IntroductionNolaTrains.com is operated by William Sossamon from New Orleans, Louisiana, who is an avid modeler with an interest in the Rhaetian Railway (RhB). Since discovering BEMO's H0-scale, meter-gauge models in 2010, William has been focusing on modeling the RhB. With a background in building solutions to technical problems and finding that certain aspects of the modeling experience were lacking, William set out to design parts that improve BEMO’s already fantastic locomotives and rolling stock.
Why the Rhaetian Railway?It's ironic, but I ended up becoming interested in a railway across the Atlantic ocean because of a railway steps outside my front door. I live in New Orleans, only a block away from the oldest street railway in the country, the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. The 900-series Perley Thomas streetcars are a working piece of history that provide transportation to hundreds of thousands each year and add charm to one of the most beautiful avenues in the country. It's only natural to model what you know. It turns out that the only company that produces a model of these famous streetcars is a company known for its outdoor garden trains -- Lehmann Gross Bahn (LGB) from Germany.
In 2008, excited to celebrate our first Christmas in a new house, I set out to find a train to go around the tree. One Google search led to another, and soon I was on eBay bidding on these streetcars from LGB. I had seen them before, in New Orleans’ City Park, but knew little about LGB or G-scale garden railways. I quickly bought an LGB #952 Perley Thomas streetcar and had it running under the tree in time for Christmas. But in searching through all of the items on eBay, I noticed a lot of this “RhB” stuff. I began reading and watching videos of the real thing, and quickly became fascinated with the railway. It struck a chord with me in the same way the streetcars outside my door do. The marvelous engineering that compliments the natural beauty of the landscape makes for one of the most interesting subjects for a model railroad. I was hooked. But there was a problem: G-scale is huge! I just didn’t have the space, plus the trains from LGB, while amazing in their own right, were a little too much “toy” and not enough “model” for me. Luckily, another German company, BEMO, makes some incredible H0-scale models of the RhB.
Sometime in 2010 I ordered my first BEMO model, “Felsberg,” a Ge 4/4 II of the Rhb. Since then my collection has grown to over two dozen locomotives and several passenger and freight cars. Being a tech guy, DCC was a big draw. It was simple enough to install decoders in even the smallest shunting locomotives. Fortunately the locomotives being produced now ship with PC boards ready to fit decoders, and some even accommodate speakers for adding sound. However there’s one thing that baffles me about BEMO trains: the couplers don’t couple!
The ProblemThe hook-and-loop style coupler that comes on all BEMO rolling stock is so finicky that I often keep a scribe or small screw driver handy to pry up the loops on the cars I’m trying to couple or decouple. It’s so frustrating to bump two cars into each other only to have the metal loops hit one another and prevent either latching onto the hook of the opposite car. This takes a lot away from realistic operation and makes shunting scenarios impossible. I know the real RhB requires a person to stand between two cars to couple and decouple them, but that doesn’t translate to 1/87 scale! Besides, the hook-and-loop coupler is totally unrealistic looking, so why are we using it?
The SolutionThe answer to this problem has been around for quite a while in the Kadee knuckle coupler. It's not a perfect solution asthetically, but I think it's a step up. Plus, it’s standard on pretty much all American stock and has been proven to work well over the course of many years. The problem with implementing knuckle couplers on BEMO stock is that in order to attach a different coupler you have to permanently modify the models, i.e., cut, drill, glue, or otherwise alter. First, let me say that I’m not a purist collector that will only display my locomotives on a shelf so that they show no wear. I want to install decoders, paint and add the detail parts, and run the locomotives on a layout, but the solutions for coupling are messy, time consuming, and do lots of damage to the rolling stock. So with the aide of emerging rapid manufacturing technologies, I’ve started designing and producing parts that will solve problems like coupling without permanently modifying the model. Quickly swap out a part, and you have a Kadee coupler ready to go. I'll provide more information as I begin to test the parts I've designed. Come back often or subscribe to this blog to see videos and learn about new products as they become available. I appreciate any feedback you provide and would love to hear about your ideas on other problems you've encountered along the way.