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Coupler headaches

Started by Hellhound, October 06, 2009, 03:14:33 AM

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Anyone else dislike these new knuckle couplers as much as I do? ...Until about a year ago all my equipment was older and had horn hook couplers, also known as X2F couplers. When I started getting new locos and rolling stock it all had magnetic knuckle couplers which I discovered were not backward compatible with the old X2F couplers. I discovered that not all of my older locomotives could be easily converted to knuckle couplers without major surgery which I am not willing to do. Some of those old locos still run good but are out of production with no parts available so I don't want to take the chance of damaging them if a coupler conversion doesn't go well. I made up several transition cars out of cabooses so I could run the old locos with new rolling stock. I remember seeing trains on the Norfolk & Western in the 1960s with a caboose behind the locomotive used as a mail car so that would be historically accurate for the era that I model. ...After I started running the new knuckle coupler equipped hardware I discovered that the knuckles don't like grade changes or rough track. Also different brands of rolling stock won't always stay coupled. Long strings of cars come uncoupled almost constantly.  Another big headache is the microscopic coil spring on the knuckle couplers. A derailment or a hard hit on the coupler will dislodge the spring and it will then spring away never to be seen again. Replacing those springs is almost impossible with my middle aged eyes so I have to replace the coupler to fix them. I experimented with the knuckle couplers to find out why they were causing me such a big reliability problem and discovered that a hard pull such as an upward grade or a long string of heavy freight cars will cause the coupler to travel vertically and slip out of the other coupler. The old X2F couplers have a shelf on the bottom of the coupler to limit vertical movement so it cannot slip out of the other coupler. That is why the X2F is a more reliable coupler that will stay together on grade changes, uneven track and will even stay coupled in a derailment. The X2F also has no coil spring to dislodge and render the coupler useless. The X2F will also couple on a curve while the knuckles will only couple on straight track. If I set up a layout with an overpass I will only use the old hardware with the X2F couplers if I want the train to stay together. I started looking at different couplers and discovered that Kadee made knuckle couplers with a lower shelf.  They are the Kadee 118 and 119. They are both medium center set so they won't fit everything. The 118 uses a separate spring and the 119 has whisker springs. I got some of these and tested them. The lower shelf on the coupler limits vertical movement and keeps them together on less than perfectly level track. Recently I purchased an IHC 0-8-0 steam locomotive with a Magic Mate coupler. I noticed that it had a lower shelf built into it and no coil spring. The trip pin can be slid up and down to adjust for clearance instead of having to use special pliers to bend them. The majic mate coupler is a universal coupler so they will also work with the old X2F couplers as well as magnetic knuckle couplers. I got some majic mate couplers and installed them on several locos to test them. The magic mates are a medium center set style coupler only so they may not work on everything. On the test track the magic mates will hook up to both knuckle and X2F couplers and stay coupled as reliably as the X2F couplers. ...They still won't couple on an 18" curve, you have to push the cars to a straight section of track like standard knuckle couplers. The majic mates will couple to anything and don't have that tiny coil spring that can dislodge and cause a coupler failure so I will be replacing the standard couplers on my equipment with magic mates any time they fail. 


i don't think you'll likr the magic mates any better than the knuckle couplers. as with the x2f, they tend to come uncoupled when backing up. the magic mates will also come uncoupled when there is slack in the couplers, making it almost impossible to doublehead your locomotives. if the lead one hesitates they will come uncoupled and the lead one will run away. your best bet by far would be the shelf type kadees. that and fixing the rough spots in your track will pay off. remember, knuckle couplers have been the de facto standard for at least 30 years before manufacturers started using them on equipment.
Jeffery S Ward Sr
Pittsburgh, PA


    Jeff statements are true. Kadees are the standard now. Get their coupler height gauge to get them running good. Good track and well adjusted kadees work just fine.


 Too bad the old Mantua loop couplers are no longer available. They were bullet proof & forgiving of bad trackwork. I use Kadee couplers & am very satisfied.  You will have more trouble with the new "scale size" heads on less than perfect track.  Sounds like you have more of a trackwork problem than a coupler problem.   Jerry

CNE Runner

Hellhound - With trepidation I will enter the fray regarding couplers. While I do have a fair number of rolling stock that are equipped with a mix of Kadees and Accurail; I find Bachmann EZmate Mark II to be the most reliable. The EZmates are made of a plastic material and, I am told, will uncouple/break under severe load such as very long trains. My trains usually consist of 10 - 15 cars; so stress problems aren't evident.

The key to reliable couplers is set up and maintenance. While attaching the coupler to the car, I always use a 'puff' or two of Kadee Grease-em powder (graphite) to provide lubrication (I am assuming you have assembled the coupler correctly with the tension spring over the coupler if Kadees). After this step, I use the Kadee coupler/pin height gauge and adjust the coupler/pin accordingly. Maintenance: once a year I again check the coupler/pin height as well as re-lubricating with a 'puff' of Grease-em. [I will also assume that the car is weighted correctly.]

The only problem, I have experienced with magnetic couplers, is that uncoupling magnets rarely work...or work too well. Use of the Rix uncoupling tool or the skewer method has served me well over the years.

Just my opinion,
"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"


Couplers always seem to be a topic of interesting points of view.  The only X2f couplers left on my roster, are my grandfather's old rolling stock.  He permanently glued together some coupler boxes, and they would have to be cut out to be replaced.  I won't do it for sentimental reasons.  I still run them, but uncoupling involves lifting the car off the track, so no yard operations for those cars.  No big deal to me.  I'm a runner, not a switcher.

My other stock has a mixture of Kadees, ProtoMax (Kadee copies) and EZMate Mark II's.  The Accurails and other brands have proven unreliable for me as I DO tend to build long trains (over 15 cars).  The tiny spring is only a problem if it has fallen out of the coupler before I bought it.  I use a straight pin to reinstall the spring.  It takes a few minutes of gentle persuasion to get the spring back into place. Then I "weather" the coupler with some flat brown paint (rust).  The paint seems to hold the spring in place.  Anyway, I haven't had any springs fall out while running on the layout (fingers crossed).

My permanent, under-the-track, Kadee magnet seems to uncouple cars very well.  Admittedly, I don't use it that much.

There's my two cents.  Regards,



Uncoupling spring replacement.  I went crazy trying to insert new springs until I learned a very easy trick.  If you are a guy, get your wife or girlfriend to thread a needle for you with a fairly long piece of thread.  When a spring bounces out, take a new spring and the threaded needle.  Put the needle through the spring length wise and pull so the needle is out of the spring and the thread runs through it.  Makes sure that only one end of the thread stays in the spring.  Then insert the spring into the coupler.  If the spring bounces out, the thread makes it very easy to find as it does not go far.  Since adopting this method I've lost no springs and found the coupler easier to respring.
Chief Brass Hat
Virginia Tidewater and Piedmont Railroad
"Only coal fired steam locomotives"


jerryl:  I just barely remember the old Mantua loop-hook couplers.  The story with them was that in order to work well, you had to REALLY keep the couplers at the same height.  Filing the edge of the loop to a near-knife edge was also recommended.  The other part was that they were a really good coupler, but a not-so-great UN-coupler.  Stories were told of trains that derailed and the entire train hit the floor because the couplers wouldn't uncouple by themselves. 


Ebtnut, you are right about the mantua couplers. One takes all to the floor.  Hellhound, Kadee makes couplers that are made to fit different company cars and locomotives, #5 are not a one size fit all.

CNE Runner

Gene, I used the thread-through-the-spring trick in the old days when one had to assemble the trucks on Athearn cars. If you do drop a spring, you can use a flashlight lying parallel (and on) the floor. Using a sweeping motion, the flashlight beam will pick out all sorts of things...and hopefully your errant spring.

"Keeping my hand on the throttle...and my eyes on the rail"

Stephen D. Richards

Hellbound, suggestion; don't use the scale size couplers, use the Kadee #148s or equivalent and Micro Mark makes a tool just for those springs.  Saved me a world of headache and tonsils!

Gene, I too used the needle and thread approach until I found that neat little tool in Micro Mark.  Besides it gave me a good excuse to buy another tool!  lol

CNE runner, yep!  Flashlights find all sorts of small parts that I have sent flying to who knows where! 



Well, I am going to start off with the following caveat.

I am no long term experienced expert.

Having said that, my belief is that the major problem with the new

couplers  is the same problems we have with many things these days.

Poor quality control. Lack of uniform production standards and poor quality

control are the main cause of most of the problems. The new magnetic

couplers require both. They also require uniform track and track bed------

lots of luck. So as has been noted already.  Check heights and clearances

and then recheck them. Sadly, I have found that from just using the

equipment, things get out of whack.


Kadee has very good quality control.  Buy a Kadee high gauge, bend all gladhands up a bit, file off the paint on the shank, and you will have an excellent coupler.
Chief Brass Hat
Virginia Tidewater and Piedmont Railroad
"Only coal fired steam locomotives"

Jim Banner

May I offer a few tips and tricks for making sure your Kadee couplers fail.  Don't ask how I learned these and I won't embarrass myself by telling you.

1) throw out the instructions.  Who needs them.
2) don't bother Brinelling (polishing with pressure) the coupler shank and front lip of the centering spring.
3) put the centering spring under the shank.
4) use lots of glue putting the coupler box together.  With enough glue, the shank will stay centered.  Forever.
5) don't bother with Greasem graphite.  It is only a ploy by Kadee to separate customers from their cash.
6) if you use a mounting screw, screw it down good and tight.  Then if the glue doesn't keep the shank centered, the collapsed coupler box will.
7) don't bother with a coupler height gauge.  Just another waste of money.
8] with no coupler height gauge, you don't have to mess around with truck washers, shims, and offset heads.
9) if the couplers don't line up good, just bend the shank.
10) if cheap trainset trucks let the end of the car slop back and forth, blame the coupler.
11) if the track has kinks, bends and is out of gauge, blame the couplers.
12) Kadee pliers are for wimps.  Just bend the glad hands up.  Way up.  Then blame the magnets when you can't uncouple.
13) avoid spring picks at all costs.  They are evil.  Better to swear at fly away knuckle springs.

I like my list - you only have to do one or two of the things to guarantee failure.  With other people's lists, you have to do all the things to guarantee success.
Growing older is mandatory but growing up is optional.



You left one out----don't put in the centering springs, and use them to make power pickups on tender trux.

Eric UK