Upgrading Couplers & Wheelsets

Discussion in 'General' started by trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017), Dec 9, 2015.

  1. trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017)

    trainchaser007 (Brandon Adams RIP 9/22/2017) Passed away September 22, 2017

    I'm interested in upgrading the Life-Life rolling stock from my childhood to knuckle couplers and metal wheelsets. I've been looking at Life-Like SceneMaster Magnetic Knuckle Couplers and Intermountain metal wheelsets.
    1. How well do Life-Like SceneMaster Magnetic Knuckle Couplers actually stay coupled?
    2. Do Intermountain metal wheelsets work in Life-Like trucks?
    3. If so, what size wheelsets do I need for Life-Like trucks (33" or 36")?
    - Brandon
  2. gstout

    gstout Member Frisco.org Supporter

    If it were me (and it is me since I am upgrading some stuff I "inherited" from a family member) I would stick with Kadee wheelsets and couplers. Especially with respect to the couplers, there are many imitations, but Kadees seem to work best. In particular, I would avoid the plastic couplers regardless of who manufactured them. For freight cars, you want 33" wheels. For passenger cars, 36" unless you are replacing wheels from old Rivarossi passenger cars. If so, you will need the smaller wheels to clear the simulated brake shoes molded into the trucks.

  3. meteor910

    meteor910 2009 Engineer of the Year Staff Member Frisco.org Supporter

    Brandon -
    I agree totally with Greg - stick with Kadee couplers. They offer a whole bunch of different styles designed to fit almost any car or locomotive, plus they have some good instruction sheets (see their web page or the Walthers catalog) to show you which style to use with different cars or locos. Plus, you quickly will be able to determine which to use for what. It's not rocket science. Get a Kadee coupler gauge to help you out.

    Regarding wheel sets, Kadee's are my standard, both the 33" and 36" size, but I also gladly use the Intermountain wheel sets. Intermountain has a version of their wheel with a narrow wheel tread that looks more prototypical, but you sacrifice some reliability of operation with them (at least on my trackwork!). Kadee also offers both rib-back and smooth-back wheels in both sizes (other wheel set producers do as well, but not Intermountain). The rib-back wheels are for older cars, the smooth back wheels are for more modern cars.

    Ozarktraveler likes this.
  4. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    I totally agree with my esteemed friends on the Kadee couplers.
    Kadee metal shank couplers are second to none, they are the most dependable coupler ever produced. However, I personally, use Kadee wheels to finish loading my gondolas with scrap wheels, no offense intended. Reboxx has the best wheel/axle combos that I have ever used, they also have different wheel widths as well as different axle lengths to fit almost any truck. Exactrail/Tangent models use some of these same wheels in their product line.
    You need to consider different axle lengths to keep the axles properly fitted, and keep the car centered on the rails as well as keeping side play to a minimum, thereby helping to keep couplers centered for better operation too.
    You can buy this truck finishing tool.
    The wheel fitment chart
    The tool will finish the truck axle taper to accommodate most axles tapers for the best performance. Not to beat up on Kadee wheels too much but their axles are plastic, as well as most trucks are plastic, bear in mind, similar composites dont make great wear/performance partners for an extended period of time. Metal axle to Plastic side frames are by far, the best performers for me. I have had to place derails or skates on sidings with minimal grades to keep cars from rolling onto the main track.

    As far as 33" wheels opposed to 36" wheels. It all depends on what the GRL (gross rail loading) or lbs per axle compared to the load limits of the rail car. Example, a 4 axle, 140,000 GRL car would likely have a 33" wheel set under them, a 4 axle 296,000 GRL car will have a 36" wheel set, passenger cars notwithstanding, as passenger cars will almost always have 36" wheel sets for a better/safer ride. As info use the "LD LMT" on the car to determine the GRL.

    Some multi platform stack cars have 40" wheels under them as well. Most modern cars nowadays have "36 1W WHLS", meaning 36" one wear wheels, or the wheels cant be turned on a lathe, only replaced. It is incredible what kind of load and abuse these wheels carry. Consider on the prototype, that every axle on a loaded train carries basically, the equivalent of a loaded tractor trailer, so you have a 128 car loaded coal/grain train for example, or 512 axles, minus the power, you have 512 loaded trucks or 20,000 trailing tons behind you, not counting the power, which usually is 400,000+ lb per loco. When you think about how many axles and wheels you have trailing the head end, and how many miles they go every week, it is kind of amazing, how the components perform. Yep them Timken folks are certainly worth their weight in Gold :)

    Please carry on....
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
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  5. meteor910

    meteor910 2009 Engineer of the Year Staff Member Frisco.org Supporter

    Amen! I yield to Tom's much greater experience with wheel sets. Other than on Exactrail/Tangent models, I've never used Reboxx wheels. Sounds like they have an impressive offering. Shows my lack of experience in operation of a layout (my "layout" is primitive). As I have often said, I'm not a model railroader, I'm a railroad modeler. I enjoy building the models. Tom has peaked my curiosity here - I'm going to look into Reboxx to understand what they offer in their product line. I've never had any trouble with Kadee's wheel sets, but they don't get much of a test here!

    Ozarktraveler likes this.
  6. Sirfoldalot

    Sirfoldalot Frisco.org Supporter Frisco.org Supporter

    wow, good stuff .. filing this one away.
  7. Friscotony

    Friscotony Member

    Warning----Be careful if you purchase a Kadee brand coupler gauge. They have 2 versions, one is all metal and this of course will lead to shorts on the track. The other version is not metal and will not short out the track.

    Tony LaLumia
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  8. klrwhizkid

    klrwhizkid Administrator Staff Member Administrator Frisco.org Supporter

    I am a fan of Intermountain wheelsets bought in bulk lots of 100. They will work in most plastic trucks, but I would recommend buying Micromark's Truck Tuning Tool #82838 for $19.95 to improve the fit of axles in the side frames regardless.
    Ozarktraveler likes this.
  9. meteor910

    meteor910 2009 Engineer of the Year Staff Member Frisco.org Supporter

    Tony - I don't think the Kadee coupler gauge is intended to be used on a layout on powered rails, but in the shop where you build rolling stock and locomotive kits, etc. I have a couple sections of Atlas track mounted at eye level in my shop, so I can set the car or loco on it to easily see if the coupler alignment is correct by mating each end of the model with the gauge. It checks coupler height and the clearance over the rails of the magnetic pin under the coupler. Since it is at eye level (when I'm sitting), I can quickly see if I need to raise (usually) or lower the car on its trucks to optimize coupler performance, or alter the bend in the pin, or change the coupler box or spring, etc.
    I've had my gauge for a hundred years (380-205), so I didn't even know they also had a plastic version (380-206). Thanks for pointing that out. But, why would it be on the layout? Once you come up to it it will couple to the car, and it won't move, so you would need to uncouple it.

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  10. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    I have used boxes of IM wheels as well but find they have around 1.015 long axles whereas many trucks need a longer axle to fit properly especially after the tool is used to bring the truck side frames into compliance. Also have noted that when bought in a big old bag of wheels most if not all have the very tip if the axles blunted a bit just by them banging into each other while in the bag. Now this would sound rather nit picky, but consider that blunting of the ends not only shortens the axle even more, but can leave the axles with an odd shaped axle tip. Remember these axles are only supposed to contact the very end (tip) of the axles to side frame, if you have an odd shaped tip, it could explain why some of the cars have a bit of a wobble when in operation. Call me crazy I know, but if you have some IM wheels that you got in a bag or box, run your fingernail along the length of the point and you will feel the bradding effect on the tips. If you look at them under a magnifier you can really see it. This is exactly why Reboxx sells their wheels in packaging where the tips are isolated from each other, the most common lengths of Reboxx axles for me have been, 1.020, 1.025, 1.030 in both 33" and 36" sets. IM also offers them in the same packaging, but don't seem to be too concerned with the axle tips. But neither are most purchasers :) Me thinks I may be a bit nuts.
    Many times upon inspection rigid truck side frames can have a twist or bow in them, but can be straightened by bending them until they retain a straight look when relaxed. Careful with some trucks though as they can be brittle. This can effect the rolling performance as well as explain some cars that just derail for no good reason sometimes.
    BTW I had no idea Kadee made a plastic gauge either! I needs me a couple.
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  11. geep07

    geep07 Member

    I agree with you on the Reboxx wheel sets, I like that you can choose axle widths for the application needed. I used them to replace the wheels on my IHC passenger cars and they roll flawlessly.

    Being nutty is okay!

    gjslsffan likes this.
  12. gstout

    gstout Member Frisco.org Supporter

    Regarding wheel size, remember HO scale cars do not have axle loadings in any meaningful sense. You simply want to make sure the new wheel is the same size as the old wheel or you may wind up with coupler mismatches.

    Last edited: Dec 12, 2015
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  13. gjslsffan

    gjslsffan Staff Member Staff Member

    Thanks John!! Been that way most of my life.

    Greg you are right about the wheel size, they can interfere with some cars, had that happen myself as well, good point. I have also used them with coupler height issues. Had a whole train of MDC coal cars that the couplers were too low with 33" so I used IM 36" the couplers matched right on. But ended up having to do some minor clearancing work for them to work right. They look better w 36" wheels but thats just IMHO lol. I enjoy trying to use the wheels that should be under the cars, but again I am nuts.
    Later products seem to be using more correct wheel sizes under them it seems too.
  14. William Jackson

    William Jackson Bill Jackson

    I have not used Reboxx wheel sets, the Wheel Tuner works real nice, I kinda wish it was a tad bit longer as I don't like bending the trucks too much to make contact with the other side. Person doesn't know how much it improves the rolling, just a small tuning makes big differences.
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  15. r c h

    r c h Ft Worth - Tulsa Engineer

    My only regret with Reboxx is they do not offer 28" or 38" wheelsets. The Intermountain 38" wheelsets I use on my five packer stack cars are fine, but their 28" wheels suffer from too short axles for the applications I've used, such as the Athearn Impack car.

    The Reboxx tool is one of the most important and valuable tools I own. I have some Walthers cars that were basically useless until I tuned the trucks with the Reboxx tool. They are all good runners now.
    gjslsffan likes this.
  16. Joe Lovett

    Joe Lovett Member

    Is there a truck turning tool for N scale? The Micro Mark tool specifies it is for HO only.

  17. Joe Lovett

    Joe Lovett Member

    Who manufactures good metal wheel sets for N scale. I have several Atlas metal sets but the flanges are too big and don't look right. I'm using Code 80 Peco track. Your help will be greatly appreciated.

  18. TAG1014 (Tom Galbraith RIP 7/15/2020)

    TAG1014 (Tom Galbraith RIP 7/15/2020) Passed Away July 15, 2020 Frisco.org Supporter

    Wheels of Time makes good trucks and wheelsets. I've also heard Fox Valley favorably mentioned.

    Tom G.
  19. Joe Lovett

    Joe Lovett Member

    Thank you Tom.


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