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peteski

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  02:58:05 AM  Show Profile
I just received Athearn Undec FP45 (nice loco, I'll try to do a review of it later). It must have been from the new batch as it came equipped with McHenry couplers. This is my first encounter with those couplers. When I took it out of the box and I noticed the couplers my first thought was "these couplers are HUGE!" I've seen few discussions about these couplers on this forum so I figured that I would post my findings to inform others about these new couplers.

This evaluation is strictly based on my visual observations as I currently have no means to test them on a layout. However I do have plenty of real-world experience with MT and Kato couplers. I also had some experience with Accumates. I am a member of Northeast N-Trak (where we run long trains on relatively rough trackage) and I also belong to couple of round-robin groups operating local layouts. For now I decided to visually compare several coupler brands I have in my collection. I'll be comparing Kato, MT, Accumate and McHenry couplers. This should give a good visual indication of the differences between those couplers. My coupler photos are in-scale to each other (within each photo). I wish that I also had a sample of MT Z-scale couplers at my disposal when I was doing this comparison (as many people seem to use them in N scale as close-to-scale couplers) but I didn't have any. These photos were taken on a stage with camera at the same fixed distance to each coupler being photographed and using the same settings for each photo. Then the photos were cropped and merged without any resizing.

First photo is a top view of these couplers. This is the view from which most people see their couplers and make a judgment of a coupler size and how similar they look to the prototype AAR couplers. I also included drawing of a real coupler but I really had no size reference (I have not found any web references which would give me some real dimensions of the AAR coupler). If I had those dimensions I could have made sure that I showed it in true N scale proportion to the other couplers. As it is shown now its size might be somewhat incorrect. But I put it there to compare the general shape of the couplers.



Here is a larger image to show more details:



Next is an overlay showing outlines of all the couplers. After many experiments trying to align them I decided to line them up by the base of their shanks. This shows that their sizes aren't as varied as they appear. But still the McHenry coupler is the bulkiest one and that makes it look quite "portly".



Next are profile views from both sides. Accumate seems a bit lower profile than the rest. McHenry has excellent detail on one side and a hideous spring on the other side! I never modeled in H0 so I'm not used H0 Kadee couplers with a similar spring so McHenry's spring looks to me totally out of place and unrealistic. Since the spring is fully exposed I also wonder how often it'll dislodge and get lost. On the bright side, it is a steel spring so a track cleaning car with a magnet will be able to pick up all the lost springs.



Next series of images shows the draft gear boxes and coupler parts. These show quality of molding.
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These images show that MT couplers have very crisply molded and flash-free parts. That is especially evident in the MT's draft gear box. Kato coupler parts are just as crisp as MT. Next in molding quality would be Accumate. Their molded edges are bit softer and surfaces are a bit rougher than MT or Kato. McHenry's draft gear box has lots of soft details and rounded edges. MT molded a nifty draft gear box cover latch into the screw sleeve. It works quite well. McHenry attempted a similar latch but the molding has soft edges and it doesn't latch the draft gear cover at all.

I'm surprised that in this day of modelers looking for couplers which are close to true scale size McHenry would manufacture such oversized looking couplers. Many people use MT Z-scale couplers to have a more close-to-scale coupler yet McHenry coupler is the largest N-Scale knuckle-coupler yet! I suspect that N scale McHenry couplers might be close to true scale size coupler for H0 scale. Maybe they are planning on also marketing this coupler to the H0 crowd?

Last item I would like to bring up is the centering springs. This is a bit difficult to evaluate without an uncoupling magnet but I can feel the spring tension with my finger so I can make an observation. I also have plenty of past uncoupling experience with all the couplers I covered except for McHenry. Some people don't really care about magnetic uncoupling because they manually uncouple their cars using some sort of mechanical uncoupling tool (like a wooden skewer). But some layouts I operate have industrial spurs out of reach and magnetic uncoupling is vital to enjoyable operation. Nothing is more frustrating than time wasted on unsuccessfully trying to magnetically uncouple a car while the fast clock is running!

In my experience MT couplers are the best ones to use when using magnetic uncoupling. That is especially true when they are lubricated with powdered graphite. I suspect that this is due to their well molded parts and the very soft copper-alloy springs.

Kato couplers have a similar spring but it's a lot stiffer. It is pretty much impossible to perform automatic magnetic uncoupling using Kato couplers. I seem to recall that even Kato states that they are not really capable of magnetic uncoupling.

Accumate uses plastic leaf centering springs molded to the coupler shank. In my experience those are much stiffer than the MT springs and thus they do not reliably uncouple over a magnet.

McHenry also uses plastic leaf springs molded to the coupler shank but those are only used for centering the shank. For unlocking the knuckle they use a method very similar to the one used in Kadee H0 couplers. Unlike other N scale knuckle couplers where the coupler is split horizontally for a scissor-like opening action, McHenry pivots the knuckle itself. It is pivoted on the uncoupling pin and held closed by a small steel spring. That spring seems a bit stiff to me for an uncoupling magnet to reliably open it. That in combination with the stiffer plastic shank-centering spring doesn't seem to me like it will uncouple reliably over a magnet.

That about covers everything. My evaluation shows to me that Kato couplers seem to be closest in shape and size to the 1:1 AAR couplers. McHenry's shape is somewhat reminiscent of the 1:1 coupler but it is too chunky and its body is way too long. MT coupler is oversize but not as much as McHenry, however its overall shape is not very similar to 1:1 coupler. Accumate to me looks most toy-like. Its shape is just plain strange. Lots of flat surfaces joined at odd angles.

If someone hasn't noticed by now, I have a strong bias towards Micro-Trains couplers. I think that I have valid reasons for this. MT couplers have the best quality molding (especially their couplers with reverse draft angle) and in my experience they seem most reliable. I think their reliability is due to that clean molding, close tolerances and the soft springs they use. They also have the largest assortment of coupler conversions of all the knuckle-coupler manufacturers. This makes it easy for me to find MT coupler to fit pretty much any N scale model. Because of all those facts I am willing to overlook the fact that it does not look like a 1:1 AAR coupler. This evaluation only further solidifies my opinion - MT couplers are the best out of all the currently available N scale knuckle-couplers.

I hope that some forum members will post their experiences with McHenry couplers here. That will make this evaluation much more complete. I would especially like to hear from people doing magnetic uncoupling.
Peteski

Country: USA | Posts: 3324

dkruse

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  08:11:26 AM  Show Profile  Visit dkruse's Homepage
Thank you for the extensive review. Very informative and interesting. MT slinky action puts it on the bottom of the list for me. It is disappointing that McHenry couplers are so much bigger. However, in order to see the couplers in the same detail as the pictures you provide, I have to put the coupler 4 inches from my eyes. My 52 year old eyes can only focus down to 10 inches and that's with glasses. From a distance, I can still see that the McHenry's are bigger, but its not as obvious as in the pictures above. I can see the slinky action from 10 feet away and I hate it. To me its the biggest flaw of an otherwise great scale. Especially for those who operate in the sense of building trains in yards, picking up and dropping off cars at industries, etc. I only have a few cars with McHenry's so I cannot give a proper evaluation yet. Couplers are a major weakness of N. They all have their flaws. I hoping either MT will re-engineer their couplers to eliminate the slink, or the McHenry's prove to be reliable, or some other manufacturer comes out with a great coupler. Maybe Fox Valley????? If there ever comes a time when one of the above comes to pass at a reasonable cost, I will be converting my entire roster.

Here's hoping!

Thanks again for the review. Well done.

Daryl


http://genevasub.blogspot.com

http://home.comcast.net/~dpkruse

Country: USA | Posts: 585 Go to Top of Page

asarge

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  08:34:51 AM  Show Profile  Visit asarge's Homepage
My Athearns with McHenry's perform well. I don't use magnetic uncoupling and never will so it's not an issue with me. In a train you can't tell the difference but they do couple well with MT and Accumate so I'm not changing them out.

I can certainly understand your bias toward MT. they have the most experience, but I think Mchenry's will do ok, especially when the prodeuce different shank lengths and begin selling them as a seperate part.


All I want is an AS616

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SkipFranandFun

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  08:39:02 AM  Show Profile
Peter,
Thank you for all the effort you have put into this evaluation. It is a fascinating read, and the pictures are very well done.

I too only have a few cars equipped with McHenry couplers, and am old enough to not be able to see the difference between couplers when on the layout. I will also watch for any operating problems.

Thanks again for your time spent on this project. I will definitely file this for future reference.

Skip



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peteski

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  10:29:22 AM  Show Profile
The MT slinky effect is the most noticeable on couplers that have the centering springs in the back of draft gear boxes. Unfortunately that includes the couplers in every truck mounted coupler and in the body mounted 1023/1025s. I see plenty of MT equipped long trains and I either don't see the slinky effect or it doesn't bother me that much.

I also agree that in a train the McHenry's portly size is not really objectionable or even visible. But looking at a McHenry coupler right in the open on a front of a loco (like my initial encounter with them on that FP45) makes them stand out like a sort thumb. Like I said, when I took that loco out of the box and I saw the coupler I went "Whoa! That thing is huge!". That was even without glasses which I use for close-up work. I guess everybody sees their N scale world differently.

I'm quite happy With MT couplers and I'm also very happy that other manufacturers embraced the knuckle couplers, replacing the old Rapido couplers. We should also be glad that they are all compatible.

Maybe McHenry will produce a Z scale coupler which might be just the right size for N scale. I suspect that this won't happen for a while (if ever). Also even if McHenry hangs around in N scale it will take them a long time to equal the number of coupler conversions available from MT.


Peteski

Country: USA | Posts: 3324 Go to Top of Page

inkaneer

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  10:37:22 AM  Show Profile
The McHenry's got very good reviews elsewhere. I would like to try them but so far they are MIA except on Athearn cars. They were to be available in bulk packs in January but thus far not even an announcement as to when they will be available.


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dkruse

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  10:45:26 AM  Show Profile  Visit dkruse's Homepage
quote:
Originally posted by peteski

The MT slinky effect is the most noticeable on couplers that have the centering springs in the back of draft gear boxes. Unfortunately that includes the couplers in every truck mounted coupler and in the body mounted 1023/1025s. I see plenty of MT equipped long trains and I either don't see the slinky effect or it doesn't bother me that much.





I agree that the slinky effect is not noticeable when a train is in motion. You can add a little friction on the last car's wheel sets and it will keep the entire train pulled out. Its when you break the train at a siding to drop off or pick up cars at an industry that the slinky effect rears its ugly head. So, if you are into realistic operations, its a problem.

Daryl


http://genevasub.blogspot.com

http://home.comcast.net/~dpkruse

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GRSJr

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  11:48:56 AM  Show Profile
Thank you for all the effort you have put into this evaluation. It is a fascinating read.However, the slinky effect is more devistating than the size differences.

I can't agree that the slinky effect is not noticeable when a train is in motion.
Try running over a decoupling magnet in the mainline with a long train and watch the caboose uncouple nearly every time. I hate putting drags on my cars just to prevent the slinky effect from uncoupling cars.

I think a really good N-scale coupler has yet to be made, although the body mounted Z-scale MT is close.

Ray



Ray Stilwell

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C855B

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  12:07:30 PM  Show Profile  Visit C855B's Homepage
Although obviously it's very difficult to evaluate objectively, one criterion I would like to see compared is unintended uncouplings on grades, curves and the transitions between. One of the advantages I see to the McHenry is the separate alignment and closure springs, representing a significant departure from the other designs. It would be nice if the visual bulk of the McHenry was reduced, which IMO is merely a factor of the lengthening of the body, because in overall appearance I think it has the best resemblance to 1:1.

I sent an e-mail query to Athearn's customer service about a month ago about the status, and received no response. I think the only way we're going to get an update is to corner them at one of the handful of train shows they attend.



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Brakie

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  12:16:49 PM  Show Profile
To date I have stopped switching out couplers to MTs..I am having good luck with the Accumates.

However,I do want to test the new McHenry coupler under noral layout conditions before I pass any judgement---good or bad.

There is no doubt we need a better coupler..

I also have a great distaste for the slinky action of the MTs.


Larry
Summerset Ry.

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Leo Bicknell

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  1:26:19 PM  Show Profile  Visit Leo Bicknell's Homepage
Back in Episode #8 I did a review of McHenry couplers...

http://blip.tv/file/1195193

I found that for magnetic uncoupling the McHenry actually worked better than Micro-Trains, of course I didn't do any funky graphite or adjusting....



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peteski

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  5:25:30 PM  Show Profile
I watched the video Leo (at least the part with uncoupling tries). I found it quite odd that MT couplers wouldn't uncouple over MT uncoupling ramp, either from each other or from a McHenry. Yet McHenry and Accumate functioned flawlessly over MT uncoupler. Very interesting... I wonder what the problem was since this is the genuine MT uncoupling system. It would have been curious to see what was the reason for the failure.

However even in your video I clearly saw how much bigger McHenry couplers are compared to MTs. They are also longer which puts more distance between cars. When they are coupled they look like a big blob with thin shanks on both sides. Sorry for fixating on this but that really bothers me.


Peteski

Country: USA | Posts: 3324 Go to Top of Page

SlkDiv

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  6:07:22 PM  Show Profile
One problem that I have found frustrating with the Micro Trains 1015 coupler is its random ability to uncouple. While the RDA version is better its still not a 100% fix.

On the other hand I have found the Accumates on my Atlas Locoís and my Athearn F45ís with the McHenry couplers to be really solid in staying coupled.

While I confess to never using the magnetic uncoupling feature I do want my Loco lashups to stay together, which is not always the case with the MT1015. --Brian




Country: Canada | Posts: 62 Go to Top of Page

inkaneer

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  7:21:12 PM  Show Profile
quote:
Originally posted by SlkDiv

One problem that I have found frustrating with the Micro Trains 1015 coupler is its random ability to uncouple. While the RDA version is better its still not a 100% fix.

On the other hand I have found the Accumates on my Atlas Locoís and my Athearn F45ís with the McHenry couplers to be really solid in staying coupled.



The fact that they sick out about 3-4 feet from the car and the cars couple with a 6-8 foot gap between doesn't bother you one bit does it?



[quote
]While I confess to never using the magnetic uncoupling feature I do want my Loco lashups to stay together, which is not always the case with the MT1015.
[quote]

Using the Unimate couplers between engines would not only solve that but make those babies snuggle up real close to one another just like the prototype. But frankly I have never had separatation between engines of 1015 or 2004 MTL couplers or Unimates for that matter. I have had Accumates self destruct.





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rschaffter

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  7:29:36 PM  Show Profile
quote:
Originally posted by inkaneer

The fact that they sick out about 3-4 feet from the car and the cars couple with a 6-8 foot gap between doesn't bother you one bit does it?



Accuamte couplers are the same dimension from the mount as an MTL 1015:



Some manufacturers mount them in trucks made for Rapido couplers, but that is an issue with the truck, not the coupler. There shouldn't be any difference on locomotives.


Cheers,
Rod Schaffter
--
C'mon in! Sit a spell...
http://z11.invisionfree.com/N_Scale_Talk/

On your Layout, do what you think is fun. If it doesn't work, fix it and learn from the experience so you will have fun next time. It's your Railroad.

Country: USA | Posts: 2441 Go to Top of Page

peteski

Posted - 2009 March 07 :  8:01:23 PM  Show Profile
quote:
Originally posted by SlkDiv

One problem that I have found frustrating with the Micro Trains 1015 coupler is its random ability to uncouple. While the RDA version is better its still not a 100% fix.

On the other hand I have found the Accumates on my Atlas Locoís and my Athearn F45ís with the McHenry couplers to be really solid in staying coupled.

While I confess to never using the magnetic uncoupling feature I do want my Loco lashups to stay together, which is not always the case with the MT1015. --Brian



Brian,
have you ever tried to investigate those "random" uncouplings? I ask because this type of issue is usually far from random. Are they always between locos? What type of locos besides F45?

I've seen (especially with long modern diesels that under tension the entire loco body (along with the body mounted coupler) raises or dips slightly on the chassis causing couplers to get out of alignment, slip and uncouple. It happened to locos on which their body shell loosely fits over their chassis. IIRC, those were usually Kato locos. On those locos you can easily move their body up and down while it is sitting on the track. This is usually more pronounced on the rear end of the loco (long hood).

To me most frustrating are Kato coupler unscheduled uncouplings. This happens (quite reliably actually) to passenger cars on certain curves under slack conditions. Their design is the culprit (even in their most recent version). The main issue is that the tab inside the knuckle is too shallow (that is clearly visible in my photos). That allows them to uncouple at a certain angle under slack. None of the other knuckle coupler brands have that problem because their knuckle tabs are larger. I even thought of starting a write-in campaign to have MT manufacture a drop-in MT coupler for Kato draft gear pockets but judging from reading the N scale forums people aren't as unhappy about Kato couplers as I am. I really think that if there was enough interest shown MT would produce such a conversion coupler (I discussed this with Eric Smith from MT.)


Peteski

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