Interview with the maker of the Rotoray.

Discussion in 'eLightbars® Featured Content' started by JohnMarcson, May 27, 2012.

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  1. JohnMarcson

    JohnMarcson Site Founder Administrator

    Admin Post
    The following is an interview with the current maker of the Rotoray, Richard Slepetz, who is member Sarge619's uncle.

    The questions were composed by me, John Marcson. The interview was conducted via phone by eLightbars user Sarge619, as Richard is an extremely skilled but private person. I will refer to the interviewer as "eLightbars". I am extremely grateful for being able to get so much great information directly from the company. Special thanks to Richard and Sarge619.

    Here is the contact info to purchase a rotoray. Serious Inquiries only. This interview is Richard's way of sharing his products, please respect his privacy.

    Richard V. Slepetz, President
    Roto Rays Inc
    722 Park Ave
    Herndon, VA 20170
    (703) 437-3353

    I started by having Sarge thank Richard for his time, and for continuing an American fire/rescue service tradition.

    eLightbars- What do you know about the original company and production version, the buckeye iron works rotoray, it's beginnings and progression?

    Richard- Buckeye Iron and Brass Works of Dayton, Ohio was issued the patent in 1929 and began production in 1930. They produced the lights until either 1962 or '63, then sold the rights to another manufacturer, Machine Products Corporation, also of Dayton. Machine Products only produced the lights for a few years, then sold the rights to Mr. William G. Grether, who was president of a local machine works company that produced tools, dies, jigs and did metal stampings, foundry work and electro-plating. He never produced any Roto-Rays.

    eLightbars- When and how did you acquire the patent?

    Richard- I contacted Grether (owner of buckeye iron works) in 1971 to convince him to sell him the patents. Grether was elderly and ailing at the time, and wanted $2500.00 for the rights. I could not afford the asking price. After Mr. Grether passed away, I obtained the patent rights at the estate auction for $500.00 along with various spare parts. I did not produce my own first prototype 6 inch sealed beam light until approximately 1978. At that time, Fairfax County Fire/Rescue had taken delivery of a Seagrave pumper which did not possess the customary Federal "Q" siren mounted on the center of the sheet metal of the cab face. It was equipped with an electronic siren, beacon and flashers. The department members were not happy with the configuration and were given the go-ahead to modify it to become the "standard" for future deliveries. I proposed flush-mounting the Roto-Ray in the center of the cab face where the recessed "Q" normally was mounted and got the approval. In addition, the truck received a bumper-mounted "Q". The department administration liked the new configuration and decided to put Roto-Rays on new apparatus deliveries. Several area departments saw the county pumper and asked Richard to produce lights for their new deliveries, and thus, the Roto-Ray was "reborn".

    eLightbars- What changes have have been made?

    The most significant change, other than updating the internal workings was developing new mounting solutions. Buckeye had only provided for a pipe-mount configuration. I developed front-mounts for the cab face of various manufacturers apparatus, be it Seagrave, Maxim, Hahn, Sutphen, American LaFrance, etc. (and later E-One, Pierce, other current builders) placing the light more directly in the plane of vision of motorists ahead of apparatus running with the lights activated.

    eLightbars- How many different models are currently offered?

    Current models include the 200 (three red sealed beams) 200W (two colored sealed beams with one white sealed beam), 1000 (PAR 36 LED's) and the newly released 4000 (PAR 46 LED's).

    eLightbars- What is the most popular setup?

    The most popular setup these days is the front-mount chrome light heads with LED's (1000 or 4000).

    eLightbars- What's your favorite rotoray setup (color, speed, mounting etc)?

    My favorite configuration is all-red (sealed beam or LED) in the center of the cab face on modern apparatus, and all red (sealed beam) pipe-mounted units with the "bullet" shaped motor housing on antique apparatus either located on the fender, or above the windshield on open cab trucks (like his restored 1955 GMC/American pumper formerly of Great Falls, VA).

    eLightbars- How fast do they rotate? Has that changed?

    The current lights are spec'd to rotate at 180 RPM, though due to calibration discrepancies with the motor supplier, they sometimes spin as fast as 200 RPM. That is something I want to rectify and is working with his suppliers to do so. The original Buckeye and later Machine Products lights could spin at anywhere from 30-120 RPM because a) there was no true "specified RPM" and B) there was no consistency with what type of motors they'd mount in each light. They utilized several different manufacturers motors at once. While the gearing was the same for each unit, you literally could have two lights, built one right after the other that spun at different speeds!

    eLightbars- Where is the farthest away you know one has been delivered?

    There are Roto-Rays currently in service as far away as Canada and South America.

    eLightbars- Will you rebuild or restore an older rotoray?

    I will rebuild/restore any Roto-Ray, be it Buckeye, Machine Works or any of his versions. I currently have several restoration projects on the workbench.

    eLightbars- Is the "stop rotation and flash" feature your modification or an end user/vehicle builder mod?

    The "Stop and Flash" is a factory option. With the newer LED versions, it can be set up that when the apparatus brakes are applied and also when the transmission is put in "park", the motor for the light is deactivated, but the LED's will continue to flash.

    eLightbars- Do you offer any other customization options?

    The only real "customization" offered is the colors a customer can choose. Choice of mounting configuration is a standard feature.

    eLightbars- Do you have any plans for the design that you can or will share?

    The most exciting development is a new partnership with Whelen, who developed and are supplying him with a new PAR 46 LED cluster that he can mount in the existing light housings. These are far brighter and more effective then those from his previous suppliers (including Tomar) used on the model 1000 (and the short-lived model 2000). This new system is the basis for the model 4000, which was just recently released. Many departments are requesting he retro-fit their existing PAR 36 LED-equipped Roto-Rays with this new system.

    eLightbars- Is there anything else you would like the industry to know about the rotoray?

    The most important thing I would pass on to the industry is this: FOLLOW THE INSTALLATION INSTRUCTIONS TO THE LETTER!! This includes not only apparatus manufacturers but independent up-fitters as well. He has encountered several instances over the years where installers did not follow the instructions properly, or tried their own "shortcuts". Inevitably, down the road, something goes wrong with the light and in every instance it can be traced back to improper installation.

    I am excited about the new developments and the growing popularity of Roto-Rays. The initial $500.00 investment back in 1971 as a future "retirement hobby" has blossomed into a booming business with some recent years showing close to 250 orders. There were orders for 105 lights so far for the first part of 2012 with more expected. I invites inquiries and enjoys talking to customers; past, present and future. With more units being purchased in other parts of the country (other than the PA/MD/VA/DC area where they have become traditional), there has been more exposure and more orders for "new territory". Roto-Rays will definitely continue to exist and improve and I will be hand-building them in his workshop in Herndon, VA for sometime to come.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2016
    Dave F and crescentstar69 like this.
  2. PTRJason

    PTRJason Member

    I will be honest with you guys. I appreciate the history of vintage lights and cars, but I never got into collecting them or really looking up the history and facts. Face it I am only 28. I grew up in a county that used Edge bars for their entire fleet of 1000 plus units, and the CHP had JetSonics, then Visions. I have seen the newer generation of warning lights, from Halogen and strobe, now to LED.

    I have yet to see a Rotoray in person, I do not think Southern California has any, and even when I was a Firefighter in Indiana, do not remember seeing any there either.

    But I will say, that was an EXCELLENT read! Thank you John.

    MARSMAN Member

    Yes, Southern California has 1 set of Roto Rays that I am aware of Redlands has just got a rig (dont know if its a ladder or a pump) that has a set. From what I know the rig came with them, they didnt spec them out. So yes there are Roto's in So. Cal. Maybe they will catch on!!!

    I also know that several depatment's "back-in-the-day" (God I hate that phrase!) used Roto Rays in California. Alhambra,Vernon,& San Diego had at least one rig in the 30's/40's with these lights.

    These lights are truly unique I have never seen one (working) in person so, I have no idea how well they work as a warning device, I know the guys in the Virgina/ Baltimore area swear by them....But then again they love Power Call sirens too.;-)
  4. Sarge619

    Sarge619 Premium Member

    I vividly remember as a little kid in the early 70's watching the horror movie "The Blob" (the original with.... yup, Steve McQueen) and in one scene where the town is in turmoil, in the background is an open-cab conventional pumper with a Roto-Ray spinning away.... that was filmed on So. Cal. "back in the day".
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2012
  5. JohnMarcson

    JohnMarcson Site Founder Administrator

  6. Sarge619

    Sarge619 Premium Member

    Yup, that's the one John, the new Model 4000. Those are the new Whelen PAR 46 LED modules. Far more LED's per light head, significantly brighter and more attention-grabbing than the ealier PAR 36 versions with Tomar and other LED manufacturers components. Here's a pic of E404 of the Fairfax County Fire Rescue's Herdon Company - first county-owned rig to receive the "next-generation" Roto-Ray - (seems only fitting as Herndon has been been the home of Roto-Ray Inc. for 41 years and was the company my grandfather and Uncles Richard and Tim started out as vollies. Both uncles joined the career force and served many years from various stations. Richard retired as a Lieutenant and his son Richard "Scottie" Slepetz is currently a career Loot with Company 30 in Merrifield). They previously had a Model 200W sealed beam unit and they retrofitted when the 4000 came out. (Photo credit = Good2Go,

    Herndon E404.jpg
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 16, 2012
  7. mdlighting

    mdlighting Senior Member

    WOW that truck has a led roto-ray and power arcs nice!!!!!!!!

    "I know the guys in the Virgina/ Baltimore area swear by them....But then again they love Power Call sirens too.;-)"

    thats right powercall and roto-ray on everything not to mention mars 888 lights.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 6, 2012
  8. theolog

    theolog Senior Member

    We need a new pic made up with that. :)


  9. rettoded

    rettoded Premium Member Gold Level Member

    First I want to thank John, Richard, and Sarge619 for taking the time to set up and conduct this awesome interview. It is very interesting to see the history of such a unique piece of warning equipment. It is also neat to see how the Rotoray is being updated new technology to become a more efficient and effective warning device. Thank you all again for this great thread!

    The Blob a classic 50's sci-fi movie that also has an interesting history with it. It was Steve McQueen's debut leading role. It was also filmed in Southeastern Pennsylvania in the areas/towns/boroughs of Valley Forge, Chester Springs, Downingtown, Phoenixville, and Royersford. The engine you mention belonged to the Humane Fire Company in Royersford (formerly company 84 until the merger between Friendship Fire Company #2 company 85 to form the Royersford Fire Department company 98). I did some digging and was surprised to find some recent pictures of this truck at Phoenixville's annual Blobfest. The truck and Rotoray appear to be in excellent condition.

    The front of the engine:


    A close up of the rotor ray:


    A front profile shot:


    A great overall shot of the truck:


    Ask and you shall receive:


    (I know it is an older shot of the truck but it is the best I could find right now...)


    The Blob - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    Fire engine, Humane Fire Company #1 (Royersford, PA), at Blobfest 2008, Phoenixville, PA | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

    Fire engine, Humane Fire Company #1 (Royersford, PA), at Blobfest 2008, Phoenixville, PA | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

    Where & When**|**Articles**|**Blobfest!

    Shawnee Volunteer Fire & Rescue - Engine Company 4 - Defenders of the Southside!

    Royersford Fire Department
  10. 911caddy

    911caddy Junior Member

    Fantastic information!! Thank you for posting and thanks for the pics as well. Sadly I have never seen one in person.. There are none in my part of the world.. But, I love them!!
  11. fyrboy

    fyrboy Member

    I bought the '51 out of a cemetery in White Pine, TN - Roto-Ray, Sirenlite & bell intact & working! The Turbo Chief was one of three (not four as quoted in the commentary. They're 900 Series, not "Model 800's", and the '51's pump is a 750-gpm, not 500). San Francisco & Seattle bought the other Turbos. All Turbos were converted to diesel.




  12. Sarge619

    Sarge619 Premium Member

    Rettoded, thanks for correcting my error about where "The Blob" was filmed and thanks for providing the OUTSTANDING background and pics of this rig. Guess my memories from 40 years ago were blurrier than I reckoned.... it wasn't a convention cab truck, it was an ALF... I SHOULD'VE remembered THAT!!! :bonk: :duh:
  13. PJD642

    PJD642 Premium Member Gold Level Member

    I can't believe it took me this long to check out this thread. I'm a techy kinda guy, far more obsessed with LED bars than the old halogen stuff, but I make an exception for the Roto-Ray..damn things are NEAT and amazingly effective!
  14. dakarm34

    dakarm34 Member

    Group purchase folks, come on let's make it happen! I'm in.
  15. mdlighting

    mdlighting Senior Member

    I wanted to mount one on our suburban whilst I upfit new blinkies on it but apperantly the load manager can't handle it lol
  16. splinterhead

    splinterhead Newbie

    When the new fire chief starts let's let him know that Fairfax wants to actually get the Rotoray back. E-mail him call him do whatever. After reading this forum, it only reiterates that the injustice that has been done the past 6-7 years needs to be righted. Let's do the right thing.
  17. pdk9

    pdk9 Veteran Member

    Hey guys, I just found this thread and love the history of a small retirement project exploding.

    Quick question...I've seen a small handful of roto-rays where the lightheads are rotated slightly at an angle (my guess is that it's intended to give some angled intersection warning, as opposed to only having the traditional head-on output). My question is whether this is something that the folks are roto-ray started doing, or if this is something that individual manufacturers are tweaking at the customers' requests??

    Also, did whelen originally come out with those PAR46 clusters exclusively for roto-ray? The reason I ask is because I've only seen that cluster PAR lighthead in roto-rays and on sirennet... sirennet has a par46 (I'm guessing whelen re-branded unity replacement), so I was wondering if these are the exact same units (that sirennet maybe piggybacked off of the roto-ray/whelen development or something).

    Btw, I just wanted to throw out how much I love the roto-rays. My current department has a roto-ray (and a mechanical siren) on every engine, aerial, and rescue/ambulance unit for 20+ years. They're not very as common in FL and NYC as they are in the MD area (where roto-ray and Mars seem to be pretty common in what I've seen), but I'm hoping that they will continue to be popular here, because I love seeing them in action! I hope that roto-ray one day has a website that shares with everyone the history of how this began
  18. southpaw

    southpaw Gold Level Member

    old buckeye motoray..  works just fine!
    crescentstar69 and tsquale like this.
  19. JohnMarcson

    JohnMarcson Site Founder Administrator

    Admin Post
    Even a few years later, this interview is still worth a read. It seemed like the perfect way to kick off this section. Look for more interviews and feature pieces in this section soon.
    Tony P, tsquale and StEaLtH2 like this.
  20. Vinay Naidoo

    Vinay Naidoo New Member

    what an amazing product and a great read as well. never heard of such a light before.
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