Fit Kadee couplers
Not a fan of tension locks, CHRIS LEIGH explores the possibilities of this US coupling system to bring realistic, hands-free shunting to ‘Polwyddelan’.
Chris Leigh explores the possibilities of this US coupling system to bring realistic, handsfree shunting to ‘Polwyddelan’.
Couplings have always been an issue for me. I grew up with the Hornby-dublo/ Peco Simplex coupler which was OK when it was made of metal. Though it was prone to uncouple unexpectedly, you could easily adjust it with a pair of pliers. When Hornby-dublo started using plastic versions, however, these were more prone to uncoupling and impossible to adjust. Worse still, with the switch to the massive Tri-ang tension lock coupling, it was only marginally improved when both Bachmann and Hornby opted to reduce the size of the tension lock. However, the current tension lock, in almost universal use on British outline models, is far from satisfactory, in my view. It consists of a plastic loop to which a vertically pivoting pressed metal hook is attached. The coupler may be clip-fitted into an NEM pocket on more recent models, but on older toolings it may be attached with a self-tapping screw or even moulded as part of the chassis or bogie. In theory, this should operate correctly with the smaller version, but in practice it doesn’t. In my experience, the metal hook of the modern tension lock is usually loose on the pivot and frequently falls off, rendering the coupling useless. As I write, I have one such hook lying on my desk. I’ve no idea where it has come from - probably a review sample. Uncoupling requires the use of a ramp arrangement to lift the hooks, but on my layout I found that the standard Peco ramp fouled the low-hanging gear covers of my Bachmann diesels. I considered home-made ramps using clear acetate, with a lever arrangement to raise and lower it, but realised that I don’t have the mechanical skills to make something that would actually work. Of course, the traditional British full-size coupling, a hook and three large chain links, is coupled and uncoupled by hand. In model form it’s impossible to automate. On my ‘Black Dog Halt’ layout, I used scale three-link and screw couplings because I wanted authentic appearance. It was also a largely straight layout so there was no problem with buffer-locking on curves. Trying to couple three links, at arm’s length, while leaning over the backscene, proved near impossible. The resultant fiddling and cursing, in front of
an audience, was acutely embarrassing. There are other couplings which have been devised by modellers to overcome some of the problems. I have no desire to manufacture my own couplings and I dislike the wire-acrossthe-buffers arrangement, which ruins the look of locomotives and stock. An alternative is the miniature buck-eye made by kadee. It employs a simple uncoupling arrangement which uses a magnet mounted between the running rails. The biggest problem with kadee couplings has been that ingenuity was sometimes required in order to mount them in the correct position on cars that were not designed to accept them, and which still had the remnants of a much more cumbersome coupler in place. over time, kadee produced more and more versions of the same coupler, designed to be mounted in different ways. The uncouplers, too, were developed to include electro-magnetic operation and hidden magnets, alongside the original concept. of particular interest to me were Nos. 17, 18, and 19 couplers, because these have the ‘swallow tail’ to enable their use as direct replacements in the european NEM coupler pockets. I began to wonder if kadee couplings would suit my needs on ‘Polwyddelan’. I’ve seen them used successfully on British-outline models, but I had always discounted them on the grounds that they did not look very British, and that buffers (which are absent from Us equipment) might interfere with their operation. As I reached the point where the coupling issue on ‘Polwyddelan’ needed to be resolved, I noticed some kadee items on sale in my local model shop, Trains4u in Peterborough. An afternoon spent with a screwdriver and a razor saw was sufficient to change the couplings on all the stock I need for ‘Polwyddelan’. only two trains, a passenger train of BR Mk 3 coaches and a china clay train, will actually have locomotive changes, and these will be simple sequences designed to demonstrate dcc control. only the couplings on the ends of the rakes will be changed, tension locks being retained within each train. The relevant locomotives will have kadee couplers on both ends. kadee buck-eyes don’t look remotely like British three-link couplings, but nor do tension locks. I think the kadee items look marginally less obtrusive than tension locks, but that may be because I’ve become accustomed to them on all my canadian stock. The great advantage of vehicles fitted with NEM pockets, however, is that you can give kadee couplings a try and, if you don’t like them, you can simply re-fit the tension locks. Initially, I equipped a locomotive and one clay wagon, and installed one uncoupler. It worked first time, and that convinced me I had done the right thing. start by equipping yourself with one pack each of kadee Nos. 17, 18 and 19. These are the three different lengths available to fit NEM pockets. you can use trial and error to find the best length for each particular item of stock.