Carmer uncoupling levers

End view of DL&W 44317 on Pier 2 at Jersey City/Hoboken, NJ, ca. 1927. William B. Berry, Jr. photo from the NPS Steamtown collection

Uncoupling levers are found on all freight cars on North American rails. In my 1926 focus, these levers would pull a pin from the top of the coupler to allow the knuckle to open. One version that was common on many early freight cars were the Carmer uncoupling levers, as seen in the DL&W box car in the lead image. These were a two-part design with many variations. Let’s review some basics and installation of these details on a few HO scale box cars.

The Carmer design operated with a downward push to pull the uncoupling pin.

This close up illustrates the basic parts. There’s an operating lever, a pivot point, and a lift pin lever. The operating lever extends from a pivot point to the car side. To the right of the pivot, this lever has a hook that forces the lift pin lever upwards.

This drawing of a Carmer operating lever clarifies the hook to the right of the pivot that activates the lift pin lever.

Here’s the lift pin lever drawing. The funky horizontal plane shape is due to the pivot point set below the coupler. The force needs to move from the pivot to the top of the coupler to pull the pin. This drawing also shows the vertical plane view that sets this hardware apart from other versions. The lift pin lever must clear other objects on the end sill, mainly the vertical brake shaft and its support block.

Not all freight car end sill designs are the same. There were many operating levers and lift pin lever combinations designed for specific uses. The Pennsy installed these on many of their freight cars. In the previous drawings, the car classes are noted along the bottom edge. The G24 class were USRA composite gondolas while the X26 class were USRA single-sheathed box cars. We can apply this info across all railroads that were assigned these cars.

While the Pennsy was not assigned the USRA double-sheathed box cars, a comparison of prototype photos seems to indicate the two box cars used the same combination of Carmer designs.

Yarmouth Model Works photo

These are distinctive details that can be modeled using etched metal parts available from Yarmouth Model Works. Additionally, bending and usage guides are available as PDF downloads on the Yarmouth Model Works site. Part number YMW-403 has the lever combinations for the USRA box car and composite gondola applications. Review the usage guides on the Yarmouth website for additional applications.

I solder the etched metal parts onto a 0.020-inch diameter phosphor-bronze wire. A #78 drill bit is used to enlarge the pivot holes, which are close to size in most cases. Clean parts are very important for a quick, solid solder connection. I run a fine grit nail board across both sides of each etched metal part at the pivot hole and also on the ends of the wire. A cotton swab soaked in 91% Isopropyl alcohol removes any grit dust. Flux is applied sparingly to the parts before touching them with the solder and iron.

I use a wood clothes pin to hold the wire and provide a flattish spot for the parts to sit. Be sure to clamp the clothes pin in place. A toothpick is handy to hold things down in case of movement. With a clean, hot soldering iron, the parts are quickly attached. I leave a bit of the wire above the levers to ease the work. The excess is snipped away after the joint cools.

When the joint cools, I flip the wire to the other end and attach another set of Carmer parts. I use one piece of wire for two sets of the parts – one at each end. I usually produce a few of these at a time to upgrade several freight cars.

Some recent model kits include etched metal Carmer parts. I assembled these using the same methods. Here are the Carmer parts ready to install on a Westerfield Models C&NW box car. The kit has a resin part for the pivot point. It’s the grey spot on the end sill. Notice the pivot point here is just above the bottom of the sill.

Here’s the completed installation on the C&NW box car kit. Touch up is next!

Etched metal Carmer parts were included with the Speedwitch Media Pere Marquette automobile box car kits. In the above image, the car on the right has the raw appearance of the etched metal parts. The same work on the left has been touched up with burnt umber paint before the car color is brushed onto it. I prefer to add these details after the car has been painted and decaled.

USRA car applications

I have a number of USRA box cars that need Carmer uncoupling levers. Here’s a Tichy single-sheathed car wrapped in a paper towel and inserted into a foam beverage koozie to hold the model. The koozie is wedged into a kit box so the work stays upright to ease parts installation.

I use a block of 0.0100-inch square styrene about a quarter of an inch long. I use a #78 bit to drill a hole through the piece to mount the wire pivot for the levers. A small round collar is slipped over the wire as a spacer between the levers and the styrene block. I use a small piece from a Tichy brake set that is meant as a support for a vertical brake staff. I glue the styrene into place before applying CA to fix the wire in place.

I found the styrene mounting blocks I used were a bit too long and could interfere with the wheels on sharp curves. I used a chisel blade to angle the back of the block for clearance. I now cut the styrene into 3/16ths-inch long sections for the mounting piece.

Here’s a view of the Carmer installation on the end of an Accurail USRA double-sheathed box car. Notice the pivot sits lower and to the left of the brake staff support compared to installations on the C&NW and PM box cars earlier in this post.

Here are the ends of both USRA box car designs. The Carmer levers are the same combination but I seem to have bent the part wrong for the single-sheathed car.

Here are my recent kit builds with the two USRA cars that received the Carmer levers. The Canadian Pacific car at the far left does not have Carmer levers while the PM car to the right of it has a different handle and lever combination than the USRA cars.

Another common uncoupling hardware design was a simple rod with bends for a handle at the car side and a bend centered over the coupler to pull the pin. This was anchored along the end sill. A crew member would pull up on the handle, the rod would rotate, and the coupler pin would be pulled. The Canadian Pacific car in the above image has this design installed.


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3 thoughts on “Carmer uncoupling levers”

    1. Bud, at a point in the 1930s, uncoupling moved to a bottom pin pull on new freight cars and the uncoupling hardware became somewhat standardized for a couple of decades. As the older cars with the Carmer hardware were retired, the design slowly disappeared. Some lines replaced the Carmer hardware early with the rotating rod similar to what I installed on the Canadian Pacific car in this post. I think the NYC did that on all of their USRA freight cars. You can still find freight cars in museums with the Carmer hardware. The last time I visited the Cass Scenic Railroad, a couple of their excursion cars had Carmer uncoupling levers. – Eric H.

  1. Carmer uncoupling levers were supplied with the Westerfield B&O, O-27 gons. They were resin castings . Nice to know that Yarmouth makes them as a separate piece.

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