Please Help A Noobie

A couple of questions, if I may.
I got a HO train set for Xmas. It is an Athearn "Iron Horse" (if this matters). I'm a senior and I've wanted to get into this for a long time and
now I have the time.
First, there are two cars that won't stay coupled. The locomotive and the rest of the cars are just fine. My uneducated guess is that the couplers on these two cars need replacing. Is there a brand of couplers that are better than others? Should I go magnetic? If I go magnetic, do I have to replace all of the couplers in the set? I was also given the big Walthers "Reference Book" which after looking in the couplers section, confused me big-time.
Second, I want to do a larger layout. The set came with the Bachmann E-Z track. Will it be a mistake to do the larger layout with this track?
Thanks is advance for any help or suggestions.
John
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John Simpson wrote:

Couple of things. Check the coupler height. All couplers are supposed to be at the same height off the rail. If one coupler is high and the other low, they will uncouple accidently. If the height is off, a #6 washer under the trucks will raise the low coupler. You also want to make sure the magnetic gladhands are not dragging on the track, especially at turnouts or crossovers. Check the metal snap on coupler box lids. They need to be firmly in place. Sometimes they are not seated all the way, and occasionally they will pop off in the damnedest places. If they are loose you can bend them with pliers to make them fit better.
According to the instruction sheets packed with my Christmas Athearn blue box kits, all Athearn cars have been equipped with Bachman EZ mate couplers since 1998. Since it is now 2006, you ought to have EZmate magnetic knuckle couplers (a two piece design with a moving knuckle) on your train. The EZmate coupler knuckles are held closed by a plastic spring finger. This finger is easily bent or broken in which case coupler replacement is required.
Is there a brand of couplers that are better

Kadee is the name in HO knuckle couplers. Kadee invented the automatic coupler back in the '50s and has been making them ever since. They are all metal with coil springs to hold the knuckle closed and phosphor bronze centering springs in the coupler boxes. Kadee makes a zillion different sizes to fit everything every made. A Kadee #5 will fit just about any freight car, the zillion other types fit locomotives and passenger cars. Your big Walther's book will have a chart listing the proper Kadee coupler for every piece of rolling stock in the world. For locomotives I go to the trouble of looking up the proper coupler in the book (or on the web). For ordinary body mount freight cars I just install a #5 and they always fit. All the other knuckle couplers will intermate with Kadee couplers. Last time I bought couplers the Kadee's cost no more than the clones so I buy Kadees.
Should I go magnetic? If I go magnetic, do I have to replace

Go magnetic? All the knuckle couplers are magnetic. The glad hand hanging under the coupler will pull the knuckles open by mangetic force when the train is stopped over a magnetic uncoupler set into the track.
I was also given the big Walthers

Are you thinking of building a bench and doing a permanent layout or are you still enjoying carpet running? For carpet running, the EZtrack offers a secure track coupling system and gets the rail up off the ground a bit which cuts down on the lint and fluff going into the moving parts. For a permanent layout I favor the plain "Snap Track" (rail and plastic ties, no molded roadbed), although the Bachmann track will work.
Good luck and have fun.
David Starr
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The couplers in question probably need adjusting (or lubrication) and probably don't need replacing.
All of kuckle couplier are interoperable. If you need to replace a defective coupler, you can replace it with any of the three-four available brands and it will work with the rest of your cars (and any cars you get in the future). The only issue is shank compatibity, and this pretty much relates to the draft gear (coupler 'box' and related bits and pieces (springs, screws, etc.) on *some* cars (see below).
Kaydee makes the 'best' couplers and are the most costly. They are metal and use metal springs (and sometimes the knuckle springs pop out and are instantly transported to the Land Of The Lost (generally never to return). The other brands are plastic and use 'plastic' springs -- much cheaper, but subject to their own set of failure modes.
Don't worry too much about the couplers section of the Walters Big Book. Most of it relates to the 'special cases'. *Most* regular cars (esp. Athearns) take Kaydee #5 or the standard McHenery coupler. Getting a 'handfull' of these as a base set of replacements and/or for coupler upgrades (in case you aquire some older cars with horn hook couplers, like at a swap meet or a tag sale) is a good idea. Something to 'seed' your workbench's 'parts supply'... Locomotives and some special cars require other couplers for various reasons, generally because the draft gear is higher or lower or has some special characteristics -- when you get one of these either with horn hook couplers or have one needing repair, you'll need to check the couplers section of the Walters Big Book and might need to 'special order' the special couplers you'll need.

No. Just be sure to do it on a proper *flat* surface (the living room rug is probably a bad idea for lots of reasons). A sheet of plywood (old school) properly supported will work as will a sheet of 2" foam insulation (new school). The foam insulation is lighter and is easier to work with, partitularly if you are interested in 'digging' out rivers and lakes. And additional pieces of foam can be used for making mountains.
If you start with Bachmann E-Z track and want to expand, you'll need to get more Bachmann E-Z track. Different brands of track+plastic 'ballast/roadbed' are not intercompatable with each other.

--
Robert Heller -- 978-544-6933
Deepwoods Software -- Linux Installation and Administration
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Robert Heller wrote:

How come nobody's mentioned Sergent?
-- It's turtles, all the way down
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While Sergents are scale and very good they are not inchangeable with the magnatic type such as Kadee.
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I want to thank all for the very informative replies. It was a big help. I think I'm going to stick with the E-Z track, at least for now, and 1/2" plywood in an L shape. I've gotta get the layout off the floor soon to prevent Godzilla-The-Orange-Kitten from stalking and attacking the train.
I don't want to be a pain in the shorts, but a couple of more questions then I promise I'll go away for a while.
I keep seeing "code 83" and "code 100" in reference to track. Could someone please explain the difference.
And, when I add to the rolling stock, what is the best brand (other than brass)? Looking at the "Big Book" leaves one with a bunch of choices, and I want to do it right the first time, if possible.
Thanks again.
John
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please explain the difference.<
Rail height. code 83=.083 and code 100=.100. Generally for HO scale code 100 is to large and code 83 is about right. This you can worry about if or when this becomes a serious hobby for you. The two are not inchangeable without some amount of work at the connection points.
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Thank you Jon. That's certainly easy enough to remember and it even makes sense!
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The 'code' is the rail height in .001 inches. Code 83 track is .083" tall, that is the top of the rail is .083" above the ties. Code 100 track is .100" tall.
Code 83 is closer to prototypical size. Code 100 is the common size for various brands of sectional or snap track (such as the Bachmann E-Z). Code 100 is 'oversized' WRT prototypical scale.

Athearn makes reasonably good quality rolling stock for a good price. Walthers is also good. Some Life-Like is OK as well. Many of the other brands are (as you probably noticed) rather expensive and others are very cheap (some of the really cheap stuff is somewhat junky and some have poor detail, etc.). Some of the cheaper brands can be 'fixed up' with after market details and by 'upgrading' things like trucks, wheels, and couplers. There are basically two aspects: how well does the car operate? And does it look right? The former is mostly a matter of the wheels, trucks, and couplers. The latter is a matter of paint colors, decals, and details. It is possible to start with a 'cheaper' car and replace parts or add parts or repaint it, etc. to bring it 'up to spec'. It also depends: do you care if the number of rivits (and their placement) is correct or do you care if the car derails every three inches? And is it the type of car you need for your 'operation'?
They are all interoperable, so it is mostly a matter of cost and quality. Not all companies make all cars in all roadnames. OTOH, one can re-paint or kitbash to get what you want cheaper that spending big bucks.

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Robert Heller -- 978-544-6933
Deepwoods Software -- Linux Installation and Administration
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-- Contract Programming: C/C++, Tcl/Tk

Again, I learn. Thanks!
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