Re: Freight car maintenance

Denny Anspach <danspach@...>

The following freight car maintenance issues I believe to underly predictable, reliable operations of how a freight car actually will play its part in a functioning TRAIN on the layout, while continuing to aspire to being a prototype model. In this regard, couplers and wheels are inextricably linked together, and if one can get these issues under control right from the git-go, other problems will seem much easier to solve.


If a coupler does not lie in a level horizontal plane, and/or when two couplers meet that are not in matching vertical and horizontal planes, routine coupling simply will not work reliably, and unexpected uncouplings can and will be a common event, especially over vertical curves and irregular trackwork.

Vertical plane: a) Probably the most common problem lies in the excessive side play of so many (most?) axles, where the shifting truck frame shunts the carbody out of alignment to one side or another, at the same time compounding the problem by rolling the car slightly out of vertical in each direction.

b) This matter is even more insidiously promoted by the fact that so many of the common disparately-wide truck bolster center holes are fastened through with small 2-56 screws in such a way that the truck drunkenly punts itself freely back and forth on its own. Just these two issues alone can cause any two cars at any given instance not to ever couple, even with the widest available coupler gathering-range.

c) Coupler box center posts are not in straight alignment with body bolster holes- more common than you might think. The Accumate Proto couplers present a special challenge, i.e. making absolutely certain that the TWO screws holding each coupler box are respectively exactly on the same alignment with reference to each other, and that that alignment includes the centers of both body bolster holes.

d) The scale sized couplers inherently have a much reduced gathering range, so in routine operations, more difficulty in routine coupling can be expected if accurate vertical alignment has not been attained.

Horizontal Plane:
a) The biggest culprit is the widespread habit of adjusting "coupler height" [sic.] by merely adjusting the curve or clearance of the magnetic glad hand, regardless of what it does or does not do to the proper height and alignment of the coupler head itself. Use a gauge that allows one to ensure a steady height to the HEAD alone, and THEN, and only then adjust the magnetic glad hand, if you must.

b) Coupler droop: This is the true rotten apple in the barrel, and in my experience this single insidious issue also has provoked the greatest damage over the years. Kadee-pattern couplers are designed to fit into a dog's breakfast of coupler boxes of vague commonly- accepted dimensions, all of which allow considerable vertical clearance/slop to the coupler shank. This looseness results in considerable coupler droop, some much more than others, considering internal box dimensions, coupler shank thickness, length of shank, weight of head, the presence or absence of the thickness of a coupler spring. Apropos of a preceding discussion of long vs. short couplers, the downward leverage exerted by the heads of long shank couplers, large or scale only makes this situation worse, compounded by the long shank too often dropping the magnetic glad hand right down where it can snag the very next closure rail. If coupler heads are kept level and in alignment, the common problems of coupler overriding are minimized to being actually eliminated. The only coupler systems to date to specifically address this issue are the Accumate Protos and the Sergeants (which have shanks engineered to tightly fit the Accumate Proto box). These latter couplers are absolutely level and have no droop.

Other factors or issues, to a great extent inextricable from the above:

1) Metal wheels.
2) Metal wheels
3) Axle/wheel quality in custom-fitted lengths that allow free rollability. Allows the make up of trains that both look and function like *trains*.
4) Axle lengths that minimize lateral endplay (quite often the choice of 2 and 3 necessitates compromise). See a) above.
5) Tight bolster screws. These too often work their way on their own accord (right now I am attempting to discover which boxcar on the layout belongs to a bolster screw just discovered between the rails on a main track). I have taken to dipping the screw end in Barge Cement so that the cement's "rubbery fingers" will at least hold the screw in place, yet with still sufficient clearance to allow the necessary truck movement to keep the car on the track.

In 2006, for two months I ran a demonstration 131 car train made up of a truly disparate group of substantial freight cars, ranging from Westerfield to several Varney cars from the 30s. The train ran over a layout with considerable variance in terrain and routing without scarcely a single coupling or truck wheel failure (including a movement in reverse) during that time, the single most reason for which was the meticulous vetting of coupler head alignment and height (as above) of each and every car ahead of time.

Enough for today-


Denny S. Anspach MD

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