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scale & gauge couplings electrical tracklaying scenery

Yes, a page about couplings. Not the most exciting of subjects I grant you, but with many different varieties available, most of which are incompatible, it is a subject which frustrates many people starting out in the hobby. The problem affects most scales, but HO / OO in particular. And it is especially prevalent in Australia. -  Why is this?  -  Please read on.

Left to Right: Hornby tension-lock coupling; European (Lima) style coupling; USA horn hook (or X2F) coupling; Kadee compatible knuckle coupler.

   ◄Click to enlarge  

While most brands of HO and OO scales trains will happily run on the same tracks with each other, there can be problems when you try to couple them to each other. The four most popular kinds of couplers used on trains sold in Australia are those shown above. The couplers are often referred to by the brand, but the different types are usually common to a particular country or region.

The Hornby coupler shown on the left of the photos is more accurately known as a tension-lock coupler. The type is common to most OO scale models made for the UK market. It appears on almost all Hornby trains, Bachmann Branchline models and the Lima UK models made in OO scale as well as various other brands.
They are a unrealistic looking device, but they do work effectively (when not knocked around too much) and simple to use. They use a sprung ramp for uncoupling. When under tension (no slack in couplers) they will not uncouple, but when tension is slackened (by stopping the train and reversing the locomotive) they easily uncouple over the ramp. However, it's difficult to remove a carriage without using the uncoupler.

The European coupler, second from left is usually known as a Lima coupler, although again, it is in use by many other companies. Most Australian prototype models come with it fitted as the first plastic, ready to run Australian models were introduced by Lima in the early 70's. When properly adjusted it operates quite well. Unfortunately in practice, it's usually one of the more difficult couplers to use if you like shunting trains.

The USA coupler, second from right is known as the X2F or Horn hook. Until recently, the majority of USA prototype trains had these fitted, and they are still very common. In Australia, they are mostly seen by beginners on Life-Like brand train sets. They are simple and cheap to produce. It's just a pity they don't always work all that well. They are generally mounted on the bogie and rely on side pressure to stay coupled. Unfortunately, this side pressure can cause derailments, especially when reversing.

The Kadee type coupler on the right is rapidly replacing the X2F on the better quality US trains and is the preferred coupler of many hobbyists. Although there are a number of manufacturers, the type is often called 'Kadee' as this company had manufactured (and invented) it. Only they made it, so it was an aftermarket product. In recent years others have been able to make their own versions and as such, models are now sold with them already fitted. The main advantages of the type is that it looks like the real thing and can be uncoupled magnetically. E-Z mate by Bachmann is another common make.

These couplings look like the auto couplers on many full size trains. And they make use of magnets to uncouple them. They also feature delayed uncoupling. This enables a modeller to uncouple a wagon over the magnet, and then push it to the desired location and leave it there without recoupling. Wagons can be removed by simply picking them up. Not possible with most other coupler types.

There are also other kinds of couplers, but these are either older types now obsolete or new ones purchased separately and fitted by the modeller. European modellers for example have quite a number of old and new choices regarding couplers.

These couplings are used by some European manufacturers. Like Kadee types, they also feature delayed uncoupling and the ability to remove a wagon from a train simply by picking it up.

This coupler problem isn't so noticed in America or England for example, because if you went into a hobby shop there, you'd probably be struggling to find model trains from another country. In Australia, most hobby shops need to cater for all tastes, as until recently, there were few Australian models to choose from. The easiest thing for the newcomer to the hobby to do is to stick to the trains of one country. If you do end up with a mixture, you can either have a train of each type or make up a wagon with a different coupler at each end.

The above photo shows another problem many people encounter, especially if restarting the hobby using an old set they've had for some years. Both the wagons above are by the same manufacturer - Bachmann. The one on the left is an earlier product from the 1980's. The one on the right is an improved version from the 90's. The different couplings are the most noticeable thing and obviously prevent the two from being coupled together. Other differences are the improved free-rolling metal wheels and lowered body of the later model. The old one sits higher and has plastic wheels.

Note: The metal wheels are blackened. The white base I photographed the models on makes the wheels appear silver.

In N scale, the majority of models come with a plastic block (above) known as a Rapido coupler, introduced by Arnold in the early 1960's, it rapidly became the standard of N scale around the world. I have seen a few non-standard N couplers on early models, including a version of the tension lock coupler on a Trix train set and I still have an early Lima N wagon (pictured below) fitted with half-size versions of Lima's HO European coupler.
The only serious alternative to the Rapido is a range of couplers by Micro-trains. These are similar in operation to the Kadee HO type and are preferred by many modellers.

Left above: HO and N scale Lima couplers.
Right above: Lima N couplers. Original (obsolete) and later universal Rapido type.


I shall be covering some other couplers and scales later.


Page updated 16/10/2012

scale & gauge couplings electrical tracklaying scenery