Three vans :: Three couplers

Yesterday I visited my local chooch emporium and picked up a bulk pack of Kadee 5 couplers, then set about converting a few pieces of equipment so I can test them as an alternative to the Sergent EC64 and the Kadee 808. (As noted earlier this week, the Sergent has many fine qualities but I want more reliable coupling. I’m perfectly happy with the performance of the S scale Kadee 808 but the Ho scale Kadee 5 is closer to S scale size.)

I converted a locomotive and seven freight cars. I also did a CNR van, which means I now have each type of coupler mounted on a different CNR van – perfect for visual comparisons. I took the photos this morning – click on each image for a larger view:

 photo EC64vs5vs808-04_zpscebfce30.jpg
(Sergent EC64 — Kadee 5 — Kadee 808)

 photo EC64vs5vs808-03_zps9f90ca41.jpg
(Sergent EC64 — Kadee 5 — Kadee 808)

 photo EC64vs5vs808-02_zpsd3090e4f.jpg
(Sergent EC64 — Kadee 5 — Kadee 808)

 photo EC64vs5vs808-01_zps145020f1.jpg
(Sergent EC64 — Kadee 5 — Kadee 808)

The Kadee 5 is the smallest of the three. As the photos show, it’s about the same size as the Sergent when looking down on the coupler from above, but not as tall when looking at it end-on or from the side.

Appearance-wise, the Kadee 5 is fine although it could benefit from some rusty paint. (That said, I’m hesitant to paint couplers simply because paint could gum up a coupler and wreck its performance. “Unreliable performance” is the reason I’m – reluctantly – turning away from the Sergents: If painting the Kadee 5 results in performance problems, I might as well stick with the EC64.)

I’m less happy with the HO scale coupler boxes. Simply put, the S scale boxes look better under a car, and because they’re the de-facto standard for 1:64, they’re a whole lot easier to mount. Every manufacturer’s equipment is designed to accept them. I thought the Kadee 5 box might have identical spacing of the mounting holes – and it sure looks that way when you compare the boxes on the bench – but it turns out the spacing on the 5 box is slightly wider than it is on the box for the 808.

From an operations point of view, I do have some concerns with the Kadee 5. It’s been a while since I’ve built an operating layout in HO – my last such railway was torn down in 2003 – and I’m used to larger things now, including couplers. In some quick tests last night, I found my uncoupling tools – all designed for Kadee 5 couplers, mind you – require careful fiddling to slip between the knuckles and separate the cars. Uncoupling is definitely easier with the Sergent EC64 and a magnetic wand – but it’s also easier using the typical uncoupling tool with the Kadee 808.

Now that I’ve been doing some conversions, I’m also reminded that in my years of working in HO, I experienced a lot of vertical coupler movement with the Kadee 5. This is because the opening in the coupler box is taller than the shank of the coupler, allowing the coupler head to rise or fall as train forces act on it. This becomes a problem when two coupler heads are not at the exact same height – when pulling a train, the lower coupler can be forced down, while the higher coupler is forced up, and uncoupling occurs. Of course, all couplers should be mounted at the same height – but even if they are, things like sharp vertical curves can cause problems. And I do have two such curves – at the bottom and top of the elevated coal delivery track in Port Rowan. I did not experience this vertical coupler movement with either the Kadee 808 or the Sergent EC64. Something to watch out for with the Kadee 5.

No – I have not yet made a final decision. I will do some tests with the equipment that I’ve converted to Kadee 5 couplers – including a couple of operating sessions with others. (I think it’s important to do one’s own tests in this hobby, rather than rely on results shared by others, so I encourage you to experiment as well!)

But after working on conversions yesterday and doing some initial tests, I might be reverting to the Kadee 808 after all…

11 thoughts on “Three vans :: Three couplers

  1. Have you looked at the Sergent HO couplers? I hear they have been around for a longer time and they may have the kinks worked out. Just a thought. Thanks for posting such an informative blog…even though I model in N, I learn from people in all scales.

    • Hi Walt:

      Thanks for the suggestion. I have lots of experience with the Sergent HO couplers. I used them on my On2 layout before I switched to S. That layout was, in effect, a shelf layout so it was easy to look down on the couplers from above to correctly align them. This layout – not so much.

      My challenges with the Sergents are not with the couplers themselves – when they work, they work beautifully. Rather, the challenges are on my end – getting them aligned is tricky and if they’re not aligned one has to back up and start all over again.

      It might sound like a centring spring is the answer – but it’s not. Alignment problems can arise on straight track because of the side-to-side play of wheel sets in trucks, and centring springs would make coupling impossible on even broad radius curves, such as the one on my team track at St. Williams.

      Cheers!

  2. A friend used to shim his KD HO couplers in the box to reduce the vertical slop. As you are not relying on magnetic uncoupling action any added friction shouldn’t matter.

    • Yes, I used to do that too. A little bit of styrene strip glued inside the front edge of the bottom of the box. But it’s yet one more thing to do…

      And the vertical slop is not the only issue. I must also decide whether the heads are just too darned small for my liking. If operating sessions are spent rummaging around between the cars, looking for the right spot to place the uncoupling tool, that’s going to be less than ideal. It also adds to the risk that someone will put a tool through a detail on the car ends.

      Cheers!

  3. Trevor,

    Have you considered the Walther Protomax? I’ve had it on most of my equipment at Laval. They are slightly larger than the original k5 and personally find it is a good compromise between the look of the sergents and k808/805.

    Simon

  4. I operate with the Kadee On3 coupler (with glad hand pin removed) which apparently is the same coupler as your S scale #808. Most On3 is not set-up for this box/ coupler so a lot of hassle factor in getting them installed sometimes šŸ™
    I use the Grandt Line uncoupling tool but some have been modified by attaching to a pen light. It seems like a purpose built light/ uncoupling tool to help see where to insert it between couplers would go a long way in making operations easier IMHO.

  5. IMHO good operation trumps appearances. Also IMHO, the Kadee 808 doesn’t look all that bad to my eye. Indeed, the No. 5 looks kind of wimpy. I’d rather be a tad large than a tad small.

    If you were happy with the 808s operation, then go back to it!

    -Jack

  6. Hi Trevor,

    Perhaps even more than the end-on appearance, you might want to think about the distance between coupled cars. With the longer K808, I would expect that you will see bigger gaps between cars, impacting the look of a whole train.

    Just to throw another consideration in there, you might want to think about interoperability with Simon’s trains for those days out the the S Scale Workshop.

    Once you’re operating, everything is a compromise. It’s just a matter of finding the compromise that’s right for you.

    Rene’

  7. Hi Trevor

    Have you tested Kadee couplers without using the centre spring? I too have issues using the Sergent couplers. I have a small switching layout with tight curves and wondered if removing the spring will help with coupling on the curves.

    Don

    • Hi Don:
      Thanks for writing. After much testing, I decided to stick with the Kadee 808 S Scale couplers – and I do remove the centring function from these. The S scale couplers use a different centring system than the HO Number 5 couplers, and it’s a system that introduces excessive slack action into a train.
      I’ve written on this blog about the modifications I make to Kadee couplers. And for more information on my coupler tests, you can check out the Couplers category to find all the relevant posts.
      Cheers!

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