Coupling Cars, “Give me a stretch”

Topic: Model Railroad Operations


So, how are your coupling skills?  Are you doing everything by the book?  Are you sure?

In the January issue of The Dispatcher’s Office*, professional rail Dan Sylvester writes, “When making a joint (coupling) the speed should not exceed 4 mph.  Stop and stretch the coupling to make sure the pin dropped.  If coupling to more than one car, stretch the entire track, make sure you’ve got the rear car before shoving the track.  This is especially important when switching without air.  When the engine stops, the cars won’t unless they are all coupled together.”  He goes on to explain in graphic detail what can happen if you don’t perform this safety check and things go wrong.

Stretching a connection after coupling is a common rail practice that we can and should incorporate in our model operations.  Not only does it add interest, it serves the same purpose as on the prototype.  If you scroll to the 2:07 mark of this YouTube video you can hear it in action.

*The Dispatcher’s Office is the quarterly publication of the Operations SIG.  At only seven bucks per year, membership is a great bargain.


Following the above post, professional railroader Barry Karlberg added,

“You brought up stretching the joint after coupling into a car or cut of cars in your latest blog.  Good!  There is also “give me some pin”, or “I need a pin” when uncoupling, that is when the couplers are stretched and the man on the ground can’t get the coupler pin to lift and cause the coupler to uncouple.  A rather common occurrence in real life railroading.  So the engineer then has to bunch the cars so the pin can be pulled.  I have been doing this on my model railroad as it helps me get my uncoupling tool between the coupler faces to uncouple the cars.

The other real life railroading coupling event that occurs on my model railroad is when coupling into a car, the couplers do not always match up, or mate.  One, or both couplers get pushed to the side.  In real life, the engineer must pull the engine ahead so there is a gap (50 feet if you are going by the rules) between the cars where the coupling is to take place to allow the conductor to straighten the couplers so they will mate.  Sometimes it takes more than one try to get everything lined up, especially on curved track.  The spring loaded couplers on my model cars need a slight push with my uncoupling tool to get them to line up during the joint.  A mismatched failed joint on the prototype occurs more than you would expect, especially on curved track.

On a model railroad it is so easy to just couple and uncouple the cars with the assistance of your hand, but think about how it is with real world size cars and locomotives the next time you switch some cars around on your layout.”