At exhibitions, the most frequently asked question is always the same...
“What couplings are you using?” Kadee Couplers.
More commonly seen on continental layouts, Kadees seem to have attracted UK modellers in increasing numbers in recent years. The reason? Probably because with a little imagination, these couplings can prove reliable when fitted into the standard NEM pocket.
Whilst not a cheap option, Kadee Couplings do have the benefit of being a “straight out the box” option that still looks pretty authentic if fitted well.
Kadee seem to produce a bewildering array of numbered couplings for HO/OO modellers. The most popular numbers appear to be 5, 17,18, 19 & 20.
5 is a complete coupling and pocket solution and did not interest me as I wanted to continue to use the NEM pockets on my proprietary stock. However, the remainder all provide a coupler on the end of a tuning fork style design which slots nicely into the NEM pockets on OO rolling stock. The difference between each number is in the length of the coupler shaft. This is particularly helpful as it allows you to overcome the fact that NEM pockets are often placed in a variety of positions underneath the wagon body. Using a short throw coupler on a wagon where the pocket is placed well behind the buffer beam will obviously lead to buffer lock and even interference from the wagon hook. Conversely using a Kadee 20 “long” coupling on a wagon where the NEM pocket is flush with the buffer beam will look unrealistic and lead to problems with wagon spacing.
Having inserted the appropriate Kadee Couplers into my wagons, I immediately noted a number of issues to resolve:
1) Wagon coupling heights can vary!
3) Kadee couplers are very sensitive to height. Even a millimetre out of alignment will cause problems.
3) The NEM pocket was often too high on the model for a straight swap from tension lock to Kadee to be effective.
Kadee sell a very useful height gauge (#206) which sits across a piece of test track to allow wagons to be aligned perfectly when mounted on the rails. To run Kadee Couplers effectively, I would suggest this is an essential purchase.
Having measured my wagons against the height gauge, the solution seemed to be to lower the NEM assembly in it’s mount. Having eased the assembly lower in it’s mount with a craft knife, I tried again. This worked for a few hours, but the force of coupling and uncoupling eventually worked the couplers loose from their mounts.
My solution, was to place small pieces of plasticard of varying thickness between the NEM pocket and the underside of the wagon body to obtain the correct height, then to superglue the whole assembly in place (making sure that the Kadee Coupler was not in the mount at the time of gluing!)
Now, I had secure NEM pockets at the correct height whilst still retaining the ability to slot either Kadee or tension lock couplings into the mounts. It is true that in gluing the pocket into place I had lost the flexibility for the couplers to handle tighter radius curves, however on a shunting puzzle this would not really prove to be a problem.
Not content with producing a vast array of different couplers, Kadee also produce a number of different magnet solutions for smooth uncoupling!
Delayed uncoupling, in track and under track are essentially the options. The purpose of this post is not really to go into delayed uncoupling as as I did not want lumps of metal sat between my rails, the only real option for me was to place the magnet underneath the track.
The Kadee uncoupler magnet sits underneath the track sleeper base with a steel plate to ensure that the magnetic effect will open the knuckles reliably. Once the knuckles are opened the couplers will go into a coupling delay position. A tongue fitted to each each coupler prevents the knuckles from re-engaging and the train can be propelled clear of the magnet. Only when the train is finally separated do the knuckles re-centre ready for coupling again.
In terms of where to place the magnet, on Ingleton Sidings it is placed in the headshunt which adds to the challenge because wagons have to be pulled to the headshunt to be uncoupled before being pushed back into the sidings. This can often confuse onlookers convinced that the magic was infact happening at the point then the wagon parts from the loco. Furthermore in placing the magnet in a particular place in the headshunt, I have ensured that only one wagon can be uncoupled at any one time, making the puzzle significantly more challenging!
Many people believe that over time wagons become “magentised” and I am sure there is some truth in this. Wagons often seem to get caught in the magnet’s magnetic field and couplers can very occasionally act irrationally. My solution is to regularly change the couplers and add above all add weight to your rolling stock. Ensuring your stock has some liquid lead underneath or perhaps a full load of ballast on board will usually solve the problem. Some people claim that using the old style plastic wheels can help, however in my experience they seem to make no difference whatsoever!
It is of course worth noting that in concentrating on the correct alignment of wagon couplings that adjustments may well also need to be made to motive power. In the case of the Bachmann Class 08, I found the coupler need to be raised slightly. this can easily be achieved by removing some of the ridge of plastic which runs between the two air tanks at the front of the locomotive.
Apart from looking good and working well when aligned correctly, Kadee Couplers are a great way to get started in tinkering with your locos and rolling stock. They give the modeller an opportunity to customise stock without the prospect of doing any real serious damage…
…but above all, the feeling of satisfaction when that first automatic uncoupling takes place is without doubt worth all the toil and trouble. I would love to hear more of your experiences with Kadees below!