Everything on model trains, model railroads, model railways, locomotives, model train layouts, scenery, wiring, DCC and more. Enjoy the world's best hobby... model railroading!


Rotating Beacon on Model Railroad Problem

model railroad wind turbine

Bob models S scale and sent in this question for readers:

“I have a rotating beacon that does not rotate. No sure how the fins on the top should be angled? The beacon is connected to 18v on my transformer. I have adjusted the vanes but still does not rotate.”

2 Responses to Rotating Beacon on Model Railroad Problem

  • Randall Styxsays:

    This beacon appears to be like or identical to the rotating beacon made by Lionel in the 1950’s. The rotation was caused by hot air rising from around the light bulb and flowing through the “fan” in the upper part of the beacon housing. The bulb itself had a little dimple in the top in which a pin at the middle of the fan rested. The entire housing with its colored lenses balanced on this pin. Because the only point of contact for the housing was that pin, there was very little friction and the movement of the rising hot air was able to spin the fan and the housing.

    It would not matter whether the blades on the fan were bent up (to the outside) or down (to the inside), but to keep an even flow of air they should all be bent the same amount. Up or down would change the direction of the rotation. If the blades are not bent enough, not enough air will flow; if they are bent too far, the air will rise without exerting much force on the blades. As I recall the beacon we had, they were bent up about 1/8 inch.

    In troubleshooting why your beacon is not rotating, first check to see if it spins freely when you spin it gently by hand. If it doesn’t, it won’t spin on its own. Something is interfering with its motion. Is the pin too short so that part of the fan is rubbing on the bulb? Is there a dimple in the bulb? Is the beacon housing able to swing a little bit like a bell if you bump it gently? If it doesn’t, then it has more than one point of contact (which should be the pin at the middle of the fan), and it will not spin.

    Or, perhaps, you’re not waiting long enough for the bulb to heat up. The bulb needs to be warm enough to get the air moving, and that doesn’t happen immediately. Any drafts (a fan to keep you cool, perhaps?) can also interfere with the rising hot air off the bulb. The air around the beacon needs to be relatively still. The hot air rising off the bulb does not have much force; therefore the friction on the beacon housing needs to be almost zero. To overcome the inertia of a non-moving beacon you might just start it rotating by hand and let the heat from the bulb keep it going.

    One final thought. Is your bulb a traditional incandescent bulb or an LED? An LED will not produce enough heat.

  • Randall Styxsays:

    Follow up: Actually, it’s not just the air right next to the bulb that heats up, but all the air inside the housing. That’s what takes a while. When the air inside the housing is sufficiently warm, it rises through the fan. Therefore, another reason the blades of the fan cannot be bent too far is that if they are, too much air escapes, too much cool air enters from below and the air inside the housing is no longer hot enough to keep flowing up. You may have to experiment a bit to see how far the blades on the fan need to be bent.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Add a photo or image related to your comment (JPEG only)

Download Your Free Catalog

N Scale Track Plans

Watch Video


Submit Your Model Railroading Questions!

Before you submit your model railroading question please add some feedback, answers or comments to other postings on this model train blog. What goes around comes around... so if you can help others in the hobby, someone else may help you.

Important - Please add plenty of supporting details to any question you submit (eg. scale, solutions you have already tried etc.) , as the clearest and best questions usually get the best answers. Also, please check your spelling and punctuation as all questions need to be approved by the blog moderator prior to publication. Approved questions are normally published within a week (if not sooner).

Submit your model train questions here.

Use Tiny Railroad Micro Controllers

A micro controller is basically a small programmable computer device to help the model railroader “make things operate.” It is clever way to realistically replicate the movements, actions and functions you are likely to see on a full size railroad.

Watch These Club Videos

Club members access helpful new resources each month: diagrams, video tutorials, articles, track plans and more. Watch the tour videos here.

Scenery Techniques Explained

Everything DCC



Model Train Help Ebook

Bringing Your Railroad To Life!

Scenery & Layout Ideas

Share With Friends


Submit Your Article

Would you like to write an article and have it published?

Preference will be given to articles that help others progress in the hobby, maybe suggesting an idea for their layout, a quick tip or two... or perhaps a little bit of good advice based on your model railroading experiences.

We are all in this hobby together, so the more we can do to share ideas and help each other, the better.

Submit Your Article Here

It’s YOUR Railroad!

Your rolling stock and locomotives might actually be the center of attention on your layout, but the scenic features that surround and envelop your layout is what's likely to make your train setup stand proud of the rest. Your selection of scenery and structures will add an element of customization that will make your railroad truly unique.

Scenery, structures, and fine detailing is a fundamental aspect of any good model railroad, particularly if it is intended to replicate a true-to-life railroading scene. How realistic or authentic you make your railroad is entirely up to you... and you alone.

Some enthusiasts like to replicate every tiny detail so as to accurately depict, in every aspect, a miniaturized version of a real life scene.

Others in this hobby adopt a more "free-style" approach and choose to mix and match accessories and features they personally prefer. Even though the purist will possibly be unimpressed with unrealistic or out of context elements, it is YOUR railroad layout so you can make it anything you personally want!

Model Railroading Blog Archive

Reader Poll

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.