William Choate Gets No Credit for His Coupler Design

knuckle coupler, Pullen Park, Raleigh, NCFrom what I can remember of the story passed down my mother’s [Virginia’s] grandfather (I believe whose name was William Choate) as a child saw trains in the train yard. They were being pulled utilizing chains between the cargo-cars and even passenger carriages on the railroad. There were frequent enough breaks in the chains and a clanging when units hit each other as they slowed down that he thought up the idea of this type of gripping train-hitch, which obviated the major problems the usual intra-car chains produced.

anicoupler-1, courtesy of Railway TechnicalHow, when or if he tried to register the invention I don’t know. Or did he just share the idea with a train-yard engineer?  I have no idea but what was passed down to me is that the innovation was “stolen” from great-grandpa and he never received payment or recognition of its originality. That’s why many of the Duncans picked up the “inventive” character/genes, even to using them in the operating room.  After all, isn’t this a type of orthopedic “articulation”?

NB: According to Wikipedia and Railway Technical, link and pin couplers were used at the end of the 19th century, but required a railway worker to stand between the cars while coupling or uncoupling them. This resulted in frequent injuries. Instead, knuckle couplers facilitated a hitch without endangering workers. A Confederate officer from Alexandria, Virginia named Eli Janney patented his version in 1873 or 1879. Other knuckle couplers included the Tower, Sharon, Climax, Gould, Burns, Miller and perhaps one hundred more. The knuckle coupler is sometimes called a buckeye coupler for the buckeye state Ohio and its Ohio Brass Company, which first marketed the hitch. It’s also referred to as an MCB coupler for the Master Car Builders Association, the forerunner of the Association of American Railroads (1910). Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act in 1893 and chose the Janney coupler design from 8,000 patented versions to become the American standard. The Janney reduced coupling accidents from 11,000 in 1892 to 2,000 in 1902.

Steve’s memory of a story passed down to him as conveyed to Dawn Harrell (his daughter) on June 9, 2014

Can you add to the story? Please do. Write in the box below. (You may need to click “Leave a Reply” above to make the box, name, and address fields appear.)

  • Do you remember this story? Can you add to it?
  • Grandma Virginia Duncan was born in New York in the Bronx in 1899 to Ella Choate and Eugene Amos White. Ella’s father is William Choate. Can you share William’s dates?
  • Do you remember the actual name of Grandpa Choate’s version of this train hitch?

1 thought on “William Choate Gets No Credit for His Coupler Design

  1. Pingback: Music, Language, and the Inventive Streak | Eight Duncans

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