  About ¼” of the white wire copper will be sticking up out of the top of the tube – bend this excess wire down over the tube to keep the white wire from sliding back out of the tube.


6.      Paint the top half of the tube and the back end of the LED in Dark Forrest Green paint – that’s about the same color as the trees and the green platform parts.


7.      After the light is installed in the Platform, Cut a section of 1/8” black heat shrink tubing to form the hood of the light.  Slide the hood over the LED and glue in place with white glue.   




Here's how it looks when it's completely assembled. 



You've probably figured out that I’m using the tube to complete the common leg of the circuit.  I did that because I couldn’t fit two 26 gauge wire complete with insulation through the 3/32” tubing (it was too tight).  I didn’t want to use smaller wire because the wires needed to be strong enough to hold the top of the light in place and 26 gauge was already getting a little flimsy.  I also wanted to minimize soldering, so I ended up with the above construction approach.  I was able to build all 30 lights in about 2 hours. 


Installation of the lights into the Platform: 


1.      Run a pair of wires (I used red/white doorbell wire) under the platform and encircle the entire underside of the platform near the edge.  Connect the wires to the 5vdc power supply (I think you can use unit “C” if you didn’t install a large single supply like I did because Unit “C” is the least loaded and the all of the tree lights pull less than .5 amp of power).  This pair of wires will serve as the 5vdc power “buss” that you’ll connect the individual LEDs to.  Red should be +5 and White should be common to keep the wiring straight.


2.      In a dark room, experiment with the light placement.  A few millimeters one way or the other can make a big difference in how the light throws, especially in congested spaces like the front of the park.  You can start with my lighting layout as a start, but you can probably do a better job than I did.  For example, I wish I’d added another light to the street side of the trees on the central East side of the platform.


3.      Drill a 3/32 hole down through the platform where you want to place the light.  I ended up using a 1/8” hole in several places depending on how tight the tubing was in the hole. 


4.      Slide the wires and the tubing down into the hole and glue in place.


5.      Connect the white wire of the light to the white wire of the 5vdc “buss” wire running under the platform.  Connect one end of current limiting resister to the red wire of light and the other end of the resister to the red wire of the 5vdc “buss” wire.  I used 20ma max LEDs.  In areas where I wanted the LED to be relatively bright I used a 650ohm quarter watt resister.  In areas where I wanted the LED to be dimmer I used a 2.2k quarter watt resister.  Depending on the LEDs you choose you may need to use larger/smaller resisters.  DON’T MAKE THE LIGHTS TOO BRIGHT.  I would suggest that when in doubt, go with the dimmer setup.  I experimented with clip leads to connect the resisters initially until I was comfortable with the intensities.


6.      Twist/rotate the LED portion of the light, the part above the tube, to aim the light as desired.  The nice thing about using the wires as I did was it made the lights very adjustable and fairly stable.


7.      Install the light “hood” as described in Step 7 above.  Cut the hood such that it keeps the stray light from blinding the people trying to admire your hard work.  Believe it or not, this step will be the most important and time consuming part of the installation, but nail it and your tree lighting will look awesome. 



Two Train Operation Video:


Click for VideoAs I say in the Two Train Operation section, I've tried to video the operation of the two trains on the Platform Track, but it turned out to be harder than I expected.  My camera wasn't sensitive enough to show exactly how the lights look at night, but the video should give you an idea of how it all looks.  Click this text or the photo to start the video. 



Bruce Richards