“The least disruptive option”

While at the hobby shop yesterday, I ran into my friend Mark Hill – and after leaving the contents of our wallets at the counter, we had a great conversation in the parking lot under beautiful autumn skies.

Among the many topics covered, we talked about my coupler issues – and our discussion helped me organize my thoughts on couplers (and many other aspects of our hobby, but I’ll use the couplers as my example).

It occurred to me that what I’m really looking for with the couplers is the “least disruptive option”. I’m weighing two options:

Option 1 – a coupler that looks very prototypical, but does not couple reliably (at least, not on my layout).

Option 2 – a coupler that does not look as prototypical, but is a reliable performer.

I need to decide which of these two imperfect options will best support my enjoyment of my hobby. And that depends on what my hobby actually is:

If my hobby is, “Build accurate rolling stock that will take a place of pride in a display cabinet”, then the hands-down winner is the coupler that looks just like the real thing.

If my hobby is, “Build a layout that runs well”, then the hands-down winner is the coupler that delivers bullet-proof reliability.

Naturally, the choice is not clear-cut because I hobby is not firmly embedded at one end or the other: I want both. The challenge, for me and for you, is to decide where on that line we fall. And then we have to make that decision for every choice we make in the hobby.

Given that either choice is imperfect, another way to look at it is, do determine which choice is the “least disruptive option”. In other words, which imperfection bothers me most:

Is it a coupler that has a big spring on the side of the knuckle?

Or is it a coupler that doesn’t always couple and that requires resetting every time a coupling is not made?

In this case, I’ve decided that I’d prefer reliable operation over appearance, which is why I’m – reluctantly – retiring my Sergent EC64 couplers. But now I have another choice to make – the Kadee 5 or the Kadee 808. Again, I will have to decide which is the least disruptive option. I suspect the Kadee 808 will be easier to use – the head is larger so it’s easier to get the uncoupling tool between couplers, and the coupler boxes are the standard for S scale equipment to installation is easy and reliable. But the Kadee 5 looks better.

At this point, I need to do more tests to turn suspicions into evidence. But regardless of which coupler I end up using, I’m glad I’m doing these tests because they have clarified some of my thinking about the hobby. I’m going to apply “the least disruptive option” next time I face such choices.

It may not be the only criteria – but it’s a good one.

11 thoughts on ““The least disruptive option”

  1. One other point that may not be a factor for you at this time is interchangeability with other equipment i.e. visiting modelers equipment to your layout or if you take your equipment to other layouts occasionally (shows and such). I am converting some equipment I bought used that had Kadee #5 to the Kadee On3 as I want hassle free operations, at least on the equipment that I control 🙂

  2. Compromise is in everything in the hobby. The gauge of the track, the size of the rail, The curvature of the track, the grade of the profile of track, the size of the turnout frogs. The control system, the prototype operation, the speed of trains, the length of trains etc.
    Pete Silcox

  3. The beauty of the Kadee #5 is low cost, reliable operation and with the heft of your S scale cars they should operate in the 90 to 95% range, thereby making them “foolproof.”

  4. Trevor,

    Have you had a look at the Accumate couplers. The original ones. I’ve seen them on 0n30 cars. They look great once you cut off the glad hand. They are available in bulk.

  5. Trevor,

    Have you considered modifying the Kadee 808 couplers. When I look at your pictures of the car end view of the couplers the thing that sticks out the most is not the spring to me. Rather the part of the coupler that is opposite that of the knuckle. I don’t know what it is called, but could it be trimmed in length, and not effect coupling. I observed a few couplings with number 58’s on my layout and it really just sticks out there not doing much while coupling. Is its use more for when the couplers are spread apart by the magnet effect so you can push a car to position and have it separate without an uncoupling pic? I f so then trimming it should not effect coupling. It could be trimmed with side cutters and filed or one could make a small fixture to hold the part and mill it off with an end mill. Gives you an excuse to fire up the Sherline!!

  6. Trevor, I have been following your musings with considerable interest given the situation that I and Mark Hill are in with the P-48 project. We have had some discussion about which couplers to use for it and I have purchased some of the brass sets from Protocraft to experiment with. Interestingly there is a great article about the Clouser couplers that the Protocraft sets are based on in the latest issue of O Scale Trains magazine and this will aid in the evaluation process greatly. I might also add a note of jealousy here, you and Mark having a well stocked shop so close to hand but somehow we manage up here in Ontario’s vacation heartland.
    So, back to the coupler issue, like you we may well encounter some of the same concerns with reach as our modules are 35 inches wide with the “main line” running down what is designed to be the public side and the likely hood is that we will need one of us on either side of the layout to make it work should we go with the prototypical couplers. We are still very much in the hand laying of rail stage but I have set a goal of first public showing by May of next year so the coupler thing will need some of our time.
    I have been lurking in the shadows for about a month now and thought it about time to tell you how much I am enjoying sharing in your modeling niche.

    • Hi David:
      Thanks for the input and the kind words about the blog. Great to hear that you’re following along. We need to get together sometime – I’m looking forward to seeing the Proto:48 project.

  7. I agree that the KDs are the way to go – but I especially appreciate your thought process for reaching that conclusion. The “least disruptive option” is a great standard to have, and it could also be applied to level of detailing (are you spending more time repairing delicate details than operating?), track (ditto), etc. I suspect everyone will fall at a slightly different point on the spectrum of detail vs. reliability vs. time, but knowing beforehand that compromise of some sort is inevitable helps to manage expectations (and lower stress if you’re lucky!)

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