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Replacing Plastic Wheels and Plastic Couplers

Bendt seeks your help:

“Hi, I got a cheap job lot of old wagons, tank cars etc at a garage sale. The problem is being attached to the trucks they mostly have snap-in plastic wheels and plastic horn couplers. I tried converting one car but it was very fiddly. Am I wasting my time trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Should I just start over with new cars? Thoughts appreciated.”

Write and view COMMENTS below.

8 Responses to Replacing Plastic Wheels and Plastic Couplers

  • Craig Gaddysays:

    You’re not wasting time,just need a different angle on the issue. I have some old Tyco cars that were the same way. I replaced the old plastic wheels , and couplers with new steel wheels, and new style couplers. The plastic trucks were brittle from age, so i used a hair dryer to heat them a little, and it worked well. Where they snap into the car i used a flat shim washer, so it wasn’t so sloppy, because they will uncouple if any grade change isn’t about perfect. Hope this helps.

    • Brendtsays:

      That’s good to know it is worthwhile. Has given me the confidence to proceed. Thank you to you Craig and everyone who chipped in.

  • Herveysays:


    No, you are not wasting your time. I am not sure from your description what exactly you have on hand. It sounds like these cars have talgo trucks. This would be a plastic truck with plastic wheels and the “horn hook coupler” attached to the bolster. These are common on older train set cars. (I am assuming you are talking about HO scale).

    First, you have to decide if the wagons/cars are worth keeping. You may decide to snip/cut off steps and ladders that are way out of scale. These can be easily replaced with aftermarket parts that are more to scale. You will have to paint them though.

    Throw away the bolsters and wheels and couplers. If these were mounted to cars with a plastic pin you have a bit more work. Drill out the hole the pin was into a diameter of the plastic rod that is a slight bit bigger than the existing hole. glue a short piece of the rod in the drilled out hole. When the glue dries file the rod flat and even with the side of the hole you drilled. Next, you have to tap a hole in this piece of rod you just installed making sure the center of the tap is in line with the center of the car. Kadee sells a tap and die for 2-56 screws. Use that to prepare your plastic rod piece to receive a screw to hold a new truck to your car.

    You can purchase replacement trucks from numerous suppliers. I recommend you get solid one-piece trucks ( I use Tichy Train trucks they can be purchased in packages of 20). As for wheels, if you are planning to run these cars on a model railroad I suggest you purchase metal wheels. Again these can be purchased in bulk for a unit cost that works out to about $4.00 per car.

    As for the couplers, in these circumstances, you have to mount a coupler box dead center at each end of the car. If you are going to do this use Kadee parts and the appropriate couplers These can also be purchased in bulk.. You will probably need to purchase a package of Kadee fibre washers to properly raise the coupler above the railhead. These are placed between the truck and blter with the ruck screw holding them in place.

    So for $10-$15 per car and an hour or two of your time, you can turn a toy into a respectable model. I have done this with numerous cars on my layout and I run them along with craftsmen kits and to the untrained eye at 3 ft away you don’t notice them as they roll by.

    The other thing you have to do is make sure that the car is weighted as per NMRA Standards. This is critical to allow them to roll properly and not derail easily.

    Good luck.

    • Brendtsays:

      Hervey, I appreciate your thoughtful and helpful response.

  • Jim Myrhumsays:

    Seems the first two comments covered everything. I too am in the process of converting older rolling stock into very respectable cars and even painting some, just to perhaps make them stand out from plain. Very well worth the time and I have always like the rolling stock that was produce 20 – 30 years ago, plain but different. It is like “Dumpster Diving” I have one dealer I work with, who sells stuff no longer usable, which I fix, upgrade using Kadees and metal wheels and thus bring back to life. Keeps me busy!!!

  • phil johnsonsays:

    Depending on manufacture of cars, Kadee may have knuckle coupler conversion kits. Metal wheels are vastly superior to plastic wheels. The reliability of both the couplers and metal wheels are worth the time and effort.

  • skipduldsays:


  • Glennsays:

    What Craig and Hervey said is spot on. I have more rolling stock from the eighties than I have new. I have replaced all their wheels and couplers. I would add that you should first try tuning the trucks, with a truck tuner, before discarding. More often, then not, you can get acceptable performance doing that and replacing the plastic wheels with metal (nickel/silver) wheels. My favorite wheels are from Intermountain. If there isn’t too much slop in the axle journals, with the new wheels installed, and you can get the wheels to spin 8-10 seconds, you are golden. No need to replace the trucks. If you can’t get that performance then you can opt to get new trucks. Either way you will definitely need Kadee washers to get the couplers to the proper height. Buy both 0.010 and 0.015 washers. Also, buy the truck tuner because even new rolling stock should have the journals reamed. In my opinion Kadee couplers are the only option, YMMV. In the eighties I used Kadee No 5 couplers, unless I had an oddball problem. I have since switched to Kadee #148 whisker couplers and #242 snap together gear boxes. This combination is far less fiddly than using the No 5 and the metal centering spring, with two piece gear box. The #148 is practically bullet proof and I am in the process of removing all the No 5 couplers and the old gear boxes. I am always on the lookout for older rolling stock because what Hervey says is true, From 3 ft away you can’t tell. Oops, almost forgot. As a standard, for me, I always cut the coupler pins off. They do not look like hoses and very often are the reason rolling stock derail. And yes I have the pliers to adjust the pins but they are not worth the problems they can cause. You can decide down the road but it is now the first thing I do before installing a coupler. Glenn

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