Electric Neon Clock restoration guidance.

Ryans Rebel

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Mar 29, 2021
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Hello. I'm new to the forum and need some guidance on getting this old clock up & running. It was given to me many years ago and I had no place to put it so there it sat. Now I have a place to hang it and want to get it going.

The good news is it looks like everything is there.

The Synchron movement (is that the correct term?) seems to work just fine; very lite hum and only mildly warm to the touch after running for several hours. That is all I have powered up so far.

Now onto the neon! Like i said, it all looks there, the transformer, neon tubes, and the pull switch. It looks like to PO disassembled all to clean perhaps. At this point I'm inclined to wire everything back up and give it a try. Does anyone have a schematic or description of how to wire all up? Or would you suggest some other avenue of verifying each component is good?

I've attached several pictures

Ryan

IMAG0395.jpg IMAG0396.jpg IMAG0419.jpg IMAG0420.jpg IMAG0422.jpg IMAG0427.jpg
 

davefr

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Nov 29, 2008
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Neon is really simple. Switched 120 VAC goes to the transformer input and the high voltage output goes to each end of the tube. I'd probably ohm it out before powering it on. Since the output voltage is probably in the range of 10,000 V the secondary resistance of the transformer will be very high. (10-20K ohms). I'm guessing the input side will be around 100 ohms or less. If you get values roughly in this ballpark range then the transformer is likely good.

Before you power it on, make sure all the wiring is in excellent shape and well insulated. Neon is pretty unforgiving to poor insulation and improper connections. Don't let any part of the secondary wiring get close to the metal parts of the clock or they can arc even across a wide gap. Be very careful given the high voltage.

You might even consider taking it to a Neon shop. They can test all these components for you and even fabricate a new tube if needed. Replacement transformers are also readily available. I just restored this one and had to get a new tube made.

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Ryans Rebel

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Mar 29, 2021
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Davefr, Thanks for the reply. Very cool clock. A special place in my hart for crawfish being from Louisiana!

Sorry for the delay, the Easter holidays got it the way. Good news first, the movement seems to work perfectly. It has been plugged in for over a week and is dead on and is still only warm to the touch, which I assume is normal. The neon pull switch is also good.

The bad: the transformer output wires are as hard as rock and one of them is cracked right at the transformer (screwdriver pointing in picture). I did not power it up but i did ohm out the input side (4.2 ohms) and the output side (1.7 Mohms). I applied 120 VAC (124.4 measured) to the OUTPUT side of the transformer and took a reading at the INPUT side (1.910 VAC) in order to get the step up. That works out to 8,000 volts output. I sent a few pictures of the transformer and neon tubes to an outfit in CA that offers to sell transformers and build new tubes. They said the transformer looks "fried" and the neon glass is very old and suggest replacing both. I'm not sure if they are just trying to sell me or if there assessment is accurate. In all the price is about $300 for new neon and transformer. Seems reasonable.

I would like to power it up to see if it works or not but am not familiar with the high voltage nature of the set-up. Specifically, how to terminate the ends of the neon tubes (two neon tubes and one transformer), etc. and insulate the connections. Or is that not required?

Does anyone have or can direct me to a few pictures of a similar clock with the neon all wired up? Pictures are worth a thousand words....


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Ryans Rebel

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Mar 29, 2021
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Oh yeah, I tried a couple of local shops but no one is interested in helping out. I guess they have the attention set on commercial jobs. Its all up to me now.
 

Toughtool

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Aug 12, 2016
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The transformer looks "potted", to me. Meaning it was dipped in a heated tar bath to completly soak everything; winding, steel laminations, and frame. This is a way to reduce noise or 60 Hz hum. Transformers, especially high voltage ones can make a lot of noise from the wires and laminations vibrating. As davefr says, usually the Neon tubes have an electrode on each end of the tube and these are wired to the transformer's secondary. If you are going to pay for a sign company to fix it, you have nothing to lose, so test it and see. Not sure if your two tubes were wired in series or parallel. I would try series first. Transformer to first tube electrode, then electrode to electrode to second tube, then electrode back to the other transformer wire. Please note: Most wire is rated to 600 volts so be sure to use highvoltage hookup wire in the secondary circuit, if it is missing.

Also look on the web. Here is just but one source: https://www.ehow.com/how_5705054_dim-neon-sign.html
This guy shows (YouTube) tubes in series:
 
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Ryans Rebel

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Mar 29, 2021
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Toughtool, I agree with the potted comment. It was certainly dipped as part of the manufacturing process. Maybe the neon guy sees something else that suggests it is "fried".

Update:

I wired the transformer to only ONE of the neon rings just to bench test. I turned the power on (from a distance) and nothing. I turned the power off and as I approached the bench I could smell some mild burning. The smell was coming from the transformer. I think I will write off the transformer and tubes and and just purchase new. I will report back once I have some additional news

Ryan
 

davefr

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Nov 29, 2008
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I'm not too surprised. Your ohm readings didn't sound correct. 4.2 ohms on the input is close to being a short and 1.7 M ohms on the output could be an open with some residual leakage. Keep looking for a local Neon shop. They can test the tube with a special inductive wand. (ie no direct electrical connection needed). If the tube is good, sourcing a transformer should be easy.

I don't see any discoloration of the tube in your image. That's a good sign.

...or buy your own inexpensive Neon tube tester:
 

Toughtool

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Aug 12, 2016
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davefr, that tester is pretty cool.

Something a fellow NAWCC poster tought me about links. You will notice in your link that there is a question mark ("?") in the link. If you delete the question mark and all after, the link is a lot shorter and will work fine.
instead of all this:

I think the "?" and all that follows is just search info for somebody like Google. Click on it and see.
 
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Ryans Rebel

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Mar 29, 2021
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I'm not having much luck with finding a willing local shop. Besides, I disassembled further and found a few broken wires right at the end of the neon tubes. I figure a local shop would cost me as much as replacing one of the tubes maybe just to tell me the tubes are bad, time is money right? I'll just get every thing replaced. I'll report back when complete.
 

Ryans Rebel

Registered User
Mar 29, 2021
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Well, it has taken way longer than expected to complete this project. The neon tubes I ordered took forever to come in, blah, blah. In the end, I ended up with new neon tubes, transformer, GTO wire and electrode end caps. I also repainted the clock. The movement was not changed as it seems to still work just fine.

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Schatznut

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Sep 26, 2020
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Outstanding restoration! Way cool to see the finished article. Kudos for a job well done. And there's peace of mind to be had from knowing it has a nice new transformer and wiring, so that it's not going to light you up or burn the house down.
 

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