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Joined-Up Thinking (using N gauge couplers on early stock)

Ian Simpson




Working couplers can be a problem for early stock, as most commercial couplers are designed for the larger vehicles that developed later in the 19th century. Funnily enough, deciding on a coupler was one of the biggest challenges I found when I started modelling the 1840s, which is why I thought a separate post on the subject might be useful.


Most British HO modellers use Kadee couplers. They are robust, very reliable and they make shunting an absolute pleasure. But the HO couplers are designed for 20th / 21st century stock, and the ferrous pins (designed to separate the couplers when they pass over the magnetic uncoupler) do tend to catch on point blades if they have been fitted to the lower headstocks / buffer beams of the smaller 1840s stock.


Kadee makes 2 mm couplers, and a long shank 2 mm Kadee coupler might work with the Bachmann locos and coaches. But I decided to use DG 2mm couplers instead, and I'm very pleased with them. I think they are unobtrusive and they work a treat, as well as being excellent value.
DG couplers are normally supplied as a make-it-up-yourself set, with a fold-up brass fret plus a length of wire to create the loop and the arms that are engaged by the magnet. I was able to get some ready-made couplers, and I'm not sure I would have dared to try them otherwise. But actually they're not too difficult to build.


I decided to use one-directional couplers – in other words, the full loop-and-hook at one end of the wagon, but just the bare hook at the other end. It means sacrificing some of the auto-coupling features, but this was an experiment and I like to keep any moving parts as simple as possible. So I bought ready-made couplers for the full loop-and-hook couplers, and a separate kit for the stand-alone hooks.


The basic hooks are very easy to make up: just cut them out of the fret and bend the end of each coupler so that the hook on the top of the coupler is facing slightly backwards (i.e. towards the body of the wagon) to catch the loop of the full coupler. All that is needed for the Norris loco is to trim down or remove the thin plastic pin that has been moulded on the tender, designed to hold the coupling bar from the Bachmann coach.


Then the flat plate of the B&G hook is simply glued to the bottom of the tender, resting on the plastic housing that surrounds the moulded pin. (I left the brass hook unpainted in this exercise so that it would show up a bit more prominently in the photos - but I will paint it matt black eventually...)


Fitting the full coupler to the front of the Prussia coach is just as easy. Simply undo the small cross-headed screw and remove the plastic connecting bar, then glue the flat plate to the bottom of the coach beneath the buffer beam.




Despite being designed for 2mm stock, these couplers work very well, and I suspect they could be used with early-Victorian 4mm models as well. Given their small size I was surprised to find the turning circle that they give is rather more generous than I need, so in future I will glue then slightly further back under the buffer beams.


I use 2mm B&B magnets for the uncouplers. These are small enough to fit unobtrusively between the rails of PECO OO/HO track if the sleepers are slightly opened out.


How to hide the magnet? At this point, I have to admit that even I think my chosen solution for ballasting the layout is a bit dodgy. Poundland sell a pack of sandpaper in mixed grades for, well, for £1, as it happens. The backing paper on the sheets is very thin; not great for DIY work but so thin it's ideal if you want to lay it over the sleepers of your track! So I've shaken and vacuumed off as many loose grains as I can, spread a few coats of matt varnish over the sheets to hold the rest in place, and cut out strips of the treated sandpaper to act as over-the-sleeper ballast.


BTW the unpainted figures in this photo are a new range of 1850s figures from Andrew Stadden. Fashionistas might notice that the skirts worn by the more upper-class women are slightly fuller than one would have seen in 1840, but otherwise these are ideal for the period. Andrew also sells these figures in 4mm.


And the bollards on the edge of the platform are for rope shunting, but that's a post for another day.

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Looks like it might be a good solution for 00 stock what ever the era. Just a bit concerned about a Garratt or GW 28XX starting a heavy freight...

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  • RMweb Gold

The magnet certainly seems strong enough, David, and I think the coupler arm is sensitive enough for the couplers to work on 4 mm stock. I will see if I can find some 4mm stock to try it out and report back, although I won't get a chance until the weekend. Yes, probably best with short trains and light loads - Cornish branch lines yes, the WCML maybe not.

I guess the longer buffers might be an issue with modern 4mm stock, but the flat metal section on the coupler is around 5 mm long and it can be glued to the bottom of the buffer beam at any point along its length, so that does allow quite a bit of leeway.

UPDATE: I was wrong about modern stock! I tried gluing a coupler to the bottom of a Hornby 7-plank wagon's buffer beam, and found the distance was too great for the magnet to move the coupler arm. Oh well ...

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I love the way you make me look like the normal one in the family!


It's really coming on and looking good.

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  • RMweb Gold

Well, I do like a challenge, bruv!


Many thanks. It's been a slow process of trial-and-mostly-error, but it has also been a very interesting project that's taught me a lot about modelling and given me a great deal of enjoyment. Just to reassure you, I don't do this weird stuff out of perversity. It's more necessity being the mother of invention - I'd like to do things the normal way, but I find that either I can't afford it or I can't make it work!

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