The Dark Art of Micro-Trains Couplers

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For a few years now, I’ve been gradually descending into the morass of Micro-Trains coupler installations. This is not a journey for the faint of heart. There is much arcane knowledge to be acquired, and many pitfalls to be navigated.

This journey begins innocently enough. Here’s a locomotive of recent vintage, with couplers that aren’t performing up to expectations. What do you do? Upgrade it with Micro-Trains couplers, of course. Everybody does. Even the manufacturers know it. If it’s Atlas or Life-Like, a Micro-Trains 1015 should be a drop-in fit. If it’s Kato, a 2004 probably does the job. Micro-Trains sells both styles pre-assembled. Just remove the clip, yank the old coupler, slide in the new one, snap the clip back into place. Easy.

Deceptively easy.

Older or more unusual engines pose a greater challenge, but Micro-Trains has a coupler for the job, and with any luck, somebody’s posted pictures of the conversion online. With a little trimming, a 1023 fits into a Kato GG-1. The gaping hole in the pilot of an early Atlas RS-11 is nicely filled by the 1150 conversion. There may be some trimming or shimming to do, and MT’s conversion charts aren’t always correct, but something can be made to work. As a last resort, there’s always the 1128.

A successful Micro-Trains 1128 coupler installation. Yea!

A successful Micro-Trains 1128 coupler installation. Yea!

Or should I say, the dreaded 1128. The extremely clever, but fiendish, 1128. The push-your-sanity-to-the-limit 1128. This particular coupler is designed to fit into the bracket that originally held a Rapido coupler, so just about any old N scale rolling stock can be converted, provided you have the patience, and the eyesight. Even though Rapido couplers were an all-but-universal standard, each manufacturer made theirs a little differently. You might have to do a wee bit of trimming to get the 1128 to fit properly. It comes unassembled in five pieces, one of which is a coil spring smaller than a grain of rice. Once you’ve put it together, slip it carefully into the old bracket. Don’t lose the spring in the process. (Micro-Trains, to their credit, does include extra springs in the package.) After it’s in place, you’ll probably have to secure it with a dab of glue. If you’re careless, however, and glue gets into the coupler itself, it won’t work properly, and you’re sunk.

I haven’t done many 1128 installations. None of my ’80s-vintage N scale locomotives run well enough to be worth the hassle. The lone exception is my old Atlas C-Liner, one of those junkers with the vertical can motor. I swapped a dummy chassis under the shell, and installed 1128s. Sometimes I put it in a consist with my newer Life-Like C-Liners. The ol’ beast never ran better.

Oh, yeah—the numbers. Each coupler has two of them. Mention “1128” to a longtime N-scaler, and he’ll know exactly what you’re referring to. When it comes time to place the order, however, you’ll need to ask for an “001 30 012.” Luckily, there’s a cheat sheet for that.

There are also some tools (also made by Micro-Trains) to be acquired. The coupler-height gauge, as seen in the photo above, is a handy thing to have even if you don’t install your own couplers. The tweezers are a necessity. After assembling a number of couplers from teeny-tiny parts, I obtained the assembly jig, which has magically prevented me from needing to assemble any coupler that will fit into it. In the grand scheme of things, the tools are a modest investment, especially when you consider how important couplers are to a train. Without them, it’s just a bunch of loose cars.

In the course of my descent, I’ve picked up most of the common coupler types, and inherited a box full of the older conversions from Bill‘s collection. Amongst the more esoteric items in the box: the 1042 kit for the old Atlas 0-8-0, which contains an entire replacement pilot, and a two-wheel pilot truck. Apply the kit, and you have a Consolidation. It’s been years since I’ve seen an Atlas 0-8-0 in running condition, but I do have a Micro-Ace articulated in need of a good pilot…

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