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Disassemble a Marx 408 street light

The Marx 408 street lights are difficult to disassemble. They aren’t difficult because they’re complicated, because they’re not. But it takes a bit of coordination and more than a lot of brawn to get them apart.

But if you need to rewire or repaint one, you don’t have a lot of choice, so here’s how it’s done.

scale of Marx trains and accessories

I disassembled and repainted this red and black Marx 408 street light to make it look nicer on my layout.

When you flip the light over, you can see the three tabs that hold the base. Additionally, there are two screws. One screw is a ground and one screw has two wires attached. Loosen that screw enough to free the two wires, being careful not to disturb the fragile cloth insulation. Once the wires are free, straighten the three tabs and the base lifts off.

The top of the box is held on with two tabs. Straighten those tabs and the top lifts off, leaving just the top and the pole. The pole is held onto the top with four tabs, which are visible after you take the top of the box off. Straighten those tabs and the pole lifts out easily.

Take care with the tabs

Taking the pole apart is the hard part. It’s held together by eight tabs that are cinched down incredibly tightly. Bend those tabs extremely carefully. Watch where your other hand is, because you will slip and loose control of your screwdriver while you’re trying to loosen the tabs. You don’t have to loosen them to the point that the pole comes apart–you just have to split it enough that the wires and lamp sockets can lift out.

Once you have the wires out, inspect the insulation for breaks and repair any breaks with heat-shrink tube or electrical tape. If the wire itself is broken, the easiest thing to do is replace the wire.

Remove the screws and nuts in the base if you intend to repaint the base.

If you intend to repaint, you’ll make life easier on yourself if you solder a ground wire to the brass portion of the lamp socket. By design the body of the post acts as a ground, but modern paints aren’t conductive, and if you don’t get all the tabs as tight as they were originally, one or both lights may not light. Running ground wires makes all of that moot.

Repainting the Marx 408 street light

Regarding paint, the posts came in three color schemes: all black, black and silver, and black and red. The red that Marx used seems to have varied, but a medium-dark red works well, something along the lines of cherry red or light burgundy. Black is black, you just have to choose your finish. I prefer satin black to glossy; the satin is subtle while still presenting a new, somewhat shiny appearance. Satin black seems to work well with a glossy red. To match the silver paint Marx used, you’re likely to do better with a store-brand silver paint from a hardware store than one of the specialty metallic paints commonly available today.

When reassembling, twist the tabs where you can rather than bending them. It’s easier. Securing the tabs that connect the pole to the box top is difficult; you may find it easier to use a short length of heat shrink tubing rather than trying to bend the tabs back down.

Replace the screws in the base if you removed them. One screw has insulators and the other does not. Attach your new ground wires, if you added them, to the screw that doesn’t have insulators. Attach the other wires to the screw that does, being careful to wrap those wires in such a way that they make no contact with the base.

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