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An easy coupler height fix for prewar American Flyer

So I picked up this oddball car at Marty’s Model Railroads a couple of weeks ago. It’s a Lionel/American Flyer hybrid: A Lionel 807 cattle car on a prewar American Flyer 8-wheel frame. It has the awful prewar Lionel latch coupler on one side and the oddball AF hook coupler (with the funny-shaped tab) on the other. It’s compatible with everyone else’s hook coupler, fortunately. The Lionel coupler is compatible with nothing.

It was intended as a conversion car, but it rides too high, so the Lionel coupler won’t connect with a Lionel car. Bummer.Marty and I came up with a couple of possible remedies. I could replace the Lionel coupler with one that has a longer shank. I could replace the Lionel coupler with one that attaches with a screw or rivet, and make a bearing with a piece of brass tube to lower the coupler, and attach all of it with a long bolt.

I came up with another solution that doesn’t require any disassembly of the car. That’s good, because these prewar cars weren’t intended to be disassembled, and generally you can only disassemble and reassemble once. Obviously, this car got its second disassembly and reassembly when it was put on the Flyer frame. I could probably get by with just removing the roof, but the paint’s in pretty good shape and I’d rather not mar it.

American Flyer copied Ives’ oversized wheels. I happened to have the car close to a 6-wheel Marx car, and noticed the difference the smaller Marx wheels made in the car height.

So I pulled out some spare Marx wheels and swapped them in for the Flyer wheels. As I suspected, the car started riding lower. It wasn’t quite a perfect match for the height of a Lionel, but it was close enough. The Lionel latch couplers have enough play in them to make a secure connection.

Of course, the height was no longer a perfect match for American Flyer either. But these couplers have lots of play in them too, and that oddball AF design gives a more secure connection than the more traditional tab-in-slot couplers used by everyone else, so the cars connect and stay connected there too.

Marx wheels are cheap, because the standard Marx wheel stayed in production for almost 40 years, and Marx sold millions of train sets. So lots of parts survive to this day.

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