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Glasgow had an era in the past where it had neon signs that rivalled Las Vegas, many of which were created by a company called Franco Signs. But they fell from architectural favour and at this point the Barrownland's sign is possibly the only "neon spectacular" left in Scotland.
Special thanks to Jim Stinson and the other Barrowland technical crew for giving me a tour of all the technical bits, so we could see what makes the sign tick.
The controller for this sign might not be what you expected in this electronic era.
Here's a link to Georges Claude's Wikipedia page:-
The Barrowland Wikipedia page:-
The manufacturer of the mechanical sign animators:-
(Check out their rotating contact high voltage flashers!)
YESCO's website:-
(The Young Electric Sign Company were a big player in the Las Vegas sign industry.)
Some videos of the Barrowland sign in action:-
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This video is about a neon sign in glasgow, and it's quite unusual because it's what could be called a neon spectacular, it's a very big sign. Each of these stars is the same height as me. It covers the side of a building and it's animated and later in this video, i'm going to show you the control, that's actually used to animate it because uh, a chap called jim stinson, got in touch and said. You want to see the control and i said well, yes, i do, and i took some video of it so that we can i'll take a look at it.

But let's start at the very beginning: let's move this picture out the way and look at this old black white picture, because glasgow did have a history of major neon signs and you might not know that these days, because uh they all got stripped out, it went Through an architectural phase when it was considered unsightly, so the story starts in the early 1900s and a chap called george's. Claude uh developed a new technique for liquefying air, basically extracting gases from the air, and he started a company called air liquid which is still about. He was also notable for working out. You could store acetylene gas and acetone to make it more stable, but he now had loads of interesting gases, noble gases, including neon at his disposal and inspired by geisler tubes.

He developed neon sign technology, the processing of it and the electrodes, and he started company called claude neon and it was around about the 1920s and it just launched neon signs big time and a good example of that he's credited with introducing neon to america in around About 1925 and the company young electric sign company, yes go latched onto that big time and well. The rest is history, just look at las vegas! That's what happened and it's quite interesting, because if you look at this sign here, you can see the outline of this trap's feet. This is a the william younger's beer advert and you can see the outline of his feet in multiple stages of animation. So there was animation going on there and that's like what this video is largely about, but um there was a boom in these signs, uh up between the 1920s and the 1960s and then glasgow clamped down in it.

And it's a shame because i really struggled to find pictures of neon signage in glasgow. So that's the uh, william younger's beer sign it's all beer and cigarettes. I have to say there is a stoned dates as well and yeah. It's mostly alcohol.

Isn't it and baby milk? It's got them in milk and alcohol. Another sign i found that was in glasgow, and i remember these because i i was round about in the late 60s er. This is the bar's arm brew sign which had a character called babru at crawford houston. Thank you for taking this picture in the past.

It was on facebook um, it's just. It was the only picture i could actually find other than the sign that the picture of being stripped down, because, unfortunately, the pc brigade got onto the bandwagon and said he is black, and this is not appropriate that he should be advertising things. They ignored the fact that babru, which was advertising bars iron brew. His best friend in a cartoon at the time was sandy, who was a wee scottish lad, all dressed up in the kilt and bonnet, and everything not that racist at all, really because they were best friends, it could could have done stuff for yeah, but anyway it Gets stripped down, unfortunately, i've replaced the more appropriate side of the big clock in it.

Apparently there's one sign i could not find it was the robertson's jam sign, which was also a little bit racist. Apparently it had a picture of a in it licking its lips with the animation of the tongue going backwards and forwards. Yeah it's gone. I couldn't find any picture that at all i remember it.

I just uh haven't been able to find images of it. So that brings us to the point that claudine the big success worth mentioning that i worked with a guy one of my aerial access platform. Drivers were chatting, the subject got onto signage and uh. He said i used to work for claude neon and i was like it was so odd because i look in that as a really ancient company, talking of which talk of ancient companies uh.

I wonder if this sign it was. I think it was replaced by either tate or pierce uh. Other big companies in scotland merson's signs come to mind, but the biggie at the time the scottish equivalent of viasco was a company called franco sounds. I think it was f-a-f-r-e-n-c-o and they did a lot of major neon spectaculars until glasgow council banned skyline signs, but anyway, moving on in the 1985, the barrowlands did something wild really unexpected.

They commissioned a company called harper, sounds to install this sign and it spells out. It's animated it spells out. I shall link to videos of it, but it spells out b-a-r-r-o-w-l-a-n-d. Then the outline lights and then all the stars light and the little stars chase around the outside and then it sort of it goes out, but it doesn't just go out.

It staggers out - and i was looking at thinking if they used a cam switch and i naively assumed that they'd used one of these. I thought it was going to be a traditional cam switch as used in control systems that you can get them various lengths, and these have maker switches in them. They've got a synchronous, motor, a gearbox and then the cams, and you can program the cams by basically putting a little allen key in and adjusting these. And if i zoom down in this, if i zoom down in it, i can show you controlling the switches as it rotates.

You'll see, switch 1 switch, 2 switch, three switch four and then reset, and if you hear them resetting, let me just let you hear this here that they're all a bit staggered that was reminiscent of the barrowland signs of resetting, so in the original signs they used. Cam switches like this and they're very old. They keep in mind that these neon signs in the early days they were before electronic control systems really existed, so it was mechanical and they just tended to improvise. So there are vintage pictures of huge huge banks of these cams all fine-tuned, and this is a style of american control that was used well still is used in a lot of signage, and it's notable for the spinning disc at the side and the basic gearing onto The cams and the cams are these paxillin type discs with a screw here.

So you can adjust the position and then you can adjust the contacts. The contacts don't snap up and down they just open and close slowly, which you'd think would dark quite a bit and it does cause some contact pitting to adjust the contacts you uh loosen the little nut. You use a screwdriver and you fine tune the contact, and then you tighten the nut up lots of setting up here's one and here's a picture from the different angle. I was hoping to show the magnet on this disc because it is literally a hand built motor.

It uses the same technique as your electricity meter um, the old electricity meters that had the magnet clamped over the aluminium disc, and it creates a very simple motor. But let me show you the uh. Let me show you what the barolan sign actually looks like running. Well, the contacts are quite slow in this.

I was expecting them to snap open and close much faster. What about oxmoor? That's also why, when the sign all goes out, it's sort of it staggers out, it doesn't go out decisively. So i was not expecting that i was not expecting harper science to have used an american style speller. The speller is like these, but the discs are specifically cut to actually basically close.

These contacts, one at a time spelling it out and they've got big long. Banks of them - and it turns out that this is an old technology. Well, it is old technology, but it's not out of date technology, because if you want one of these, you can go online and buy it. You can buy a genuine control system as used for the las vegas signs.

It's not cheap, but it's all hand built. You know there's a lot of time involved in making these and they've still got that same motor, that you could see then buzzing away with the coils other things worthy of note. The coils by you've got dampers and things like that. You can actually move the coils in or the magnetic dampers and it will actually change the speed of the wheel.

So each of these comes with a you: can choose the gearing ratio for a certain time range, but then you can actually adjust it further by moving dampers or the coils in in these. Is it visible in this one? It's not visible in this one. I should have looked for better pictures. There weren't better pictures, it's not something! That's that's widely findable, but it is now because the link is in the description down below, but there we go interesting.

So that is what's behind the scenes of the barrowland sign in glasgow. So next time you see animating, there's a little box, making loud buzzing noises with those contacts arcing slightly and opening and closing very interesting latterly in las vegas. They uh they did switch to electronic control um. But it's quite neon signs are a pretty tough load to switch electronically, much better these days with solid state relays and stuff, like that, it's worth also mentioning that these sparklers.

I think these are sparklers that chase quite quickly and ripple they're still in use in las vegas and they're still in the use on fairgrounds. They were chosen for fairground lighting because these things well, instead of electronic components, blowing up, you may have to just clean the contacts and that's about it and re-tune them a bit. But if something blows up, these are fairly resilient to that. So there we go.

That is a little potted history of neon signs and uh. The baroland sign in particular.

13 thoughts on “A look at the barrowland’s neon sign controller”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Josh Brucksch says:

    Very neat.

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Dennis Lacroix says:

    I've seen a few Air Liquide vans driving around where I live here in canada. I thought it was funny when I first saw it because I thought it was french.

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars John Carr says:

    A close friend of my actually works for Air Liquide supplying and fitting O2 cylinders for people with breathing problems. Didn't actually know of their history until this video.

  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars FarmerSteve says:

    I once had to replace a complex industrial control system that was based on cam switches with a modern PLC system. The original was a thing of beauty with multiple different cam switches in cascade & interlock configurations – it seemed such a shame to tear it out, but had become a nightmare to maintain as cleaning or replacing contacts involved a fair bit of fettling to maintain timings.

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Stephen Eyles says:

    Very interesting history lesson, thanks Clive!
    When we were in our teens a friend and me found a company which refurbished fruit machines, they had thrown out lots of cam switches. We would go and fill our 'pockets' until they closed off the skip, but I've still got some of the microswitches, and I sold the last cam switch complete online a few years back!

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Kevin Hardisty says:

    I had one of those controllers configured to be a chaser. Lost it in a move. Glad they are still in use. I loved the sound it made.
    Very interesting video

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars drsquirrel00 says:

    Would have been a great title/thumbnail for a stream.

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Wim Widdershins says:

    Electromechanical switching is great, you get two "shows" for the price of one. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Simon Hopkins says:

    Its great to see electromechanical controllers alive and kicking as it were ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Dave Fredrock says:

    So cool. Thanks for sharing Big Clive. I'm 60 now but I remember as a kid riding with my parents through various parts of Chicago and always loving the Neon Adverts almost everywhere.

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars MacVision-3D says:

    Wow! fantastic piece of engineering and not a SMD in sight , i have fond memories of Barrownland as a kid .used to love watching the glass blowers making the scottish thistle right before your eyes .

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Tom Simeone says:

    Great video. Love neon technology and lighting

  13. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars DC Allan says:

    Great Video, we are gettingspoilt tonight, I was just off to bed. But thought I would watch this. great video 2x๐Ÿ‘

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