Sunday, June 17, 2007

Uncouplers in scale

In order to make the N layout a bit more interesting than just having a train run around in a circle, I want to allow for basic switching operations, and maybe even come up with switching games (hey, I have to spend my non-existing time somehow :-) For that I preferably need an engine that can uncouple remotely (doesn't seem to exist), or I need to place uncouplers in strategic places of the layout.

I'm used to Maerklin-style HO electro-mechanical uncoupler tracks. An electro-magnet pushes up a plastic bar that in turn pushes up an element of the coupler and reliably uncouples the cars, especially if the couplers have some slack. This is what I'm planning to use in the train room HO layout.

Things are different in N. First off there are multiple kinds of couplers accross manufacturers. The most popular ones are Microtrains style knuckle couplers (mostly US), and Arnold style square couplers (mostly Europe). The Microtrains style couplers come in several variations by various manufacturers, but are generally compatible with each other. They are elegant and look pretty similar to prototypical US style center couplers. The Arnold style couplers are big square brackets and don't look prototypical at all.

The N layout is going to be built with US material, so I'll use knuckle couplers. I was surprised to see no uncoupler tracks in the various track listings. Instead, people seem to rely on permanent magnets placed between the rails. There are many articles on the Internet describing how annoying that is, and how electromagnets are better. Well, duh. Who wants their trains to decouple as they are passing through a station, just because there happens to be a permanent magnet and a momentary slow-down of the train causes the couplers go slack enough, so that the perma-magent can uncouple half of the train? Bah. No permanent magnets for me.

This article describes how to modify cheap HOn3 electro-magnetic uncouplers and knuckle couplers on rolling stock to reliably uncouple on demand.

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