The Baker Coupler

What is a "Baker coupler"?
Rather than trying to describe and explain John's couplers, I have asked those most familiar with them, including several veteran members of the Gorre Operators to help here. My thanks to each of them for their submissions.

Please note that many of these submissions originaly appeared in the Gorre and Daphetid Yahoo group which is an excellent source of G&D information. Some of these posts have been edited for continuity.

Links below will offer pop-up pictures of the couplers and other items.
Andy Sperandeo:

The Baker coupler consisted of a horizontal loop formed by a vertical strip of sheet metal, and a sheet metal hook with an extension similar to a Kadee "glad hand." The extension served as a contact point for mechanical uncoupling ramps. The vertical face of the loop acted as a buffer and the angled hook rode up over the loop of the next car for coupling.

As supplied, there was a fine wire spring to hold the hook down against the top of the loop. John Allen removed those from his couplers and let the hooks work by gravity alone. I had limited experience of using Bakers that still had their springs (one session on Whit Towers' Alturas & Lone Pine); I think John was right. They worked better unsprung. Both coupling and uncoupling were easier without the springs, and accidental uncouplings were rare.

By the way, I once heard John say that a locomotive without a working front coupler wasn't a locomotive as far as he was concerned.

Dave Cooper tells us:

Baker couplers permitted neither electromagnetic uncoupling nor "delayed action" like modern Kadee couplers. You had to uncouple manually!
John used a flat lever, called a spoon, that you slid under the lift pins and uncoupled manually when the car was at the desired place.

I never could convince John that that the Kadee couplers were better. His counter argument was that he had too many cars and engines that he would have to convert.

He was right!

Glenn Joesten added:

The hook rode up and over the edge of the loop when pushed together. There was no "delayed" uncoupling. John had ramps everywhere to uncouple. These were solenoid or lever operated on main tracks. All it took was a strip of acetate between the rails in an arch shape. Both hooks had to be raised, so careful placement of the couplers over the ramp was necessary.
Most of my time was at the east end of Port, but I do recall several pop-up ramps, both manual and electric. I particularly recall them because John had a "laugh box" that he connected to various uncouplers, and I usually found it when I was operating.

Darryl Huffman added his memory of John and the couplers:

When I asked John about Baker v. Kadee, he told me Kadee had offered to send both he and Whit Towers enough Kadee couplers for them to convert all their equipment for free. John said they told Kadee that if they sent Jack Work to change all their couplers for them, then they would convert.

He then stated, "Of course, if they had sent Jack Work, we wouldn't have let him change the couplers. We would have had him build trees for us instead."

Glenn Joesten offered a further explanation:

Darryl - I never heard the Jack Work story, but that does sound like John!

I don't think that the NMRA ever considered making the Kadee a standard, since there was a matter of a proprietary product involved. The "X2F" was developed by an NMRA committee, and rejected by the membership. It did become the "standard" of the train set industry because it was not protected by any patents.

I also recall some die-hards with the Mantua coupler.

I might add that there are a lot of "Reverse Bakers" out there. The Japanese had one called the "Kup-E-Z" (or something like that) that was a mirror image of the Baker. The offset in the loop went the opposite direction. Once, someone gave Allan Fenton a bunch of these; we fiddled with them and did manage to reverse them but it was too much trouble.

Until the original "Timesavers" were retired on Allan Fenton's death, we used Bakers on those in switching contests at PCR and some NMRA Nationals. The new ones used by PCR have Kadee couplers.

Speculation: had the fire not occurred, and the layout preserved, I would have been the live-in caretaker, and there would probably have been some equipment with Kadee couplers in use.

Rod Smith, the Yardmaster at Great Divide (1963-64):

As Dave has noted, operation with Baker couplers on the G&D was very smooth. In my opinion, it far exceeded even the current day operation with Kadees. There, I said it! While Bakers didn't look like any prototype coupler, they almost always coupled when they met, they rarely uncoupled accidentally (since two hooks had to be raised at the same time). They were easy to manually uncouple with just a brass strip to lift those simulated air hoses, and the clear plastic ramps John made where frequent uncoupling was needed, or beyond the reach from the aisle, were not very noticeable. John's ramps were easy to make and install. The plastic strip lay flat atop the ties when retracted. When a car, or string of cars, needed spotting, we just pushed them slightly beyond the ramp, pushed a button on the panel which activated a solenoid, thereby raising a plunger which caused the ramp to arch above railhead level, and pulled the car back over the raised ramp. As the couplers passed over the arch, the air hoses were pushed up, the hooks disengaged the loops and the engine proceeded while the cars stayed in place. There was no need for "slack" as with Kadees. Take a finger off the button and the ramp retracted below railhead height. In the Great Divide yard, each track had a ramp. All the freight yard ramps activated together from one button, and all the passenger tracks did the same. Since you would only be using one track at a time, this made good sense. At the ends of passing tracks, both tracks had ramps that acted together. Some spurs had multiple ramps for different industries, such as the long spur behind Austin Street at Great Divide.

Since we only used the ramps when we wanted to uncouple, there was no danger of false uncoupling while pulling over a ramp. Kadees suffer from this problem when slack occurs over a fixed magnet. One caution we had to be careful of, since the ramps actually extended above the railhead, was not to activate them under one of the track cleaning sliders, or under a pilot or gearbox of a locomotive. Doing so could cause a derailment. If one was careful to activate the ramp only when the air hoses were in immediate proximity, no problems occurred. We operated for weeks without any derailments. Usually it was operator error which caused a derailment, not equipment failure.

In looking at John's pictures, the Baker couplers are not very noticeable. Sure, I can see them, but that area of a car or locomotive is usually shaded and the coupler just fades into insignificance. They are invisible between coupled cars unless seen looking straight through, and then, seen from the side, they're not that much different from any other coupler, if noticed at all.

I understand the die for making Baker hooks was worn out by the late `50s. Whit Towers offered to let me have all his Bakers when he passed away. I seriously considered this offer, but decided not to take them since no additional ones would ever be available. Besides, the Kadee, with its better looks and magnetic activation has become the de facto standard, and had I used Bakers, my friends would have been unable to operate their equipment on my layout. I still think though, I would have had a better operating railroad and preserved a connection with two great model railroaders.

David Thomas offers us a view from the UK:

Actually, the Baker couplings do bear some resemblance to the "chopper" couplings used on several European narrow gauge railways. Curiously, the Baker couplers that appear in photos of John's rolling stock seem to be identical to the hook coupler that Fleischmann used in Europe before they adopted their "profi" coupling. A similar but slightly more obtrusive version of the fixed loop moving hook coupler adopted by Hornby and Bachmann are the de facto standard for proprietary 00 scale models in the UK. These are infinitely superior to the wretched fixed hook hinged loop type developed by Marklin that is the European NEM standard for couplers in HO (and HOm & HOe narrow gauge) which seems designed to discourage any operation beyond running trains round and round the layout.

(Editor: Here's a comparison photo of coupler types.)

Over here, where no exhibition is complete without at least one US-style switching layout, everyone modeling in the N. American idiom does seem to use Kadees with magnets though perhaps it's easier to keep everything aligned with the smaller amount of stock needed than for a basement empire so I don't blame John for sticking to his Bakers.

Another Glenn, Glenn Williams of Penacook, NH provides an interesting sidelight:

In the "Ain't that a coincidence" department, I belonged to the West Essex Model Railroad Club in Madison, NJ, 40 years ago. Shortly before I joined, they had converted over to Kadee couplers from Baker couplers.

The Bakers went to The Wizard of Monterey, who responded with thanks and a series of 4x6 pictures, which the club had framed and displayed proudly at the club entrance.

The club disbanded a few years after I moved to Connecticut. Where the pictures went, respondent knoweth not.


Copyright ©2006 Peter T. Prunka