Some time ago, I expressed interest in the Menard's 24-flatcar set, but missed out on the introductory pricing since I was still very much on the fence with them. On one hand, they had "roller-bearing" trucks, which you don't often see on traditional-size cars. On the other hand, they are "traditional size", where most of my purchases are scale-sized (I haven't seen fit to retire my non-scale equipment, though). After thinking it through multiple times, I decided that if the sale pricing made a reappearance, I would pull the trigger, if for no reason than the challenge of making their known-to-be-somewhat-faulty couplers function properly with each other and others.
And as you know, the sale pricing made a reappearance and I got a set, posting photos on the forum's Weekend Photo Fun somewherre in February.
Fast-forward to April, and I've finally cleared space on my test track to put it to use--after re-awakening my RailKing Big Boy. (my scale BB did not like the changes of elevation it found on two corners of the test track, but that project is for another day). After a few nights of fiddling with the flatcars' couplers--48 in all, I managed to get the entire train to complete a lap around the test track without derailing or uncoupling. Following are some observations and things I did to make the set run.
For this post, the captions reference the photo above them.
Some of the couplers had un-trimmed flash in the 'pocket' behind the knuckle. Ordinarily having a little extra material back there would help an incoming knuckle push the assembly in far enough to lock reliably, but there is another anomaly--the knuckle itself is a bit...fat. It's not very obvious in the pic above, so let's adjust the perspective.
Here is the Menard's coupler compared to a MTH RailKing coupler. Notice the difference in thickness of the respective knuckles. This pairing mates fairly easily when the MTH coupler is open. When the Menard's coupler is the (only) open one, it binds a little engaging the MTH owing to the width of its knuckle, but it still manages to slide in and latch. With two of the Menard's couplers, the opening isn't quite big enough to work, as you'll see below.
The first step to tuning these couplers is to remove the flash with hobby knife. In order to normalize the clearances behind the knuckles, a narrow half-round (needle?) file was used to file back the excess until it was mostly flush with the inner face of the coupler head.
This image summarizes the modifications I made. They were then test-mated with both knuckles open, and with one closed on either side. Also tested were their ability to slide up and down relative to one another. Once this test passed satisfactorily, repeat with the opposite ends. Modifying one pair of flatcars took about a commercial break's worth of time.
During the initial test runs, some of the cars would uncouple on transition joints over the lift-out section. Most of these were "weak" armatures that allowed the plunger to hang too low. This common flaw was were cured with small rubber bands intended for hair-braiding. Not so with this particular truck--upon closer examination, I found this peg of excess plastic where a metal disc should have been. Normally a metal disc would be placed over this pin and a hot tool would mash the pin, locking the disc in place. On this particular flat, it looks like the melt-the-pin step was missed. I mention it because I completely missed it while working on this car's couplers. You may or may not find one of these, but if you have one, it'll signal its presence soon enough.
I didn't bother looking for a thumbtack to stick in here since I'm not using uncoupling magnets, and simply cut the pin flush with the plunger.
Now the 24-car train should operate without issues. Granted, the cars still need to bang together with some force to lock their couplers--the plastic knuckle springs are a tad strong--but that's better than their not mating at all, or coupling so tight they cause derailments on curves. Menard's has since introduced an improved die-cast truck for its 2015 freight car offerings, but I have yet to get ahold of any cars equipped with them. It remains to be seen whether this flatcar "bulk pack" will ever be reissued, and if it does, I can't see it being equipped with diecast trucks. But stranger things have happened.
Once I have video of the train running, I'll embed a copy in this thread (it should be the first video of the set on YouTube as far as I can tell)
Edit: Actually I do have some of the boxcars with the premium trucks and they pre-date 2015. I just had not had the chance to take them out of their packaging.