I'll say I have the modern versions (from about 20 years ago - don't think the design has changed a lot since those), and it is true they can be finicky. Particularly the unloader and the spring loaded "gates" that are used to pull the culverts off the magnet so they can roll down the ramp.
The big thing that drew my eye in your post was you are considering this for a Super-O Display type layout. I really have to imagine for something like that, you would want items that look correct for the Post-War period, would you not?
These modern versions in addition to operating differently, have major physical appearance differences. They do have very close looking design for the structure, but the use of can motors that are mounted to the piece that moves back and forth on the beam are an obvious eyesore when compared to the PW vibration motor mechanisms that were mostly hidden under the base.
So each piece has a large grey plastic box on the beam for loading/unloading. There is also a little man holding what is supposed to be a control box with a wire running to the motor assembly on the beam. This was Lionel's creative way to provide power for the motors.
For the loader, this box houses only one motor since all that has to happen is a grab of a pipe and then a drop in a gondola. It's still a big cylindrical grey plastic thing hanging on the beam though. Would look very out of place in company with a bunch of PW items.
For the unloader, this box is even larger, as there are 2 motors. One for moving back and forth on the beam, and one to raise/lower the magnet to grab the pipes from the gondola car.
I've never worked on PW versions personally (and admittedly, in general I hate vibrotors for most things ), but many people can get the PW versions to work reliably. I suspect they are a better fit for you here, assuming I'm right on your general "look" for your display layout.