Monday, June 3, 2019

Rolling stock upkeep

Upkeep? Isn’t a rolling stock model, once completed and in service, all set to operate for quite a while? Can we not apply the immortal comment, “what could go wrong?”
     I have written in earlier posts about what I called a “rookie test,” meaning that a piece of rolling stock that had not been in service before, or was newly maintained in some way, needed thorough testing before entering service. Otherwise, such issues as truck swing, coupler swing, coupler height, coupler knuckle spring operation, and so on, could come back and bite you. That post can be found at this link: .
     I followed up awhile later with commentary on how rigorous this kind of test needed to be, in a post entitled “Lessons learned,” which is available at: . In fact, re-reading that post now makes me realize that the term “rookie test,” though entirely appropriate for cars entering service, is misleading in that it seems to imply that only the new rolling stock presents problems. As that second post, just cited above, states, the same standards may need to be applied to cars already in service.
     One sign of that, as an ongoing process that I have had to recognize, can be found in the post I wrote recently about correcting problems with the friction-fit coupler box lid on Athearn tank cars. That post is here: . There are plenty of other examples that have emerged in my ongoing maintenance tasks at the workbench.
     Here’s one instance: I continue to search out and replace non-Kadee couplers on my rolling stock. I don’t mean to imply that only Kadees can do the job, only that I have come to believe that having all one kind of coupler does  make a difference in reliability and consistent coupling and coupled-up train continuity. I find the knock-off Kadee copies that are added to some Chinese-manufactured cars especially annoying, as they look very much like a real Kadee (though usually very shiny, which Kadees are not), and simply do not perform as well as the design they are copied from.
     Now let me say a few words about a topic familiar to many modelers: Kadee no. 5 vs. no. 58. The photo below shows one of each, happily coupled and working fine.

     I should explain that I continue to hear the idea that Kadee no. 5 and no. 58 couplers do not work well together. My experience is that this claim is entirely untrue. I have lots of both types on my layout, and they are generally just fine. Why do I qualify that words “just fine” with “generally”? The no. 58 does have some limitations compared to the no. 5. It does not have the overall height (in elevation view), so is less forgiving on vertical curves, and less tolerant of coupler height mismatch with adjoining cars. It is smaller, and in particular has less “gather” (in plan view), so is less capable for coupling on sharp curves (actually a prototypical feature).
     But these issues are not because there is any mismatch between no. 5 and no. 58, only that the two are different. If you are used to how no. 5s behave in model operation, you will certainly find that no. 58s are different, usually in a less convenient way. But let me repeat: in my experience, the two coupler types work just fine together, whether in train service or in switching, even if it is true that the no. 58 does not offer all the operating convenience of the no. 5. For me, that is more than balanced by the better appearance of the smaller no. 58.
     One thing I now often do as part of a “rookie test” or “return-to-service test” is to couple up a string of some cars that have been worked on, and use a locomotive to run them back and forth through a sequence of the diverging sides of No. 5 turnouts, at slow speed and then at faster speeds, to see if they behave. And when that test goes all right, I rearrange their order and repeat, and maybe create a third ordering of the cars and repeat again.

I should observe that even this testing is not always sufficient, because coupling a particular car to some other car may bring a whole new problem into view. But this test is a good starting point.
     I am occasionally asked my view on the Accumate couplers from Accurail. When these were first introduced, I bought five pairs and installed them on five freight cars, each from a different manufacturer, and then operated them intensively in switching and in train service.  I operated them all together, and then operated them all in mixtures with Kadee no. 5 and no. 58 couplers. My conclusions? Operated together, Accumates are just fine, and are small enough to look good. Operated with Kadees? Just not nearly as dependable. I suspect that an entire car fleet equipped with Accumates would be fine, but I don’t want them mixed in with Kadees. As I said, I have chosen the latter.
     One other maintenance task that keeps on happening: I find myself replacing the plastic sill steps on some models. Though I often replace such steps with A-Line metal sill steps before the cars even enter service, I don’t always get to it before wanting to use the cars in an operating session. But inevitably those plastic steps start to break off, and then the car ends up back on the workbench, to receive the A-Line steps. To do this, I usually have to add some blocking behind the side sill, to make a sturdier platform to drill for sill steps. (I have shown this method in use in several blogs, for example this one: .)
     And of course there are always the maintenance tasks of replacement of missing or broken grab irons, brake wheels, and other parts. I don’t really feel bothered by this, because if a layout is operated, some things are going to get damaged. That’s just a fact of nature. So, because I do want to have guests operate the layout, occasional damage is not only predictable but unavoidable. I just fix it and move on.
Tony Thompson

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