Years ago a member of the Rensselaer Model Railroad Society wrote an article about the "Green Dot Standard" that they had established for their freight car fleet. The goal was to have every car on the layout meet the "standard" which included metal wheels, Kadee couplers, cut levers, and other details that I've long forgotten. This concept came to mind as I was re-working some older freight cars recently. Now that the layout is being operated on a regular basis, having reliable equipment is imperative. And as I add new equipment or refurbish older cars, they must all meet the "JR Standard."
The JR Standard is named after Jim Rollwage, whose beautiful Denver Pacific line of the Union Pacific can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMUCKyocX-4. Jim was one of the first people to introduce me to operations, and I was amazed at how well his railroad ran. Everything runs smoothly, nothing derails (without operator help), the cars take little to no effort to couple together- in short, everything works just the way it is supposed to work. Operating on his layout is a joy- and it clearly showed me that one could have a layout that operates like this with a little work. Jim's secret is to repair anything that is wrong as soon as it turns up. If a coupler is a little low, the car comes off the layout and gets fixed. If there's a slight kink in the track, the tools come out and it gets repaired as soon as it's found. Over time, with this kind of effort, all of the problems get corrected and the layout begins to operate like it should.
Most of my freight car fleet was constructed with an eye toward detail versus operational performance. As a result, many cars had low couplers, wheels that wouldn't roll freely and other assorted maladies. Over the past year, every car has been pulled and put through the shop in order to make it sure it meets the JR Standard. Here's what is necessary to meet the standard:
1) Every coupler must be at the correct height and must operate freely.
2) Couplers must be lubricated with graphite.
3) All cars must have metal wheel sets.
4) All wheels must spin extremely freely in truck journals.
5) All wheels must be in gauge.
6) One truck on each car has little to no side to side play while the other has some more play in it.
7) Any car that is too light to track correctly gets more weight.
8) The treads on all wheels must be clean.
I've settled on Kadee wheel sets and #5 and #58 couplers for every car. I've heard enough about problems with mixing different coupler types and manufacturers to realize that I don't want to go down that path. Fortunately, I've been installing Kadee wheel sets and #5's from the start, so I didn't have to go back and retrofit these items. The primary issues have been coupler height and/or operation and truck bearings. A little spin with a truck tuner fixes the truck bearing issues, and coupler shims and/or washers on the bolsters have fixed all of the coupler height issues.
There's nothing more fun than running a long train across the entire railroad and having everything work exactly as it should. Switching is also a blast, and just about anything that has to do with operating the layout is a joy. For the first time since I got into this hobby over 30 years ago, actually running the trains is as much fun as building them!