Saturday, 16 July 2016

Making awful look awesome

When installing the LED strip lighting on my bookshelf layout, I was left with the unavoidable decision to mount the transformer circuit on one of the outside end panels. While I promised myself that I would later look at disguising what was an awful-looking plastic eyesore, I just couldn't for the likes-of-me figure out how to do so. That's when I came across some antique NSW signal box plaques on eBay, and had the idea to simply turn what looked awful into an awesome-looking feature.

These antique NSWGR signal box lever plaques were a great find on eBay,

I bought 8 of these old NSW suburban signal box plaques and cleaned them up using a microfibre cloth dipped in soapy water, although I have to honest and say I have absolutely no idea of where in real life they would have been mounted. They could have come from a decommissioned signal box proper, or simply a suburban signal relay hut that you see lineside on the rails heading into Sydney. Apart from the obvious lettering for the down, up, local and suburban lines to Strathfield, the plaques are somewhat of a mystery to me. Approximately 10 cm long by 7 cm high, they are each constructed of a 3-ply plastic sheet with the numbers and letters each engraved deep into the surface.

On some of the edges the plastic had swollen, perhaps from being exposed to the weather, while the backs of each plaque had the remains of glue blobs from whatever surface they were once glued to and were a little bent from having been carefully removed. As such, they were impossible to fix to any surface with double-sided tape, (believe me I tried). I decided the best way to mount them onto my layout was to pre-drill holes in each corner, and fix them to the end panels of my layout using the same method I used when adding the old brass station name signs.

With the edges of the plaques in a delicate and somewhat fragile condition, I had to carefully drill each hole about 1 cm in from the corners, as drilling them any closer to the edges would have caused the swollen plastic edges to have disintegrated or crack when screwing them to the layout. There was just enough room for me to mount two plaques either side of the LED transformer box. I applied some clear silicone glue to the back of each one, and carefully screwed them to the end panel using some 12 mm brass screws. The glue provided a great leveling medium given the plaques were no longer dead-straight, while the brass screws provided just enough tension to secure them flush to the panel.

They make the ugly plastic transformer box for my LED lighting look like its all part of the show!

Having been worried about how I was going to mount these, (and dreading the thought of mutilating a historic railway artifact), I'm actually pleased with how the brass screws look. The ugly plastic transformer box from the LED strip lighting now looks like its part of a relay circuit for a miniature signal box.

Adding these signal box plaques to my model railway layout was a fun project and has also given me another interesting facet of railway history to research. Just where did these signal box plaques originate from? If anyone has any knowledge of what they may have been used to identify and where they would have been located, I'd love to hear from you. Until next time, I'm heading back to the garage to apply another coat of varnish to my next layout project.

See also; Replacing legs with panels and Safe and dust free!


  1. Phil, As a retired signalman, I assume these are the lever plaques, (Pistol Grip Levers) the 300 series numbers indicate it would have been in Sydney Yard, possibly East Box as the PA probably stands for Prince Alfred Sidings and they were controlled from Wells Street one end and East Box the other end. Wells Street numbers didn't go as high as 300, so it would probably be East Box. Up and Down to Belmore is a mystery as it would have been up or down (separate levers) or a cross over. I may be wrong about this, as I'm not a Railway Historian, but it may be some help if no other comments come forth.

    1. Thanks so much James. This was just what I was hoping for. I love trying to solve railway mysteries such as these, but there's only so much you can find on the internet. Nothing beats real life past experience. Please send me your email address to thisisneophill[at]gmail[dot]com and I'll email you a free set of my Train Tripping eBooks as a thank you.


Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil