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.