Most of Wolverhampton’s great industries have now disappeared and very little remains to remind us of our wonderful industrial heritage. Many manufacturers are fondly remembered by their ex-employees and often their names crop up in conversation. One if these is the A.B.C. Coupler and Engineering Company Limited who had a sizeable factory in Park Lane, Fallings Park.

The Automatic Buffing Contact Coupler and Engineering Company (a public limited company) was formed on 3rd March 1904 as an agency that sub-contracted work to outside manufacturers and developed products that were made by outside companies under licence. ABC’s head office was at Queen Anne’s Chambers, Tothill Street, Westminster.

One of the first products was the automatic coupler that was invented and patented by J. T. Jepson. The patent application, number 25,511 is dated December 1905 and this was accepted on 16th August, 1906. 

J. T. Jepson's original design for an automatic coupler. The Railway Engineer, November 1906.

The invention consists of a pair of automatic couplers that are locked together by a shackle and a hook. 

There are two shackles that overlap when in the coupled position. The lower one is engaged over the hook of the opposite coupler and the upper shackle overlies the lower and secures it in its coupled position.

Uncoupling is achieved by raising the upper shackle into its inoperative position through a recess in the buffer.

When the upper shackle is raised, a tail lever on its lower surface lifts the lower shackle clear of the hook and the coupling is disengaged.

The automatic couplers were ideal for use on narrow gauge light railways and large numbers were sold to the British Colonies. By 1911 the ABC coupler had been adopted as the standard type on the 2ft.6inch gauge Bauchi Light Railway in Northern Nigeria and 4 locomotives and 55 vehicles using the couplers were constructed by order of the Crown Agents for the Colonies. At the same time the couplers were in use in Ceylon, Honduras and on the Kalka-Simla State Railway in India, which has gradients of 1 in 33 and curves of 120ft. radius.

One of the wagons built by the Leeds Forge Co. for the Kalka-Simla Railway showing the ABC coupler. These were identical to the standard type except that chains were used instead of locking bars. The Railway Engineer, July 1911.
The improved coupler with rotating disc hooks. The Railway Engineer, March 1912.
By 1912 the coupler had been greatly improved and continued to sell well, especially to railways that used centre link and pin couplings. The design was robust and simple with few moving parts.

It could automatically couple vehicles on straight or curved track and cope with height differences of 4 inches on standard gauge stock and from 2.5 to 3 inches on narrow gauge stock. 

The smaller size had a breaking strain of 50 tons, which increased from 65 to 70 tons with the standard size. The new design used disc hooks that were designed to open automatically during uncoupling. When vehicles are coupled the shackle rotates the disc hook into the locking position and is held by a spring-loaded locking bar. Uncoupling is simply achieved by pulling a chain or handle to disengage the locking bar.
A plan view of the new coupler. The Railway Engineer, March 1912.

The new coupler. The Railway Engineer, March 1912.

ABC's works in the late 1920s or early 1930s with Guy Motors in the background. Courtesy of Ken Foster.
The company opened its Park Lane factory in 1915 and by 1951 the site covered approximately four acres.

By 1919 a non-automatic coupling had been added to the product list, patent number 123,636. It consisted of a sliding link that engaged with a coupling link.

All types of railway coupling devices were manufactured at Park Lane including the standard British hook and shackle with a three-link chain, the “Instanter” link, an automatic mine car coupler designed for tipping cars, and various screw and shackle designs, although the company was best known for the ABC automatic couplers.

Other railway products manufactured under the ABC name included the “Lockyer” balanced regulator valve, buffers, by-pass valves, drawgears, main pistons for locomotives, and brake slack adjusters.

An advert from 1916.

Other railway components were manufactured at Park Lane under the “WOTA” (Wonder Of The Age) name. Wota Limited was a wholly owned subsidiary company that produced a large range of products including axle boxes, bearings, by-pass valves and regulators, some of which were manufactured under licence.

In 1939 the registered office moved from London to Wolverhampton. Sales were high and the company had an extensive export trade supplying railways in India, Pakistan, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda. During World War 2 this suffered because of trade restrictions, but once the war was over things soon recovered because of the vast amount of railway reconstruction work that took place at the time.

An advert from The Locomotive magazine, 15th December, 1927.

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