Re: Carmer uncoupling levers


In a message dated 12/9/2007 5:40:32 PM Eastern Standard Time, writes:

And Richard Hendrickson replied:
But it's an interesting question, and the answer seems to be that all
of the USRA freight cars had Carmer uncoupling levers when delivered,
and that they all appear to be the same in size and configuration.
Note, however, that some owners apparently didn't like the Carmer
levers and replaced them in later years with other types of
uncoupling mechanisms (usually of the rotary type).


I found the Carmer cut lever discussion quite interesting.

To add to the mix, I've had the chance to use the Carmers in service.
Conrail's fleet of scale test cars included three that were built ca. 1900 -- one
was 1898 and the other were 1905, 1908, etc., and all had Carmer cut levers
that all evidence suggested were original. I remember seeing the 1898 one
stored at the ACF car cleaning facility in Milton, Pa., during a tour there ca.
1995 or so., suggesting it was retired.

Scale test cars annually visit the refinery that is my employer, and as
these moldy oldies would visit we'd move them to the various places they needed
to be, and send them out. Always a special move, they're required to be 2nd
from the hind end in any train, since they had no working air brakes (to keep
the weight constant). Right now NS 80017 is visiting Bayonne and will hit our
refinery next. I'm sure it's a newer one.

One day ca. 2003 or so when one needed to leave and I had some time I
comondeered an engineer and an engine to move one out to Conrail. Since I had to
bury it with another car so Conrail could just couple and pull, I got to play
with it a bit specifically to put the Carmer cut levers through the paces of
typical switching. I saw it as a rare chance to operate a steam-era freight
car. That inlcuded various hitches and kicking cars away from it, and
kicking it into other cars, and operating the cut-lever with the foot while on the
car. All were standard operations in steam days.

The contrast between the Carmers and the steel rods was stark. First, the
Carmers are two-pieces of flat steel or iron connected at the end by a bolt
that is the fulcrum of the uncoupling action, and 90-degree tabs on each
portion transfer its motion to the other portion resulting in a lot of slack in
operating them. The section connected to the coupler is heavier than the section
operated by the trainman. Second, the Carmers require pushing down on the
lever to lift the pin on the coupler. As the Carmers wear, the trainman has
to push further down to lift the pin. When kicking cars, the motion of
walking alongside a Carmer car and pushing down on the lever feels like some men
could have easily been thrown off balance and fallen. And I could see the
possibility of things falling off a car actually hitting the cut lever causing an
unwanted uncoupling, or the Carmer catching something trackside like trees
or brush or debris and the weight of that in concert with the normal rocking
and rolling between cars in a train causing an uncoupling (who of us hasn't
hit or broken a Carmer cut lever on a model?). Riding the car and pushing
down on the coupler with the foot wasn't bad at all. Since the hand holds are
minimal on a scale test car, I wasn't moving when operating it with my foot.

The rotary types that replaced Carmers are usually of one piece of rod, and
it requires lifting the rod to lift the pin on the coupler. Two-piece
rod-type cut levers are often replacements that can telescope to accomodate almost
any configuration of end-sill / coupler relationship. Lifting the lever is
much more comfortable when walking alongside one railcar to kick or drop cars.
The rod falls safely vertical when not in use. And you develop the ability
to lift a lever with your foot to uncouple on the fly.

Conclusion: Carmer cut-levers rightfully belong in the history books as the
rotary-types are safer and easier to use, repair and replace. Museums with
Carmer-equipped cars should couple one to a rotary-type car and allow visitors
operate both. It's such a simple thing, but that simple motion is a staple
in the life of a railroader in any era. I covered a conductor's job
yesterday, worked five hours and made more than 70 hitches and cuts.

Mike Del Vecchio
(a trainmaster whose leg muscles still ache somewhat from all of the walking
in yards and getting on and off and clinging to the sides of tank cars.)

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