First Sergent ops session

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(The first operating session using equipment fitted with Sergent S scale couplers)

Having installed Sergent Engineering S scale couplers on several pieces of equipment this week, today I set aside some time to run my first operating session with them.

Overall, things went very well. Not perfect – but it was a great start.

My Sergent-equipped roster includes a 10-wheeler, a full-length (90-foot) combine, and several freight cars of various types, lengths and weights. I ran a mixed train with a locomotive, a boxcar for St. Williams, a hopper car for the ramp track in Port Rowan, a boxcar in LCL service, and the combine. I placed a refrigerator car in the team track at St. Williams and a boxcar at the head end of the team track in Port Rowan – both to pick up.

This selection would require me to run through all turnouts and do a fair bit of shuffling of cars into the proper order, so it would be a good workout for the couplers.

First, the great news: uncoupling is flawless – better than with the Kadee 808s. I simply held the uncoupling tool over the couplers and they parted like magic. I could do this by inserting the tool straight down between the cars, or in from the side.

Next, the good news: for the most part, coupling was flawless too. A couple of times, I did not have the couplers lined up correctly. And a couple of times, I had them close – close enough that the faces met, but not close enough that the knuckles actually closed.

That said, I realized the biggest challenge to lining up couplers correctly was insufficient light between the cars:
 photo Sergent-1stRun-02_zps503b6044.jpg

The 12v halogen landscape lighting system I use to illuminate the layout casts strong shadows – which is great for setting the mood, but poses problems for seeing couplers. The eyes aren’t any younger, either.

Mine is not the only layout that faces this challenge and for a potential solution I’m borrowing a tool that works – brilliantly – on many layouts on which I’ve operated: I’ve strapped the uncoupling tool to a pen-light:
 photo Sergent-Uncoupler-Light_zpsd0f583bf.jpg

I’m not sure I like this particular pen-light but my local hardware store has several styles and they’re all fairly inexpensive so I’m sure that if I don’t like this one, I’ll find one that works. Once I’m happy with my lighting choice, I’ll do something about that awful packing tape. I’m sure I can come up with a tool that’s more professional looking and nicer to the touch.

Regardless, I can’t argue with the difference such a tool makes:
 photo Sergent-1stRun-03_zps3a60072d.jpg

I’ll continue to experiment with the Sergent couplers in future operating sessions, but in the meantime that’s the first in the books – and as first sessions go, it went just fine. I’ll look for improvements in my use of these couplers in future sessions – and report my findings on this blog.
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13 thoughts on “First Sergent ops session

  1. Excellent report. I look forward to trying these couplers in O scale narrow gauge when they are re-released.

    • Hi Pierre:
      I thought I heard clapping…
      Yes, we’ll run at least two sessions: one with Kadees and one with Sergents.
      Looking forward to it!

  2. For your operating sessions, the 1:1 signal for knuckles closing before they mate is to make a fist on each hand and bump them together several times knuckles to knuckles.


      • Ah, the “boxed knuckles” hand signal, Skip. But I always found that quickly opening a knuckle by pulling hard and quickly on the operating lever just before coupling worked–most of the time…

        Now if you only do this with Sergents–maybe they’ll include the “knuckle thrower” in future products?? 😉

        • Steve, — my last railroad job was switching on the Grand Canyon Ry ….. 80 – 90 foot cars and tight curves in the yard …. even with the knuckles open you sometimes didn’t gues correctly when lining up drawbars …… and nowadays they make you separate the cars by half-car length before stepping between to realign ….. so there’s a lot of guesswork in lining them up and in some cases you have to retry a couple times or more. It is a bit frustrationg. In the old days you’d just wait until they were close and kick the drawbar over with your foot …. good way to get fired these days.

          • Ah, you are not alone, Skip. I spent many years as a conductor and trainman at a major Canadian railway switching auto plants at Ford Oakville and Talbotville (St. Thomas), as well as CAMI in Ingersoll. It often helped to find “sweet spots” where cars would couple either on straight track, or that track and car geometry was such that cars coupled with the drawbars straight. After a while, one knew where these spots were. Ford Oakville seems to be a yard built in the 1950’s for 50′ auto box cars that now sees 93′ multilevels being used. A trick was to “set the trajectory” of a drawbar at the switch (moving it to about the right position to couple to the other bar before sending the car to your mate who will be making the joint on curved track. This also sidestepped the SOFA 50′ (and my railway’s) separation requirement to adjust knuckles and drawbars.

            Most of the time this worked, but sometimes..”stretch ahead a car length…”
            And I am more than a little familiar with swinging looong drawbars because of it. ;).

            A little older and greyer now, I get to watch the young guys move drawbars around. After 26 years on the railway, I move an engine when the greasy mitt on a trainman’s hand tells me to move. 🙂

            Kicking a drawbar over with my foot, I’d never do that–“never”… 😉

            Conductor Grapes on The Daily Effort and some of his antics? These days, he’d be hearing the words–“Do you want this statement to be taken in English or French?” in the trainmaster’s office at the start of his investigation.

            ‘Twas a different time back then at Port Rowan and elsewhere on the railway. So different. Put a car on the ground?–you might not go in for a statement or discipline, but you’d certainly be rerailing it.

  3. Hi Trevor,
    Is there any interoperability between the Kadee and Sergent-equipped equipment/ couplers??
    Just wondering??
    Thanks for these ongoing and always interesting articles
    John Green Vancouver

    • Hi John:

      Thanks for asking – it’s a good question.

      The short answer is, no – there’s no interoperability. The knuckle size and shape is just too different between the two.

      If I switch to Sergent couplers – and unless I run into a major issue, I will – I will have to switch over everything I want to run on this layout.

      But I have relatively few pieces of rolling stock, and I’m willing to make the investment in couplers for them. Not everybody will do so – and that’s fine, but it’s one reason why Sergents may not be an appealing option.

      I may keep a locomotive and van (caboose) with Kadee couplers for use on the S Scale Workshop modular layout – especially now that I’m building modules of my own. I have more locomotives than I actually need for my home layout, so I can do that without short-changing my operation.


  4. Trevor,
    The Light Saber to the rescue! Great work and a grand aide for the older guys. When I hit 65 I was able to get my cataracts removed and my vision went from coke bottle glass to 20/15. I was amazed at how much better I see. Let’s face it the lighting of your layout is one of its major mood builders. Keep up the great work…

    • Hi Tom:
      Wait until you see the next tool – coming soon to a blog near you…
      As for cataracts, a very good friend of mine in the hobby had his done several years ago. And as soon as he could after surgery, he re-did all of the scenery on his fairly extensive layout: It had been in place for many years, under fluorescent lights, and it had faded to various shades of grey even as his eyesight did.

  5. Ah, yes …. our TM, who was really the Super, was a southern boy with a lot of experience. He’d have his radio by his bedside all the time, so we would switch to hand signals often so he couldn’t hear what we were up to! I still prefer hand signals to radio most times.

    If the US government can create tiny drones that look like houseflies, why can’t we modellers build or buy small robot switchmen who can lopen knuckles?


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