Steam Loco Pocket Solutions

Steam locomotive pilot couplers present an interesting challenge for modelers. Perhaps nowhere else is a coupler so prominently displayed as mounted the on the pilot of a steam locomotive. Traditional knuckle couplers mounted to the front of the locomotive never seem to look right. In the past, modelers have always had to compromise in this regard. One could install a working coupler which was necessary for realistic operation, or one could install a dummy coupler which can be made to look more realistic at the sacrifice of realistic operation. Manufacturers of model steam locomotives have produced both examples of this compromise.

The photo below shows a typical model fitted with a traditional knuckle coupler. This particular model is a Spectrum 4-6-0. A typical prototype pilot coupler is also shown for comparison. I think you'll agree that the model is not a particularly good representation of the prototype in this area. An interesting fact is that most prototype steam locomotives have no shock absorbing draft gear for the front coupler. The prototype coupler has a very short shank with a pin that allows it to swing from side to side. The coupler pocket is very unlike the striker plate that might be found supporting the much longer coupler shank on the end of a freight car.

To further complicate the issue, many model locomotive coupler pockets are not electrically insulated. This is particularly true for brass and diecast steam engines. Unfortunately, the coupler pocket on the tender is almost always electrically connected to the opposite polarity of the one on the pilot. This means you can never doublehead engines of this design unless the couplers themselves are created from an insulating material such as plastic.

Sergent Engineering offers two solutions to this problem. The photo at the top of this page shows the ultimate - an operating scale size coupler in a scale size pocket. This photo shows a Sergent Engineering ES1P87 as applied to the pilot of a Spectrum 2-8-0. This particular locomotive has also been fitted with a new handrail and new cut lever and linkage formed from brass wire. The new hold-downs for the cut lever are Alan Gibson 4mm scale shoulderless handrail knobs. The ES1P87 kit includes a coupler with a modified shank that allows it to be pinned in the pocket just like the prototype. The pocket itself is high strength plastic to satisfy to electrical isolation requirement and very highly detailed. The pocket is screw mounted to the pilot beam by means of a 3/32" diameter post located on the back of the pocket.

Sergent Engineering's second solution to this problem is a bit more traditional. It makes use of the dummy coupler designed by Frank Glatzl and is ideal when the coupler pocket itself can not be easily replaced by a more prototypical one. The Glatzl coupler is plastic, which solves the electrical isolation problem. The coupler is also very easy to cut, carve, and drill to fit it to an existing coupler pocket. This coupler is a very closely scaled replica which mates perfectly with the Sergent Engineering couplers. The Glatzl coupler is actually a dummy coupler, but don't be discouraged because only one of the knuckles has to open to make a hitch or cut. As long as you only use these couplers on locomotive pilots, you'll never be operationally hindered because they aren't the fully operating version. (Coupling locomotives head-to-head would, of course, be a problem, but this was rarely done on the prototype -- at least not on purpose.)

Part # Description Price Status Buy Now
ES1P87 Steam Loco Coupler/Pocket Craftsman Kit $16.00 Out of Stock
GLTZ 12 Glatzl (Sergent Engineering Compatible) Dummy Couplers $5.00 Stock Item

Sharon style couplers are more appropriate for many steam engines. Items below will allow you to retrofit a Sergent Engineering Sharon style coupler to the front of your steam locomotive.

Part # Description Price Status Buy Now
RS1P87K Sharon Stub Shank Coupler

This kit includes parts for one stub shank coupler. A hole in the shank allows the coupler to be held in place with the included non-magnetic brass pin. No pocket is included (See below).

$4.00 Stock Item
AFRS Assembly Fixture for Sharon Stub Shank Couplers $8.00 Stock Item
RS2P87 Metal Pocket for Stub Shank Coupler

This pocket has a 3/32" round mounting post that is threaded 0-80 for flexible mounting options. As this part is metal, it is not electrically insulating.

$3.00 Stock Item
RS3P87 Plastic Pocket for Stub Shank Coupler

This pocket has a 3/32" round mounting post with a through hole for flexible mounting options. It is electrically insulating.

$6.00 Out of Stock