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Ask MR: When were knuckle couplers instituted?

By | November 26, 2020

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Question: What type of couplers should be used for various types of cars (freight, passenger, Railway Post Office, Express, etc.) for the era between 1890 and 1920? – Michael Prahl, Cedar Falls, Iowa

Answer: What kind of couplers you use isn’t dependent on the type or class of car; all classes of car had to be moved by the same set of locomotives, so these appliances were standard. And in the time you ask about, that standard was the Janney knuckle coupler. Eli Janney was awarded his patent in 1873, so you’d be fine to use any of today’s knuckle couplers on your turn-of-the-past-century rolling stock.

Though there might still be some link-and-pin couplers in use in the early part of the period you discuss, the Railroad Safety Appliance Act took effect in 1900, mandating automatic couplers and other safety equipment on all locomotives and rolling stock involved in interstate traffic. If you have an urge to model link-and-pins, you’ll either have to set your railroad prior to 1900 or model an isolated line with no car interchange, like an island railroad or a narrow gauge that interchanges by transloading only.

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