Couplers: When You Know You've Graduated from Toys to Models

  • Couplers: When You Know You’ve Graduated from Toys to Models

    By Mike Allred

              My father was a model railroader.  He did not play with trains; he modeled them.  He did share his hobby with me, but in a limited sense.  That is, until he felt I was “responsible enough” to appreciate models.  Sounds strange, I know…as if parents must answer the question, “When is your child old enough to play with trains?”   The point, to be clear, is that models are breakable and if one does not wish them to be broken, then they should not be placed in the hands of children who cannot respect them.

              At age twelve, I found my rite of passage.  I was given my own HO train set for Christmas.  We set it up and I entered the world of Model Railroading.  I was mesmerized by these incredible, rolling models.  The detail, the proportions…I could not stop studying these miniatures.

              Except for one irritating detail: the couplers.  They were horn hooks.  Where did these come from, I wondered?  Real trains don’t use couplers like this, do they?  

              Worst of all was the Steam Locomotive.  Watching it come around the curve was so exciting, but that horn hook coupler sticking out the pilot looked so stupid!

              Soon after, I discovered Model Railroader magazine.  I would turn just a couple of pages and…AHA!  Look at the couplers on those models!  Just like the couplers on real trains. Why, they even had a curved bar to represent the air line.  I had to know more.

              I turn  a few more pages and spot the advertisement for “Kadee” couplers.  I learn they not only look great, not only couple great, but also uncouple, and automatically. 

              So why didn’t the company who made my train set put them on my trains?  How do I get my trains to get Kadee couplers so they look like the trains in the magazine?  I literally lost sleep for a few nights, vexed by these questions.

              One Sunday, I went to the garage to watch Dad maintain some coaches.  I looked, and audibly gasped.  “Dad,” I exclaimed, “your trains have Kadee couplers!”

              Evenly, my Dad replied, “Is there any other kind?”.  Then he looked at me, surprised.  “How do you know about Kadee couplers?”

              “Well, the trains in my train set have ugly horn hook couplers.  I saw in Model Railroader they make better couplers; Kadee couplers.”

              My Dad smiled.  “All trains come with horn hook couplers.  You have to buy the Kadee couplers separately and put them in yourself.”

              To a boy, however, the price of Kadee couplers was impractical.  I elected to learn to live with horn hook couplers.  My meager allowance, I determined, was put to better use buying plastic kits and rolling stock.  Even so, every time I read the modeler magazines I could not help feeling left out as I looked at those great looking models with those great looking couplers.  “One day,” I kept telling myself, “one day…”




              I had to leave the hobby when I was old enough to leave home and live on my own, but years later I would return.  I didn’t have much room, but I did have some disposable income, and I needed something to get my mind off…things.

    I bought an N Scale train set, and was anxious to get back in the hobby!

              Just as I had with the HO set of my youth, I marveled at the N scale set.  The engineering, the detail, the precision…the couplers!

              Those God awful “rapido” couplers.  They were worse that horn hooks!  Oversized with that stupid squared up shape; and, while horn hooks at least operated like real couplers, rapido’s worked by sliding up and over each other!  This was so wrong.

              I needed to find a model train shop, and start getting caught up on what I’ve missed.


              At the top of my list of questions: find out if N scale had an equivalent to Kadee couplers.  There was: I was to learn that Kadee had their own line of N scale products, named “Micro-Trains”.  Excited, I left the shop with several dollar’s worth of couplers, a pair of modeler’s tweezers, graphite, and a height gauge…in a paper bag just a little smaller than the bags I pack my lunch.

              I spent the next few evenings converting the entire train set to MT couplers.  I had to work under a desk lamp, and learned quick to be very careful with those springs! But when the job was complete, I watched my train go around the oval with a great sense of triumph.  My train looked like a real train with real couplers.  That “one day” was today!  I was so proud.





              Since then, I have never bought a locomotive or piece of rolling stock without converting the couplers to Micro-Trains couplers.  It is the standard of my collection. Everything couples and uncouples the same as the real trains do.

              There is no question of which couplers I will use when I purchase a craftsman kit or highly detained piece of rolling stock.  I just can’t ruin the realism by using a rapido coupler.

    Some of my cars are even outfitted with MT trucks.  The worst running equipment is transformed to running as if on glass thanks to MT trucks.  I now know the difference between “playing with trains” and “operating a model railroad.”

    Plus, my collection just looks great.  Boy, does it look great!  It does my heart so proud to be able to compare my best detailed trains to those in the photos of the magazines and see that my modeling is on a par with others.

    Yes, it’s been a bit of an expensive investment.  Personally, I think I’ve received my money’s worth.

              It is when I have visitors over that I am most proud.  I show them my layout, and as folks watch my trains, someone will always ask, “Wow.  Are you using Kadee couplers?”

              Is there any other kind?