By Bill Denton

Couplers in N scale are still probably not where they should be in terms of size and prototype appearance. I’m optimistic this will be corrected sometime in the future and hopefully during my lifetime. It remains one of N scales unholy trinity of scale giveaways in photos, along with rail size and diesel handrails. Many modelers have turned to using Z scale couplers for their more scale looks and I’m in agreement here. However, I have stopped short of adding them to all my equipment, mostly using them on engines and cabooses for photo purposes. They are compatible with the standard N scale sized couplers and operationally work just as well with one minor caveat. Some may find it more difficult to uncouple Z scale sized couplers with an uncoupling pick due to the smaller size. 

Comparison of N and Z scale coupler

The original N scale coupler is on the left while the Z coupler is on the right. I also cut off the trip pin and installed a BLMA brake hose.

Milwaukee Road modelers were blessed when Fox Valley Models came out with their plastic rib side bay window cabooses in several variations. I picked up a half dozen for myself and was really impressed. The only minor change I wanted to make right off the bat was to change out the large N scale coupler for a smaller Z scale version. I think this makes a big difference especially on smaller engines and cabooses because the larger couplers really tend to stand out on smaller sized models. I’m sure this will also be the case with the coming Transfer cabooses from Fox Valley as well.

Changing out the couplers on the Milwaukee cabooses turned out to be a snap. In a nut shell, the original coupler screw and coupler is removed, the molded in coupler box top on the frame needs to be cut away, followed by gluing on the new Z scale coupler. In this case, with the exposed porches of a caboose, I didn’t want to have a brass screw protrude into the porch. A contact type adhesive will work on the Delrin coupler box and will be plenty strong at the end of a train. You can follow along with the photos below to see the easy steps involved:

Original coupler removed

The first step is to remove the original coupler. This will leave part of the coupler box which is molded into the frame.

Coupler box removed

Carefully remove the remnants of the coupler box with a sharp hobby knife. Work slowly and gently to avoid breaking any fragile parts on the caboose.


Z scale coupler

Apply some glue to the new Z scale coupler with a toothpick. I used Barge cement but Walthers Goo or Pliobond will also work.

New coupler in place

Place the new coupler into position and allow the glue time to set up. Repeat on other end of caboose and you’re done!