For the past few months, I’ve been exchanging emails with another S scale enthusiast who has been testing the new Sergent Engineering EC64K couplers on his layout – and we’re both coming to the decision that while these couplers are beautiful and have many terrific qualities, they’re not for us.
It’s not an easy decision to take. I really do want to use these couplers on my layout.
As the photos above show, the Sergents look fantastic. Also in their favour, I love the use of a magnetic wand to uncouple: It works even better than the many different uncoupling tools I’ve used to manipulate Kadee couplers.
But unless the Sergent couplers are perfectly aligned for coupling – and I do mean, perfectly – any attempt to couple results in knocking the knuckles closed without making the hitch. This then requires backing away from the failed hitch, re-opening the moving faces, re-aligning the couplers, and trying again.
I have good success with this in narrower sections of my layout, where the track is fairly close to the front edge. But the Port Rowan terminal – where 75 percent of the work is done – is a fairly deep scene in order to accommodate the turntable:
In my experience, the closer to looking straight down one can get when aligning the couplers, the better the Sergent couplers work. In Port Rowan the combination of a deep scene and a 21-inch viewing window (created by the height of the layout and a bulkhead that runs above the yard) prevents operators from achieving a decent overhead view of the couplers.
In short, my visiting operators and I are having too many failed couplings.
Now, I’m told by those in the business that failed couplings happen – but not as often as they’re failing on my railway. Besides, when couplers don’t couple in the real world, professional train crews just have to deal with it. That’s part of their job – and why such activities are called “Jobs” and not “Smiley Happy Fun Time”.
However, a model railway is not real life. It’s not supposed to be a “Job”. I enjoy building accurate models and scenes in 1:64, but I started into S scale because I was frustrated with the running qualities of On2. S scale has solved those problems, brilliantly. My locomotives do not stall and my equipment rarely derails – in fact, “zero-derailment sessions” are the rule, not the exception. In that environment, failed couplings really stand out as something that detracts from the overall experience.
When couplers fail to couple on Port Rowan, they frustrate me. Worse, they become the thing that visitors remember. The rest of the operating experience may have unfolded as slick as spit, but the talk afterwards will be about how many attempts were required to make the hitch.
I haven’t made a final decision: The EC64 couplers are currently out of production to address a manufacturing issue, which may also improve their performance. I will order some of the couplers when they’re re-released and give them a try. I will also hold onto my EC64 stock for the time being: If I ever build a classic shelf layout, the issue of sight lines would disappear – and the Sergent couplers would be more reliable as a result.
But in an email, my fellow experimenter made the following observation about his tests with the Sergent couplers:
“I have noticed that I operate my layout less frequently, and the sessions are usually only a few minutes (instead of 20-30 minutes in the past). Most end in my frustration of not being able to couple some of the cars.”
I realize that I have experienced exactly the same issue (coupling failures) – with exactly the same results (more frustration and fewer operating sessions).
That’s not why I’m in the hobby.
So – unfortunately – unless the reworked couplers solve the problem for me, I’m going to have to pull the EC64 couplers from my equipment and return to the less prototypical but more reliable Kadee 808.