Re: Freight car maintenance

Armand Premo

Denny,That pretty well covers all the bases.That said,I try to continually change cars between operating sessions so the crews do not see the same cars session after session.Having a rather large fleet of cars it becomes rather difficult to keep all cars in tip top condition.Some cars being taken out of their storage box may be found to have minor damage, such as a lost part,drooping coupler, dirt build up.A Bad Order card is made out stating problem areas.It is then placed in the storage box and the car will not be restored to service until all defects have been corrected.Each car has two cards,one for operation ,the other for car information such as manufacturer ,source,date built,cost,value,Trucks,wheel sets, weight,couplers and matching paint.Each repair is also recorded with the date and inspector.The car is then ready to be returned to service and the Bad Order card removed.This second card is a source of valuable information and also provides me with an inventory.Your comments are invited.Armand Premo


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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