newbie: realistic decoupling, prototype operations?

Discussion in 'FAQs' started by chapmro, Jan 8, 2007.

  1. chapmro

    chapmro New Member

    Hello all:

    I am a newbie here -- my son and I have sort of gotten into N scale 'by accident' -- we found a dusty box of 1980's vintage Atlas cars in a house my parents bought. Rather than throw them out, we got some Kato Unitrak and set up a layout on the living room floor... that layout has grown (4'x8', 4 turnouts, two loops of track) and are now planning bigger things. I've been reading Tony Koester's book on operations, and some other things, including a 1975 Southern Railway Operating Rules manual, but there's something basic I really don't understand: decoupling. I think Koester assumes you already know how to do this, as do all the other books I've looked in. Web search and searching this forum haven't revealed anything either, but I'm sure this is a very basic question. If it's been covered recently, please just point me to the appropriate thread.

    We are trying to figure out how to uncouple cars, say to spot or pick up at a siding or run-around. There are two levels to this question. First, can someone point us to a more basic guide to freight operations than Koester's book, either prototype or model, or preferably both that tells us what order to do things in.

    Second, there must be a more realistic way to actually uncouple than reach over the layout with your fingers and do it, or at least to do it with a minimum risk of derailing things. We have some rapido-coupler cars (the '80's ones) and locos, and some knuckle-type coupler cars and locomotives (Kato, Atlas, MicroTrain, Athearn, -- we've spent a fair amount of money beyond that original dusty box of cars at this point :) ). I understand there is way to use magnets to uncouple the knuckle type couplers with the little curved magnets hanging below, but can't find a reference to the procedure. I'd think you'd want to use an electromagnet rather than a permanent one? Also, the prototype railroads seem to uncouple at any location rather than a few designated ones? How many decouplers should be installed? Any one have a link to plans to make one of those (what core, what wire, how many turns, etc?)

    Thanks very much,
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Richard & son...

    Welcome to The Gauge!

    As you noted, the prototypes uncouple where needed, not at any specific uncoupling "ramp" or magnet... Most of the guys that I know uncouple with a Micro-mart uncoupling tool or even a bamboo skewer. Some use the "hands-on" technique too...!

    Most argue that the railroads uncouple by hand (i.e. a guy has to walk over to the car and pull the lever), so what they are doing is in fact prototypical, and far more flexible than using a magnet at a specific point in the track.

    While my experience is in HO, I assume that this will hold true for Nscale as well, although it may be a bit more finicky, given the relative size of the equipment.

  3. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Typically uncoupling magnets are used at strategic "choke points" on a layout rather than all around, and because they're cheaper and don't require wiring, permanent magnets are more common than electromagnets. Some will work up some sort of lever arrangement to raise and lower a permanent magnet under the track. Remote uncoupling is, to some extent, an artifact of the era when every model railroad used a single central control panel and the operator stayed still. While many layouts are still run this way, we now have the option of a tethered or wireless throttle so we can follow the train around, up close to the action. Typically you want to be close to the train even if you're using remote uncoupling, so you can check clearances and ensure everything is coupled right--the same jobs that brakemen do on a real railroad, making sure that there is no chance of derailment or other accident. And if you're going to do that anyhow, you might as well uncouple by hand (using a bamboo skewer or other uncoupling tool makes this a LOT easier) which is the other big job for brakemen. For some reason, I find that throwing a switch or uncoupling a car by hand feels more "real" than pressing a button on a remote panel. For those who like to model a control tower, where the prototype throws switches by remote, there is the option--it all depends on how much wiring you want to do.

    Some people really like remote uncoupling--but it isn't strictly necessary.
  4. oldtanker

    oldtanker Member

    Hi and welcome, glad you ask that question! I'm getting close to the point of needing to know myself!

  5. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    Jetrock makes some good points. However, there are some of us who, even though using a walk-around control, dislike the concept of the giant digital uncoupler (AKA hand of god) intruding itself into the carefully modelled scene from the sky. And if you tremble occasionally, or don't have surgeon-like precision in your hands (like me), other things tend to happen besides the uncoupling event. Details on structures get knocked astray, my shirt sleeve catches on something, or the car gets derailed anyway.

    I try to place uncouplers at strategic points, but inevitably will not have them everywhere needed. The delayed uncoupling system by Kadee can take away some of the uncoupler shortage by allowing you to push a car in the uncoupled (delayed) mode beyond an uncoupling ramp after a somewhat unrealistic Kadee "2 step" dance.

    Be aware that using uncoupling ramps - especially delayed mode - requires greater precision in your coupler mounting and adjustment than the manual uncoupling methods.

    my thoughts, your choices
  6. CNWman

    CNWman CNW Fan


    wow, free N scale stock, wish I "acadentaly" got into HO scale when I moved a few years back. Unfortunently, the only kids that had lived there were two stinking pony-lovin,pink-crazy girls who walpaered EVERYTHING (they even walpapered the inside of my wall vent!)sign1
  7. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    The other main reason I prefer digital uncoupling ("digital" means "with my fingers" in this context) is because I don't like wiring, or maybe I am just too lazy to do it--all of my turnouts are manual. I use a couple of delayed uncouplers at locations where I do a lot of car-spotting, but often I don't actually use them, and just reach for the skewer.
  8. hiscopilot

    hiscopilot Member

    I only have 2 things to say:

    1. I am really glad you asked this question. It was on my to ask list, but I always forget and I have learned a lot already from this thread (surprisse surprise)

    2. I am only 32 and was achild during the 80's... I am having trouble with things from the 80's being called "vintage" YIKES. Usually I feel so young, but now I just feel old! LOL ;)
  9. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    The Kadee or MicroTrains couplers (used to be kadee, but the brothers split) have a nice magnet for uncoupling. They should be available in any good hobby shop. They are often available already mounted in a piece of track.
    The Rapido (big plastic N gauge) and "NMRA"/X2f/horn-hook (HO gauge) never came up with a decent operating uncoupler.
    I've run Kadees using both magnets and hand devices (on the same layout!) and both methods work. The swizzle sticks and things are a bit trickier in N scale.
    Don't put permanent magnets on the mainline.
  10. doctorwayne

    doctorwayne Active Member

    Hi Richard, and welcome to the Gauge.:wave:
    To use a Kadee uncoupling ramp, you need to first properly install the magnet. There are several types, including between the rails, under the ties, and electro-magnetic. There are instructions packaged with each type. Your cars and locos also need to be equipped with Kadee or similar style couplers to work with this system, and the trip arms, the curved wire hanging below each coupler, must be adjusted to the proper height. Kadee sells a gauge for this purpose.
    Once the uncoupling ramp has been installed, you run your train over the uncoupling magnet, stopping when the couplers that you wish to uncouple are centred over the magnet. By reversing very slightly, you'll put a bit of "slack" in the couplers, which allows the magnet to force the hanging pins of the couplers apart, thereby opening the "knuckles". If you now pull the train ahead, the couplers will part. This is fine if you wish to leave the uncoupled car exactly where it is, but by utilising the "delay" feature of Kadee couplers, you can respot the uncoupled car even further down the track. You'll notice when performing the above scenario that, when the knuckles open and the train pulls away from the uncoupled car, as long as both couplers are uncoupled, but still over the magnet, the magnet forces both couplers to the side, one in each direction. By pushing the misaligned couplers back together, you can now push the uncoupled car to another spot on the track. With the couplers no longer over the magnet, both couplers will spring back to their normal position as soon as the train pulls away from the still uncoupled car. It's easier to do than it is to explain.:rolleyes:
    I tried the electromagnetic uncoupler, but I couldn't get it to work reliably. Another useful uncoupling tool is made by Rix: basically, it's a plastic handle with an upsidedown "U" on one end. On the inner face of each side of the "U" is a magnet. You simply lower the gizmo down between the end of the two cars that you wish to uncouple, straddling the couplers with the "U". The magnets force the uncoupling pins apart, opening the knuckles. All of these uncoupling techniques, including the skewers, require the couplers to have slack in them.
    Here's a photo of a Kadee between the rails magnet at GERN Industries on my layout. While I normally use the Rix tool for uncoupling, it doesn't offer the "delay" feature, so this ramp pictured is a real necessity when I want to spot a couple of cars far inside the area under the loading siloes.

    If you're running passenger cars with diaphrams on the ends, neither the Rix tool, skewers, or the giant 0-5-0 switcher will work: an uncoupling ramp is the best way to separate this type of car.


Share This Page