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My experience with Lionel magnetically activated couplers has been positive since the 1960s. My experience has been just the opposite with HO spring couplers back in the mid-1970s. Obviously a lot has changed since then. Now in the 2020s, I'm trying to pick whether to stay in HO or move on up to O. The decision factors are space and money weighed against being able to reliably couple and uncouple hands-free. Reliable coupling/uncoupling operations are more important to me than cost and layout size.

If this is no-brainer decision, you can save me some testing time and cost associated with it. If I need to see it to believe it, I would like recommendations on some rolling freight and couplers to test specifically in HO scale. I can't afford to test Lionel Electro-Couplers unless I find something functional on feeBay.

My overall objective is to build a layout which allows for continuous running for the kids. It will travel through through several industrial areas with multiple sidings each. If I have enough room, two unrelated mainlines with at least one or two crossings between the two to add a little spice. I hope to work switching puzzles when the kids aren't around and possibly deconflict with mainline operations while doing so. I've been doing this for some time now on the simulator and I'm really hooked.

I'd love to go all-in on LIonel LC2 or Legacy, but the layout cost means a very slow build and a lot of moolah.

Thanks.
 

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there were function activated couplers on here a while back, but they needed a DCC decoder on the loco's to drive them, to keep costs in the three dollar range on locos' and this went up to over fifteen dollars on rolling stock because you needed a decoder
 

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My experience with Lionel magnetically activated couplers has been positive since the 1960s. My experience has been just the opposite with HO spring couplers back in the mid-1970s. Obviously a lot has changed since then. Now in the 2020s, I'm trying to pick whether to stay in HO or move on up to O. The decision factors are space and money weighed against being able to reliably couple and uncouple hands-free. Reliable coupling/uncoupling operations are more important to me than cost and layout size.

If this is no-brainer decision, you can save me some testing time and cost associated with it. If I need to see it to believe it, I would like recommendations on some rolling freight and couplers to test specifically in HO scale. I can't afford to test Lionel Electro-Couplers unless I find something functional on feeBay.

My overall objective is to build a layout which allows for continuous running for the kids. It will travel through through several industrial areas with multiple sidings each. If I have enough room, two unrelated mainlines with at least one or two crossings between the two to add a little spice. I hope to work switching puzzles when the kids aren't around and possibly deconflict with mainline operations while doing so. I've been doing this for some time now on the simulator and I'm really hooked.

I'd love to go all-in on LIonel LC2 or Legacy, but the layout cost means a very slow build and a lot of moolah.

Thanks.
jackpresley;

The Kadee couplers used either in HO-scale, or O-scale, should be quite reliable if installed carefully. I once saw a Kadee little demonstrator layout at a train show. Obviously the manufacturer would have fine-tuned everything to a fare thee well, but it was quite impressive. The operator continuously coupled, uncoupled, and pushed uncoupled cars into sidings, without re-coupling. It worked perfectly.

I don't care for the in-track permanent magnet uncouplers. There's too much likelihood of unplanned uncoupling with those, in my opinion. The same is true of their larger, buried, permanent magnet type, except if you use the hinge-mounted alternative. Though it uses a powerful permanent magnet, it is possible to turn the uncoupling function "ON" or "OFF", by raising or lowering the magnet. The electromagnetic uncouplers are OK, but costly, and can burn out if left on more than about 30 seconds.
Are the O-scale magnetic couplers you mentioned the old Lionel type where turning on an electromagnet in the track pulled a pin down and caused the coupler knuckle to actually open like a prototype coupler? I always thought those were pretty neat.

There are youtube videos showing DCC-controlled couplers that can be uncoupled anywhere on the layout. Usually, they are only installed on locomotives, since that's where the DCC decoder is normally located.
However, basic, no sound, decoders are dropping in price. It might be affordable to equip at least a few cars with decoders for uncoupling. They would also need metal wheels with wiper contacts, to receive their DCC commands.

One simple system uses one of those tiny pager/cell phone vibrator motors to open the coupler. The motor is not much bigger than a pencil eraser. It has a semi-circular weight attached to it's shaft, that was used to cause the vibration. The video showed a thread with one end glued to this weight, and the other end attached to the "glad hand" or "air hose" curved iron part of a Kadee coupler. Hit a function button on your DCC controller, the motor energises, pulls the thread, and the thread pulls the coupler open. Very neat system, which should be as reliable as turning a locomotive's headlight on or off with DCC. It does involve the cost of a decoder, the tiny motors (very cheap) and metal wheeled trucks with wipers added, for each car you want to uncouple. Money, time, and effort required, but it should be a workable and reliable system. One source for the motors is www.allelectronics.com

Good luck & Have Fun;

Traction Fan 🙂
 

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Kadee HO couplers are a standard in the scale. They are totally reliable,
but, as with any device with moving parts, they require TLC that includes
accurate mounting. Kadee offers a plastic coupler alignment device that
is mandatory if you are installing couplers. The coupler shank must be
free so the centering spring can do it's job. The tiny spring that closes
the knuckle should have a dab of glue at it's lower post to prevent
loss in event of a 'hard' coupling. Use a dry powder such
as graphite for coupler lubricant.

If Kadees are mounted correctly, and your track is smooth, you won't have any
accidental uncoupling.

Kadees uncouple by magnets...permanent...or electro. The new
super power magnets, mounted under SPUR tracks with a small
steel plate to enhance their power will dependably uncouple. You can
then utilize the Kadee 'delay' ability to push the car to it's 'spot'. The
permanent magnet uncouplers should NEVER be used in a main
line track. That's where you would use the Electro uncoupler. It
will operated ONLY when you push a button.

No matter what care you take to install and maintain the couplers
there will always be the need to uncouple at a spot where there
is no uncoupler. That's when the Hand Of God (HOG) goes on
duty. It is simply a stick of wood or plastic with a sharp flat
end. This is slipped into the coupler knuckles and twisted. The
couplers open...most of the time. It takes practice to get it right.

And a word about COUPLING. To be dependable, your cars must
be on a 'straight' alignment. Very seldom can you couple on a curve.

Don
 

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another approach beside electrically powering a magnet or rotating a magnet is to mechanically lower (e.g. push-rod, lever) a magnet to disable it.
 

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It's important to realize that insofar as couplers/uncouplers go, "O" scale and "HO" are two entirely different worlds. And as Kipling opined, "never the twain do meet".

That said, if you're using Kadee in HO scale, and the "uncoupling locations" are easily within reach, something like the Rix uncoupling tool can do the job without physically "lifting" one car to disengage the coupler...
 

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Well with o, assuming Lionel legacy of mth ...the couplers activate from the remotes. If you stick with used you be semi affordable. Of course mth just announced they are closing.

Then the track is ugly. I mean it is.

Ho gets you a lot better detail but it's fragile at cheaper cost. I mean you can buy really nice new stuff for a few hundred.

Anyway the track looks better and space is better.

It's small. The detail or much of it is lost without a magnifying glass.

It's DCC which has many merits but isn't quite so "packaged" as legacy for example.

But Lionel and mth haven't really done much new ... I mean a total new mold in years or so I gather from those guys.

While ho bubbles along.

Still remote activated couplers? No idea but suspect not, or kind of klunky solutions.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks for the opinions/advice. I'm going to try get some Kadee equipped freight and try it out.
 

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OP wrote:
"I'm going to try get some Kadee equipped freight and try it out."

What cars do you have RIGHT NOW?

Kadees are easy to install, but again, depends on what you have.
A 5-minute job in many or most cases.

The Kadees to use are the newer "whisker" design couplers, that don't require the centering spring.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
OP wrote:
"I'm going to try get some Kadee equipped freight and try it out."

What cars do you have RIGHT NOW?

Kadees are easy to install, but again, depends on what you have.
A 5-minute job in many or most cases.

The Kadees to use are the newer "whisker" design couplers, that don't require the centering spring.
I don't know what I have that is new. Just one or two newer cars and one new DCC locomotive. Everything is still in storage. All the rolling stock is 1970s era. If the new stuff doesn't have Kadee, I guess I'll have to convert the diesel locomotive. I hate converting anything to test out reliability since that puts my skills into the equation of reliability.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Are the O-scale magnetic couplers you mentioned the old Lionel type where turning on an electromagnet in the track pulled a pin down and caused the coupler knuckle to actually open like a prototype coupler?
Yes, exactly. Very neat.
 

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Yes, exactly. Very neat.
jackpresley;

I don't know that there is any really equivalent coupler in HO-scale, that is one that opens that same way. The nearest would be the Kadee coupler. Though Kadee, and its many imitators, are called "knuckle couplers" they don't have the same hinged knuckle action as those old Lionel couplers. To see the difference, try this. Hold your right hand out in front of you with the fingers curled about like you were holding a broom handle, but with your thumb up out of the way. Now hold your left hand out, with the fingers straight and the left hand right next to the right one.Your wrists should be touching each other. Your hands are now in approximately the shape of a coupler. Lionel couplers would pivot at your first set of knuckles, the ones closest to your fingernails. Kadee couplers don't pivot there at all. Instead, the two hands spread apart by pivoting at the wrists.
Both types of model couplers work quite well. The Lionels need a good deal of force to couple, the Kadees, much less.
I don't remember whether or not Lionel couplers would let you push a car into a siding without re-coupling. (It's been over 60 years since my Lionel layout!) Kadees definitely can let you push a car and not re-couple. Do you have any HO cars with the old "horn hook" X2F couplers? A pair of those might serve as good test beds for trying out converting to Kadees. Hundreds of modelers have converted their rolling stock to Kadee couplers, it's really not hard. As mentioned the newer "whisker spring" couplers are even easier than the redoutable #5s that have been a standard for decades. Hey, I'm 72 and I've assembled Z-scale couplers! HO & O scale couplers should be a lot easier than that! The photo shows another thing that will make it easier, a locomotive/car cradle. Mine is made of three pieces of scrap lumber and a piece of felt. The attached file mentions several special tools made by Kadee, to make assembling and mounting their couplers easier.

Good Luck & Have Fun;

Traction Fan :)
 

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Regarding HO scale uncoupling, perhaps someone else has experimented with this enough to offer some advice... I have seen folks use those silver magnets and laid them in a row to hide as track ties. I have a box of 2mm cube magnets to try and do this myself. From playing around I have laid out three rows of these on a small steel plate, with the N pole facing up on one side of the track and the S pole facing up on the other side. Now the magnets want to push away from each other when set up like this, so I will need to glue them to the steel for a permanent fixture, but this configuration seems to work reasonably well.

The problem I face is that while I can easily uncouple two cars this way, the 'delayed' uncoupling doesn't work. The couplers clearly are not being pulled over far enough in each direction to prevent re-coupling once they are past the magnets. The magnets seem strong enough, as they have no trouble yanking at the couplers, so I'm wondering if maybe the N and S facing groups are still too close together, if I need to add more rows to get a stronger field, if perhaps my steel plate needs to be thicker... There's just so many possibilities, perhaps someone can give me a nudge in the right direction?

And for @jackpresley, using permanent magnets it is actually pretty easy to get the Kadee couplers to come apart on a siding. If you're familiar with the old Tyco decoupler, it's the same principle: you get the couplers over the target location, then slow or stop the loco briefly so there is some slack on the couplers and they will pop apart. Then you can pull away with the rest of the train and leave the uncoupled cars sitting there. "Delayed" uncoupling (which is what I'm working on above) is a bit more fiddly but it actually positions the couplers in such a way that you can back into the uncoupled cars again, push them down the length of the spur to a given industry, and still pull away without that car reconnecting.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Bought a couple of very nice weathered HO freight cars with Kadee couplers. In the process of testing these couplers, it's obvious that old age is catching up with me. Since I'm starting construction from scratch, I think I'm going to avoid the inevitable and move on up to O. Thanks for all the inputs.
 

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Have you considered On30? It's basically narrow gauge in O scale, but uses HO track. The larger scale makes it easier to work with, but since it's narrow gauge you can get a lot more track into a smaller space. Sort of the best of both worlds. I've seen a lot of really fun On30 layouts at the local shows, so if you have any interest in steamers you might take a look before completely ditching any HO equipment you've already purchased.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
I considered it, but it really isn't the era I'm after. My HO stuff has a home if I don't use it. And I do have some O scale equipment.
 
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