Ditching the Dummy

Ditching the Dummy

An Easy Broadway Limited C-16 Pilot and Coupler Replacement

By Ted Brandon/photos by the author

The dummy coupler at the front of my Broadway Limited On30 C-16 steam locomotive (Photo 1) drove me to distraction. It made impossible any realistic narrow gauge operations, where front couplers were used nearly as much as those on the tender. I wanted a functioning coupler up there.

dummy-01 dummy-02 dummy-03My first thought was to modify the existing pilot by carving a hole in it at HO coupler height and slipping in a Kadee. To do that properly would have meant taking the pilot with its deck off the loco. But a query to fellow On30 curmudgeon Allen Littlefield brought the bad news that the pilot’s removal in this way would necessitate lifting the cylinder block, in turn requiring separating the boiler and cab. “Be sure and save all those screws,” he warned, chortling into his beard. No way was I going to go there!

Then I looked at Bachmann’s replacement pilot assemblies, intended for their trusty On30 2-6-0, and my problem’s solution jumped out at me: Simply substitute the Bachmann pilot, complete with HO-height coupler, on the C-16! The pilot comes in two pieces, held together by tiny screws (Photo 2). When separated, this leaves the deck and a tube-type pilot, with a functioning magnetic coupler. At the back of the pilot is a thin cross bar.

When cleaned of projections, this will fit perfectly to the front of the BLI C-16 pilot end beam, once that is properly prepared. The C-16’s original BLI deck will remain in place, obviating the need to go through Allen’s boiler-and-cab calisthenics.

Conversion Steps

The pilot exchange is simple: 1. Cut off the dummy C-16 coupler and pilot; 2. Remove all projections from the C-16 end beam face; 3. Clean up the end beam’s face; 4. Clip off the projections on the Bachmann pilot (Part #29908) to make its cross bar smooth; 5. Trim the Bachmann pilot so it will fit; and 6. Glue the Bachmann pilot to the face of the C-16 end beam. This is a “One-Evening Project.” Are you ready?

dummy-04 dummy-05Procedure

STEP 1. Flip the coupler lifting bar on the C-16 pilot deck backwards to protect it from damage during the conversion. Wearing safety glasses, cut off the dummy coupler with a motor tool cutting disc (Photo 3). Make the cut close to the cross beam face, without touching it. Warning: while it is possible to cut close to the face of the end beam using a motor tool, there is great risk that it may “run away” and destroy one or both of the pilot steps. (If you do not have a motor tool, use a Xuron or similar clipping tool.)

You will want to save the C-16’s two pilot steps to go with the Bachmann pilot. Each has two braces; you’ll want to keep them intact. Carefully remove the pilot tubes only between the interior step braces (you’ll adapt the Bachmann pilot to accommodate those steps – they will look very good left in place). Use a Xuron or similar cutting tool (Photo 4). You’re left with the steps still mounted on the C-16 end beam.

dummy-06 dummy-07 dummy-08STEP 2. The C-16’s end beam needs to be smoothed between the step braces to accept the Bachmann pilot. The usual #11 Xacto blade comes immediately to mind, but from a safety point of view I much prefer one of the wider, less sharply pointed blades to carefully shave away the cast-on plastic rivets and pilot tube ends (Photo 5).

STEP 3. A flat file comes in handy for final smoothing of the end beam surface. Make sure that the surface is absolutely vertical, because final pilot positioning depends on it. Both the C-16 end beam and the new Bachmann pilot are made of a relatively soft plastic which lends itself to easy shaping with a sharp Xacto blade.

STEP 4. Disassemble the Bachmann pilot assembly with a very small Phillips screwdriver. Using a razor saw, a Xuron or similar clipping tool, trim away all the projections at the back of the Bachmann pilot and sand smooth (Photo 6).

STEP 5. Narrow the pilot to fit between the existing steps. Counting from the outside in, remove the outer three tubes on each side by cutting the pilot bar and the bottom V-shaped frame (Photo 7). Test-fit the Bachmann pilot to the C-16 end beam. The cross bar should fit snugly between the thin step braces and flush on the beam.

dummy-09 dummy-10 dummy-11STEP 6. Place the loco on a section of straight track. Apply a coat of plastic cement to the back of the new pilot. Set the Bachmann pilot assembly on a 1/16″-thick piece of wood and slide the pilot against the C-16’s end beam (Photo 8), making sure that the two mating surfaces make full contact. Leave the wood in place until glue drying is complete. The top edge of the new pilot must be flush with the C-16 end beam’s top (Photo 9). Because the 1/16″ wood shim was used to guide the new pilot, the working coupler will be level and at the correct height for switching operations.

When the glue is just setting, test the coupler height by gently coupling a standard HO-coupler-equipped car (See the lead photo at the beginning of this article). Make any height adjustment of the pilot at this time. Once the glue has dried on your project, flip the coupler lift bar on the pilot deck back down and you’re done! The new pilot and coupler give your C-16 an entirely new personality and use (Photo 10).

Operating Considerations

With a working coupler, the entire front end of a loco, from the lead driver axle to the coupler, acts as an up-and-down “lever.” The slightest humps or valleys in the track may cause the loco’s front coupler to be lifted or depressed enough to cause unintended uncoupling. Bachmann offers three types of replacement couplers to provide minor adjustments in coupler knuckle height – but good trackwork still remains the best preventative.

With curves of less than 18” radius, the new coupler may be limited by the slot in the pilot from swinging enough to couple properly. In fact, while running, the coupler may “lock up” and force either the coupled car or the engine itself off the curved track. Widening the coupler box slot will cure this problem, allowing the coupler free reign.

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This article was posted on: March 1, 2016