Installation Tips

This section will discuss and refer to many different companies, brand names, and manufactures. These entities are in no way affiliated with Prototype Couplers. Specific company, brand, and manufacturer names are provided as a service to current and potential Prototype Couplers customers. These names are trademarks of the respective entity. Commentary on product offerings from these entities may be given here, but ultimate suitability of the product for the modeler should be determined by the individual modeler.
Athearn Blue Box with Hook-Horn Coupler
Old Athearn blue box model with a dusty factory hook-horn coupler

Years ago, one of the first things a new model railroader learned to do was switch out couplers on their rolling stock. Factory models generally came with cheap plastic hook-horn couplers that left much to be desired in the areas of realism and operation. Serious modelers would remove those couplers and swap them out with Kadee couplers for vastly improved appearance and operation. Even though Kadee's innovative coupler design was (and arguably still is) the de facto standard for the model railroading hobby, manufacturers of rolling stock only very rarely included couplers that were even compatible with this de facto standard. And so, even novice modelers became very proficient at swapping factory couplers for the Kadee coupler. Kadee deserves a lot of credit here and Sergent Engineering/Prototype Couplers is always honoured to be compared (favorably or otherwise) with Kadee.

Kadee's patent on their coupler design ran out in 1997 and almost immediately, a flood of plastic clone couplers arrived on the scene. Although usually inferior to the original Kadee coupler, these clone couplers had the advantage of being cheap to manufacture. This meant that manufacturers of rolling stock could include a Kadee compatible coupler with their equipment almost as cheaply as they could supply the old hook-horn design. The rolling stock manufacturers did exactly that.

Once the manufacturers were supplying models with Kadee compatible couplers, the need to replace these with true Kadee couplers was reduced in many modelers eyes. This task simply didn't have the priority it used to, especially with the move to more and more ready-to-run models and fewer and fewer kits. The idea of disassembling a $5 model that you build from a kit to swap couplers is one thing. The idea of dissembling a $30 model that you bought already assembled is something quite different. Many modelers new to the hobby have never even replaced couplers on a piece of equipment and can't understand exactly why someone would want to. Many of these new modelers are discovering Sergent Engineering/Prototype Couplers couplers for the first time. Now they have a desire to swap couplers but might be scratching their head about how exactly to perform such a task.

The purpose of this section is twofold. First, it is meant to relieve any fears of those folks who have never swapped couplers. It's really not that hard as you'll see. Second, we'll try to cover some applications that are more than a simple drop-in replacement and provide some step by step instructions there as well. Every now and then we'll touch on how to improve a model in other ways as well.

The index below list some specific conversions. These are ordered from easy to more advanced and the conversions generally build on skills and techniques presented in previous conversions. Conversions for different offerings from the same manufacturer are usually very similar. Just click on the model to see the step-by-step conversion procedure.

Manufacturer Specific Model Coupler Type Difficulty Level Key Skill / Challenge New Tools
InterMountain/Tichy Single Sheathed Box Car Compatible Shank Super Easy How to install friction springs Screwdriver, hobby knife, cradle
Walthers Bay Window Caboose Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Roundhouse 36' Wood Box / Reefer Car Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Atlas 36' Wood Reefer Narrow Shank Super Easy Screw types for EN87 Couplers  
Atlas Type 20 Tank Car Compatible Shank (Type F) Super Easy    
Atlas U30C Locomotive Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Walthers Cement Covered Hopper Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Proto2000 Type 21 Tank Car Compatible Shank Super Easy Alternate method for friction spring installation  
Bowser 14 Panel Hopper Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Atlas 3560 CU FT Covered Hopper Compatible Shank Super Easy    
Atlas U30C Locomotive Narrow Shank Easy    
Athearn 40' Gondola (new model with diecast floor) Compatible Shank Easy Thinning shanks to deal with shallow coupler boxes Dial calipers, AFC assembly fixture, vise, file
Proto2000 Mather 40' Box Car Narrow Shank Easy Fitting narrow shank couplers where they don't really belong razor saw, pinvise, #55 drill
Accurail Outside Braced (O.B.)Box Car Compatible Shank Easy cutting steel weights, securing lids Hacksaw, Gorilla Glue
Accurail USRA 55-ton Hopper Compatible Shank Easy    
Roundhouse 36' Wood Box / Reefer Car (with WARPED floor!) Compatible Shank Moderate Warped floor, oversize coupler mounting post, and stripped coupler screw holes RM20 Tapered reamer
Athearn 40' Box car (old blue box style) Compatible Shank Moderate Steel coupler clips needle-nose pliars
InterMountain 1958 Cu Ft Covered Hopper Compatible Shank Moderate Replacing KD#78 couplers Modified X-acto #17 blades
Kato Kato Passenger Cars HT1R87A Moderate
Blackstone New High Side Gondola RNB87 Easy