What were the Gilbert American Flyer Wiring Standards?

by Sep 23, 2015Blog0 comments

Part of the challenge to Gilbert engineers of providing American Flyer electric trains for the public was to set up a wiring system that would enable the kids and non technical adults to easily and successfully set up the trains and accessories. To do this they set up a series of standard ways of powering and connecting the American Flyer trains and accessories.

Standard Number 1: All locomotives, lighted cars and action cars must operate on the 7 to 15 volt variable output from the transformers. Since Gilbert engineers designed and the factory built the motors and solenoids used for the locomotives and action cars, they could adjust the designs to operate correctly with this standard.

Standard Number 2: All lighted accessories and operating accessories must operate on the 15 volt fixed output from the transformers. Again since Gilbert engineers designed and the factory built the motors and solenoid used for the operating accessories, they could adjust the designs to operate correctly with this standard.

All of the American Flyer transformers were designed to take the incoming 120 VAC power line voltage and reduce it to the 15 VAC fixed and 7 to 15 VAC variable voltages to operate the American Flyer trains and accessories.

The wires have a color code.

Black:

Gilbert American Flyer calls this the Base and it functions as the power return for all wiring in a way similar to the mains power neutral wire. (Here there is a caution as the standard for low voltage wiring used for the trains is the opposite of the standard for house wiring. In house wiring Black is the hot or power wire). The transformer label for this wire is the Base Post.

White:

Gilbert American Flyer designates black as the wire to provide the 7 to 15 Volt connection to the track for locomotive, and lighted car power. (Again there is a caution here as the standard for low voltage wiring used for the trains is the opposite of the standard for house wiring. In house wiring White is the neutral or return wire for the power.) The transformer label for this wire is the 7-15 Volt Post.

Yellow:

Yellow is the color standardly used by Gilbert American Flyer for the power wire for lighted and action accessories and for action cars. The transformer label for this wire is the 15 Volt Post.

Other Colors:

Gilbert American Flyer used other colors for wires used for switching functions for various accessories. The specific color used for a specific function depends upon the accessory and the safest way to know the function is to refer to the wiring diagram for the accessory. Generally the function color will have a logic to it but not always. For example, the green is used for the wire that activates a remote control switch to move to the straight position and lighting the green light on the controller and on the switch. Red is used for the wire that activates a remote control switch to move to the curve position and lighting the red light on the controller and on the switch. The yellow and black wires to the switch provide power for the light bulb.

Similar logic applies for the accessories. Yellow and Black are the 15 volt power and the other colors activate various functions.

White, Black, Yellow, Green, Red and Orange are the most commonly used colors for the wiring and are used according to the standards above. However, there are exceptions. There were shortages for some of the colors immediately after World War II and during the Korean War. Due to these shortages Gilbert would substitute a non standard color for the standard one. Usually there would be a note included in the box to explain the change.

Since the action cars use one of the rails as the power return or neutral, the orientation of the action car metal wheels and the action car activation track is critical to enable the operation of the car. The Base Post must be connected to the rail in contact with the metal wheels and the activation section must have the contact bar on the side of the track away from the Base Post side. This often limits the direction of travel for an action car such as the Mail Pick-up Car, or the dumping direction for one of the log, or coal dump cars. Careful planning for the expected operation of the trains containing these cars and the direction of travel or dumping is necessary for the correct operation of the units.

For a short time in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s Gilbert American Flyer produced locomotives that were powered by direct current or DC motors. When using these locomotive and power supplies, the wiring for the action cars becomes more difficult as it is necessary to supply the DC power to the track to operate the locomotive and AC power to the activation section and the Base Post side of the track to enable operation of the action car. There are special instruction sheet sections for this.

Normally accessories such as street lights, lighted towers, lighted stations, and lighted bridges would be expected to be provided with 15 VAC to power the light bulbs. Gilbert American Flyer often included a No 690 track terminal with these lighted accessories to enable the user to avoid long wire runs to parts of the layout away from the transformer. Usually both the wires supplied with the accessory were black but some of the time a black and a white wire were provided. While this use of the track terminal saved on wiring it provided lighting around the layout that would be on and off with the control of the locomotive and would be dimmer or brighter depending upon the 7 to 15 volt transformer output being used to control the speed of the locomotive.

Wire supplied with the accessories and action car controls or included in permanent wiring connected to the accessories and action car controls is usually vinyl (plastic) coated number 18 AWG (American Wire Gauge or size of the conductor [ wire is like pipe, bigger pipe carries more water, bigger wire carries more power ] just to confuse things the bigger the wire number, the smaller the wire). Most often the wire supplied by Gilbert American Flyer is stranded (many small wires bundled together within the plastic coating) but again due to wartime shortages, there were some things supplied with solid wire (single bigger conductor within the plastic coating). Again the wire size was number 18 AWG.