Custom Painted P-2000 units

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Coupler Upgrade Made Easy

This past week I had occasion to upgrade the couplers on some of my rolling stock fleet. I had just purchased an Atlas Trainman100 ton hopper painted for my second favorite railroad, the Penn Central. The Atlas model is a good runner right out of the box but I am not a fan of the accu-mate couplers that are installed on the model. This type of coupler is a two piece design and has the tendency to fail when the slack action of the train causes the couplers to compress. This would happen when going downgrade or stopping. The result is that the coupler open and the split design will not allow the coupler to close causing a disconnect between cars. My preferred coupler is the Kadee type with a knuckle spring. Recently the Kadee patent expired and Walther's Proto 2000 line has released a virtual copy of the Kadee #5 coupler which is known to model railroaders everywhere as "old reliable". For today's application I will be using for the first time the Walther's Proto 2000 Knuckle Coupler.

The car we will be working on is an Atlas 100 ton hopper lettered for the Southern Railway. I picked up several of these cars on sale at a local hobby shop a few years ago.  Here is the car on my home made test track coupled to the Kadee Height Gauge. I also took the time to put the NMRA weight standards on the wood base for easy reference. At the bottom of the picture is the replacement knuckle coupler and centering spring on the left and a two piece accu-mate coupler on the right.

 Kadee Fiber Washers are indispensable if you are working on your HO Trains.

 The truck has been removed from the bolster by loosening the bolster screw which is still in the center of the truck. Next a small Phillips screwdriver will be needed to open the coupler box

 An open coupler box with coupler lid and screw next to the car

 Installing the copper centering spring first the the coupler.

 Using a Kadee #209 fiber washer inside the coupler box to reduce coupler vertical play. Reducing up and down movement of a coupler inside of a couple box is the key to running long trains especially over grades. I cannot stress this enough.  

  Testing the new coupler with the Kadee Height Gauge.At this time the coupler is a bit too high.

 Retesting the coupler with the height gauge after setting the #209 fiber washer. The washer is now placed in the coupler box first so it is on top, followed by the copper centering spring and then the coupler. The coupler is now an exact match to the gauge and will work reliably for many years to come.
A few other comments on knuckle couplers learned over the past 20 years

Knuckle couplers are only as good as their design and installation. Plastic couplers and couplers without a knuckle spring should be avoided. Knuckle couplers should be snug but be able to freely swing side to side within the coupler box. The knuckle and trip pins must line up with the height gauge for optimum performance. The Kadee fiber washers can be used on couplers, coupler boxes and bolsters to add or reduce height. If a car or locomotive rides too high to be corrected with one or two washers try an over set coupler. If the car or locomotive is too low try an under set coupler.

Helpful  Hints for your fleet
#1 Athearn Blue Box box cars work extremely well with an under set coupler like the Kadee #37
#2 Early release Proto 2000 box cars work extremely well with an under set coupler like the  Kadee #37.
#3 Athearn Blue Box covered hoppers work extremely well with an under set coupler like the #37 and 36" wheels. 
#4 Athearn Blue box Express reefers work extremely well with an under coupler like the Kadee #37 and 36" wheels.
#5 If you are using the Athearn Blue Box metal coupler cover bend the end of the metal upward slightly using needle nose pliers. The best way is to insert the metal lid sideways into the pliers and bend very slightly.  This will keep the coupler from drooping. With the same pliers squeeze the coupler lid to the sides of the coupler box to lock on the lid. A newer approach is to drill the center out of the coupler box and use a 2-56 screw to secure the lid. There is a tool on the market now to assist in this installation. I have not tried this approach yet as I have not experienced any coupler lid failures and my freight trains can be as many as 40 cars.
#6 Try to work assembly style. If you have several different types of cars like Accurail, Atlas, Athearn etc. to upgrade work on one particular brand and model at a time. This will speed things up as you complete the first car the next cars will usually require the same type of installation.(example; the first Accurail 40' box car required a gray fiber washer in the coupler box and a red fiber washer on the bolster to meet the Kadee height gauge. This would then be the starting point for the second car. That it will be the same every time is not written in stone but it is a good bet that it will be)

I could go on and on but the best thing to do for your own fleet is to decide on what couplers you want to use. Scale couples have been in the marketplace for several years now and are getting good reviews. If you are going with Kadee you can use their conversion chart at to see if your equipment is listed.

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