Thanks to John Degnan, who alerted me to the existence of a Sergent Engineering Yahoo Group, I now know that the return of S scale prototype action couplers from Sergent Engineering is a step closer to happening.
Sergent used to offer S scale couplers as white metal kits. I used them on my On2 equipment when I embraced Maine two-foot railroading back in 2003. They were nicely designed but required a fair bit of fettling and my hobby skills were just not up to building couplers that operated consistently. Sometimes, I’d nail it and get beautiful couplers that operated smoothly and reliably. More often, however, I would get beautiful couplers that wouldn’t couple.
This was not an issue with the kits. It was an issue with my abilities to assemble something where finishes and tolerances matter.
But I loved how the couplers worked, and when Frank Sergent introduced his HO EN87A couplers – die-cast and pre-assembled – I bought them in bulk and converted over all of my On2 equipment. They worked wonderfully, even if they looked a little on the small side:
Now that I’m building a standard gauge layout in S, I’m using Kadee S scale couplers. But I’d love to try the Sergent couplers again.
Why? Well, it’s not just an appearance thing. It’s also how the couplers operate.
With a steel ball used to lock the coupler, uncoupling is done with a small magnet on the end of a wand. One simply taps the wand to the top of the coupler and it’s ready to open. This, in my opinion, is much easier on the rolling stock than shoving an uncoupling tool into the knuckles and twisting.
It’s also easier to do under the layout lighting system I use. My lights cast very strong shadows, especially between coupled boxcars cars. Note how dark the freight car ends are this photo, compared to the sides, and imagine trying to see the couplers to insert a skewer:
It’s not always easy. One has to thread an uncoupling pick straight down – not taking off the brake wheel or the associated end platform in the process – and insert it between the moving faces of the knuckles. Often as not, the tool ends up between the moving face of one coupler and the back of the knuckle on the other. It can be a bit like spearing the last olive in the jar – but with the lights out.
With Sergent couplers, such feats of eye-hand coordination aren’t necessary. In fact, one could introduce the magnet to the couplers from the side, since it doesn’t need to be inserted between the knuckles. That’s a whole different order of easy.
My understanding is that Sergent Engineering has been working to re-introduce the S scale couplers in a design that’s easier to build. This has been rumoured for quite a while, but – quite understandably – the S scale couplers are a niche product compared to Sergent’s HO offerings and like many things in this hobby, the expected release date kept getting pushed out as Sergent Engineering focussed on introducing new products for its primary market.
There’s still no definitive word on the status of S scale Sergent couplers. But the lead photo – posted by Frank to the Yahoo group – shows that the new coupler design looks similar to the HO die-cast version, with a solid shank with insert instead of a shank built from two halves. I’m pleased to see that – it offers hope that these new couplers will be easier to build and that the finished couplers will be more consistently reliable.
If and when the new couplers arrive, I’ll buy some and if I can get them to work, I’ll buy more. Of course, if they’re offered pre-assembled, I’ll order them in bulk and do a complete switch over.
If you want to know more, I suggest joining the Sergent Engineering Yahoo Group to watch for updates.