Friday, March 15th, 2013

horny1Visiting a train show a couple years back, I spotted a big stack of boxes from across the aisle that made my spider-sense tingle. They turned out to be passenger cars, dozens of them, at rock-bottom prices. I picked out two dome cars, two or three sleepers, a coach and an observation car for the tail end. There weren’t any baggage cars in the bunch or I would have snagged one of those, too. I felt pretty good about my discovery for about twenty minutes, then wanted to go back and buy all the rest of them. I still don’t know how I didn’t.

The cars were all made by Rivarossi, an Italian company that made some affordable yet still rather good-looking passenger cars. By ‘affordable’ I mean they’re on the cheap end of the spectrum without going quite all the way into the shabby shit you can expect when you pay no more than five dollars per car. The paint job is plain without being sloppy. The grab irons are molded on without looking like turds stuck to the sides of the car. They’re about as good-looking as you could expect to get without feeling like your wallet’s been raped.

They didn’t spend a lot of money on the couplers, that’s for sure. Admittedly, horn-hook couplers were the industry standard back in the day, and they work well enough but they don’t look a thing like real couplers, or anything else you would expect to see on a passenger car. Might as well have great big white-gloved Mickey Mouse hands sticking out from underneath the ends of the cars. I’m not a rivet-counting stickler for realism, but I cannot abide horn-hook couplers.

horny3Luckily, there’s something I can do about that. Namely, rip the old couplers off the cars and install new ones. An American company called Kadee makes nothing but miniature couplers that look like the full-size couplers on real train cars, and while I was visiting my favorite hobby store not long ago I found some Kadee couplers that I thought would work perfectly on my Rivarossi passenger cars, so I bought them all, took them home and, over the past several nights, have been trying to figure out how to mount them to the cars in a way that would look almost like I knew what I was doing instead of like I had no clue and wasn’t going to get one any time soon.

The first thing to do, it seemed to me, was to pull off the frames that the wheels were mounted in. Model rail geeks call these trucks, because trucks. I don’t know why, they just do, okay? The horn-hook couplers stuck out from one end of each truck and they got in the way. Taking off the trucks cleared the decks, so to speak, and made it easier to figure out how to remove the horn-hook couplers. They were clipped in place with a thin, circular spring that was almost as hard to unclip as a bra strap, but after I figured it out I could take off a coupler in two shakes, no waiting. Again, sort of like a bra strap.

horny5Then I had to figure out where to drill the holes so the replacement coupler would stick out far enough to grab the coupler of another car, but not so far that it would look like a great big moldy pumpkin on the end of a broom stick. This seemed like a simple matter of measurement, and I did carefully measure it out, check my measurements, and measured it again before I drilled that first hole, but I still got the moldy pumpkin. Can it be that the universe has evolved up to this point just so I could experience that moment?

After a little experimentation, I got the coupler in the right place and it was time to put all the pieces together. Kadee couplers are sold as kits, each set in a little brown envelope filled with tiny screws and springs that roll all the way across your work bench and right off the edge if you’re not smart enough to dump them into a dish. Not a single one of the pieces is big enough to make it easy to handle with your fingers. You have to use tweezers a lot. I’m no good with tweezers. When I try to pick up a teensy-tiny little screw with a pair of tweezers, chances are about fifty-fifty that, just as I’m guiding the screw into the hole where it’s supposed to go, I’ll squeeze a little too hard and the screw will go sailing through the air and I’ll never see it again.

And don’t even get me started on springs. One moment, I’m trying to gently push one into a slot with the flat of a screwdriver, the next moment it’s not there. Didn’t see it take off, didn’t even see what I might have done wrong to make it go flying. It was just time to leave, so it left. After the last cuss word had cleared the air and my breathing levels off, I have to wonder sometimes that this is what I do to relax after work.

horny6After everything’s put together and the couplers are finally mounted to the car body in the right place, though, I have to admit that all that cussing is worth it. And it was fun to finally put these cars on the track and hook them up to an engine so I could take them for a spin around the track. All my engines have knuckle couplers, so until I could replace the old horn-hook couplers, the only way I could move them around the track was with the end of my finger. I made choo-choo sounds with my mouth while I did it, but it just wasn’t the same and cranking the throttle open and watching an engine drag them down the line.

coupled | 6:06 am CDT
Category: entertainment, hobby, LoCo Rwy, play
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