Whelen ROTA-BEAM Family History

Wolfie

Site Regular
So I got my Model 66 Rota-Beam (amber) over a year ago. The base had been painted in a gross textured flesh-colored paint by a previous owner. I finally took it apart and hit it with a wire wheel. Under that disgusting paint were the letters "SHC" stamped into the metal. My initial thought was that "C" stands for "County" and, whatever county "SH" stands for, they love stamping ownership on stuff. Then I thought that this may not be the case, as that little beacon probably wouldn't have cost enough to warrant the trouble. Did these have any stampings, not on the tag, with about ½" letters to symbolize something from the factory? It could still have been stamped on by a company or agency. (County is just my best guess.) I mean, I could picture some shop employee with a new stamping machine using it on everything in sight with a smile on his face. I guess curiosity has just gotten the best of me.
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Wolfie

Site Regular
Yours is so pretty! I know that blue dome is there to tease me too. The tag on mine is really beat up. I found what may be a date on the motor though...5/67. Could that be accurate for this? If so, this bad boy is going on 51 years old.
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Wolfie

Site Regular
Keeping in mind that my "restores" are not so much to make stuff show room perfect. I want them to look good and work right, with the potential of being put into service. I started with a 1967 Model 66 with a gross textured paint on the base. No mounting hardware was included. I cleaned it up, put three new L-brackets on the inside, and topped it all off with stainless steel hardware. I also swapped the bulb for a 50w halogen bulb out of a Jetstream. Did I do well or did I make a Frankenstein?
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Wolfie

Site Regular
So I have a question that kinda has to do with the evolution of beacons in general. I figured adding it onto this thread wouldn't hurt, as the Rota-beam has spanned so many generations.

Here goes...
When and why were spherical lenses phazed out in favor of Fresnel lenses?

If you want extra credit...
When and why were most lenses phazed in favor of parabolic mirrors?
 
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dmathieu

dmathieu

Premium Member
Cost on both counts, I'd say.
Plastic fresnel were easier and less costly to make, although not as bright as glass magnifiers, in my opinion.
a good parabolic mirror/reflector was cheaper than a lens cage and multiple lenses, and if focused properly with the right bulb, proved brighter, allowing one to be used at greater rotation speed.
 
Interesting about the amber front/ red rear for tow applications. Waaay "back in the day" before the JAWS of Life existed, here in Texas, wreckers were considered emergency vehicles and were allowed the use of red lights and sirens. Quite often wreckers were used to literally rip cars apart to get victims that were trapped out. To me, that seemed to cause more harm than damage: but what could they do since the more advanced technology wasn't available yet. Longtime PCS member Steve Loftin from Oklahoma has a DVD entitled "Ambulance Calls" that is comprised of footage shot by a TV news reporter in Corpus Christi, TX, between 1962 and 1972. The nearly-two-hour footage shows not only a lot of car wrecks, but the types of vehicles used as ambulances at the time: a lot of station wagons and short-wheel-based coaches (Pontiac Consorts, etc.) and eventually low top Suburbans. What would really grab your attention is seeing the footage of wreckers backing up to an accident scene; and as I mentioned above, literally tearing vehicles apart with victims still inside. Something else that was quite remarkable because you don't see it happen at all nowadays is seeing a city motorcycle cop doing CPR in the middle of the street at an accident scene. Nowadays you don't see it because they consider it a liability issue. I won't get started on that one! I'm not sure if Steve still has the video available for sale, but it's well worth getting and watching.
 

Wolfie

Site Regular
Nice Dan. Any idea what it was used for?
I've seen AZ DOT running split rotators, amber to the front, red to the rear. It has been almost 20 years since I've seem that though. Red front, amber rear also makes sense for the back of a fire engine. Then there are states like mine, New Mexico. They really don't care what's facing back, just forward (just no white to the rear except work lights). I'm guessing more than half of highway service vehicles here (private and state ran) runs red or red/blue to the rear and amber/blue to the front. That red scares bad drivers over more than anything.
 
I've seen AZ DOT running split rotators, amber to the front, red to the rear. It has been almost 20 years since I've seem that though. Red front, amber rear also makes sense for the back of a fire engine. Then there are states like mine, New Mexico. They really don't care what's facing back, just forward (just no white to the rear except work lights). I'm guessing more than half of highway service vehicles here (private and state ran) runs red or red/blue to the rear and amber/blue to the front. That red scares bad drivers over more than anything.
Here in Texas, red is the prescribed color for emergency vehicles, but blue is allowed as an auxillary color only. Blue standing alone is not legal for emergency responses, although I've seen it done more than once. And I've never seen any effort in enforcing it. Clear to the rear is forbidden, but has always been allowed w/o question in the Federal and Dietz "hill lights". The one run-in I had with law enforcement over clear-to-the rear was absolutely silly. In 1971 we got a 1963 Pontiac Consort ambulance for our standby ambulance service, with which we worked the local car races and other sporting events for many years. Superior Coach provided a manual backup light switch just inside the rear door of its coaches to serve as a loading light. Our '63 Pontiac was so-equipped. One Fri. evening we had transported from the car races to Lubbock's then-Methodist Hospital (now Covenant Med. Ctr.). After the races we were just pulling out of the racetrack property onto the northbound service road when we were suddenly, totally unexpectedly, stopped by a DPS trooper. My partner that night, Henry, was also a police officer at Texas Tech. So when I get out and hand the young trooper my driver' license, he asks if I knew what the speed limit was on the service road. I replied that it was 45 but I had just entered the service road and was barely doing 35 when he stopped us. He went ballistic, hollering at me that I was not to argue with what he was saying I was doing...even though he never said what he had "clocked" us at. So then he says that the reason he stopped us was because Texas didn't allow white lights to the rear. So we walked to the back of the car and the backup lights were on. I knew what it was: that one of us had bumped that inside switch when we had a patient earlier. So I reach inside and flip the switch and the backup lights go off. But the young rookie (as we would find out) just kept on and on and on about the clear to the rear, when finally his sergeant who had been riding "shotgun" steps out and tells the young guy to let it go as we knew the problem and immediately corrected it. And he tells us that we're free to go. All this time neither the rookie or the sergeant knew that my partner was actually a state police officer himself (Texas Tech police had statewide jurisdiction, as did law enforcement officers from other state colleges or universities). It was all Henry could do to keep quiet. So when I sit back in the driver's seat, Henry tells me to crack my window open and listen. The sergeant had begun chewing on the young rookie trooper for his improper behavior towards me, and went on and on. You could still hear him hollering when we drove off. All of that over a couple of backup lights! Something else here in Texas that's rarely heard about, and that's the current law that no longer allows "lights only" on emergency runs: either on emergency vehicles or volunteer POVs. Emergency runs have got to be with both lights and siren. I've only seen that new rule enforced once. A then-young guy who was on a neighboring VFD ran only a teardrop light on his POV and was downright obstinate about not wanting a siren. From where he lived, he had to cross a busy highway on any response he made; and he did so with just the teardrop light on top and honking his horn. He was repeatedly warned by local law enforcent about what he was doing and he would just laugh at them. That was until he piled us his car crossing that busy highway when someone just didn't his light: and of course, there was no siren. And he was subsequently taken to the proverbial "cleaners" over that one.
 
Wolfie: You mentioned the split amber/red on rotators. Something I mentioned recently on another thread I think you'd find interesting. A friend of mine in Lubbock back in the late '60s and early '70s decided to put in a roadside assistance business. He bought an old Sears van for that purpose and then came up with a decent used TwinSonic that came with red and blue domes. He couldn't run the red forward but the blue was ok in either direction. To work things out he took the red and blue domes to a local plastics manufacturing plant and they were able to split the domes in half and then reassemble with blue on one side and red on the other. That way he was able to have blue forward and red to the rear, which was fine here in Texas, since he wasn't running the lightbar with the vehicle in motion. Like Hunter used to say on TV, "Works for me!" and I guess it did for my friend, too.
 

Wolfie

Site Regular
Wolfie: You mentioned the split amber/red on rotators. Something I mentioned recently on another thread I think you'd find interesting. A friend of mine in Lubbock back in the late '60s and early '70s decided to put in a roadside assistance business. He bought an old Sears van for that purpose and then came up with a decent used TwinSonic that came with red and blue domes. He couldn't run the red forward but the blue was ok in either direction. To work things out he took the red and blue domes to a local plastics manufacturing plant and they were able to split the domes in half and then reassemble with blue on one side and red on the other. That way he was able to have blue forward and red to the rear, which was fine here in Texas, since he wasn't running the lightbar with the vehicle in motion. Like Hunter used to say on TV, "Works for me!" and I guess it did for my friend, too.
You remind me of a hunter episode I was watching on hulu, where he is in a pursuit with a teardrop on the roof, cutaway and return, and there's a strobe up there instead. About split though, it's why I'm a fan of the jetstream, jetstrobe, jetsonic series. You can do anything with the colors there when you go clear dome. I mean, if you got acrylic in 16 different colors, you could literally run 8 colors to the front and 8 to the rear. More, counting center dome(s) and end caps. I actually have a jetstream in my shed that's reserved for my next marked fire unit with blues to the front and red, amber, blue to the rear. If I could ever find a cheap dozer for wildland firefighting I'd set up a flatbed with that jetstream to haul it with.
 
You remind me of a hunter episode I was watching on hulu, where he is in a pursuit with a teardrop on the roof, cutaway and return, and there's a strobe up there instead. About split though, it's why I'm a fan of the jetstream, jetstrobe, jetsonic series. You can do anything with the colors there when you go clear dome. I mean, if you got acrylic in 16 different colors, you could literally run 8 colors to the front and 8 to the rear. More, counting center dome(s) and end caps. I actually have a jetstream in my shed that's reserved for my next marked fire unit with blues to the front and red, amber, blue to the rear. If I could ever find a cheap dozer for wildland firefighting I'd set up a flatbed with that jetstream to haul it with.
I've never been a fan of Federal's "Jet" series. We had a Jetstream that came on our 1992 Type II Ford ambulance, and I never liked it. I quickly replaced it with a Streethawk. One light that I liked for being able to mix up colors was Mars' SW2 beacons. They were available with clear domes and colored inserts, which allowed for considerable color configuration. Back when we could still use station wagons as ambulances here in TX (up to the late '80s) we had a '63 Chevy BelAir wagon that we used as a backup ambulance. We put one of Mars' "Skybolt" lightbars on it that featured a pair of SW2 beacons with the clear domes and colored inserts, which we ordered with alternate red and blue inserts, and that worked quite well. And the bar was very easily detachable, which I liked. Our ambulance service as I think I've mentioned here provided standby service for sporting events for nearly 22 years in Lubbock, and for a short time that '63 wagon became my "chief's" car. With the portability of that bar it could come off easily, which I did quite often when it wasn't seeing actual ambulance duty as back up to the Suburbans and first vans we got into back in the '80s. Around 1984 Texas started mandating high top vehicles, which allowed for high top Suburbans as well as Type II vans. Fortunately we were able to "grandfather" in our two low top Suburbans, allowing us to keep them in service. Our 1971 low top Suburban was a real "workhorse" which I still miss!
 

stansdds

Veteran Member
I'll agree with Skip about Jetsonic and Jetstream bars lacking efficient light output. They are ok in clear or amber, but light output in red or blue is poor. I remember when Henrico County PD started to use Jetsonic's in blue. You could see them at night, but in bright sunlight you could barely see them.

The Jetstrobe was far better in regards to light output.
 
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dmathieu

dmathieu

Premium Member
In the very beginning of Whelen's automotive line of lights in 1955, the 1st was called the RotO-Beam. After a very short time the name was changed to RotA-Beam. I believe the reason for this change was the name Roto-Beam already being taken. In that time period there was an industrial rotating light being marketed as Roto Beam, and a line of electric fans named Roto-Beam. Just like stated in a previous post, the Model # RB10 was already in use, well, so was the name Roto-Beam. What started as the Whelen Roto-Beam RB10 became the Whelen Rota-Beam RB11.
 
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dmathieu

dmathieu

Premium Member
I believe this is the reason that Whelen changed the Model number of their first automotive Rota-Beam from RB10 to RB11. Mars seems to have been first with their 360 degree Radial-Beam Model RB10. The Mars Radial-Beam RB10 came out in 1953, and the Whelen RB10 came out in 1955. Mars was the first with that model number.
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