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Nigel's workbench - On Members Workbenches. - More Practical Help - Your Model Railway Club
 Posted: Sun Oct 27th, 2013 08:25 pm
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Joined: Sat Oct 19th, 2013
Location: Reston, Virginia USA
Posts: 3211

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Converting tension lock couplers to Kadee couplers on older wagons.  

I have an Autocoach on the workbench being converted to Kadee couplings (I'll post this later). I developed this conversion technique using some Mainline CO-OP wagons with tension lock couplers that must have been at least 30-35 years old. Using Kadee NEM couplers (numbers 17-20) allows control of coupling distances as required. I thought this technique might be of interest to others. What I did can also be applied to newer or current stock with tension lock couplers but no NEM pockets (the Autocoach is a current Hornby offering), wagons or carriages. If you want to, an NEM tension lock coupler can be put at one end, a Kadee NEM coupler at the other. Best of both worlds!

The following items were used: 

Parkside Dundas mounting blocks for Bachmann NEM shaft tension lock couplers with pocket (10), part number PA34. Enough for 5 wagons/coaches. Bachmann Branchline NEM tension lock couplers (straight or cranked shaft) with pocket (10). Enough for 5 wagons/ coaches. It’s the pocket that is required. Kadee No.17, 18 and 19 couplers for NEM 362 pockets. For carriages a longer Kadee is better - No. 19 or 20.

The following steps describe how I did the conversion: 

I removed the old plastic wheels and replaced them with new 12 mm diameter metal ones. I cleaned the axle holes and made sure the back-to-back of the new wheels was 14.5 mm (on most of them it was not). I placed a piece of masking tape over the underside of the buffers to protect them. If new buffers are used just cut the old ones off. I removed the tension lock coupler and the mounting (Xuron cutters or razor saw). I filed the remnants of the coupler mounting block smooth. There were two fine ridges just inboard of the wheel wells on the CO-OP wagons, I removed these.
I took the Parkside Dundas mounting block, removed the mounting feet on the top with Xurons and gently filed smooth. Do not remove any additional plastic from the block until the coupler height has been verified. I took the Bachmann coupler, removed the tension lock shaft and inserted the NEM pocket into the socket in the Dundas Parkside mounting block. They’re sided (flat one side, beveled the other). I had the beveled side visible (although I believe it should be the other way around). 

I inserted the Kadee coupler shaft into the NEM pocket. I put in the new wheels, took an elastic band, and located the coupler block and coupler under the end of the wagon using the elastic band around the wagon body, and checked for height using a Kadee HO coupler height gauge on a piece of scrap track. With the CO-OP wagon no additional removal of plastic from the Parkside Dundas mounting block was necessary. Other wagons (such as the Mainline Blaenavon wagon) may require additional removal. 

I scribed a center line and glued the Parkside Dundas coupler mounting block in place. I left a 1 mm space between the end of the NEM pocket and the edge of the buffer beam. See below for a schematic cross section diagram of the jig. 
Jig for setting the Bachmann NEM coupler pocket 1mm back from the edge of the buffer beam.

One mm gave a realistic distance between wagons without buffer lock using a combination of No. 17 and 18 couplers. This distance will need to be adjusted depending on the buffer shank length, the use of non-sprung or sprung buffers and the minimum radius of the track. I found that a No. 17 at both ends gave an inter-wagon body distance of ~14 mm. A No. 18 at both ends gives an inter-wagon body distance of ~18 mm. The combination of a No. 17 and a Kadee No. 18 gave a distance of ~16 mm, which looked just about right and worked with 36” radius curves. Adjust as required to avoid buffer-lock on larger or smaller radii. My current layout is based on a prototype with a ruling curve of 3000 feet, so I’ll be using No. 17’s.


2 No. 17 and 2 No. 19  Kadee NEM couplers. Much neater! Remove the magnetic pins if not using magnetic decoupling. 


Bachmann straight or cranked couplers can be used as the tension coupler is not used – you only want the pocket that fits in the Parkside Dundas mounting block. It may not be necessary to remove the feet on the Parkside Dundas coupler block with more modern stock that has real buffer beams. 

The cost per wagon worked out at approximately $3.50 CAN. A bit more expensive than using ‘ol reliable’ Kadee No. 5, but I now have the flexibility of using a  NEM 362 tension lock coupler, or the Kadee knuckle coupler, or both, and I don’t have to put the Kadee coupler box together! I also have the ability to adjust the distance over a 3 mm range to get stock close-coupled. 

These old wagons are a bit “light”, and additional weight improved their running. I used steel, not lead.

©Nigel Phillips 2013

©Nigel C. Phillips
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