Now, the logical thing to build after building an operating coal loader would be an  automatic coal unloader. I pondered this idea for many days, and scoured the internet for ideas. I found one interesting site that involved  turning a walthers rotary dumper kit into an operating model. It also had articles on building an operating coal loader, but that looked a little too complicated for me to tackle. Remember, this is my first layout. The site I am talking about is: This is an updated site, and does not have the article about the coal loader on it yet. I do not know if the owner is planning to add this article in the future or not. Anyway, back to my hopper unloader. I did find one other thing in my search across the internet. It was an old tyco operating hopper unloading set. I got it for 4.95 from ebay. This is exactly what I was thinking of building. It includes one special piece of track with a "gate" that triggers the moving doors on the bottom of tyco operating hoppers. So, whenever you pull your cars over the special piece of track, the doors are forced open and the coal spills out in a waterfall. It includes a trestle set to elevate the track and a container to put underneath of it to catch the coal. However, this is not very realisitc, so I cut a hole in my foam base and put the special piece of track over it. I then installed a plexiglass funnel underneath of it so that all of the coal falls down into one container, unseen after it leaves the hopper. However, there is one problem with the unloader. Due to the height of the gate, some brands of locomotives cannot go over it, othersie they get stranded on top of the gate and can't move. I only have one locomotive, and it is a Sante Fe diesel by Life-Like. I have not tried any other brands on the unloader, so I do not know how they would do, but from the pictures on the internet I am yet to find a brand that does not have the little blocks (besides Tyco) sticking out of the bottom of the trucks, which are the cause of the problem. There is some good news, though, there are 2 ways to fix this problem. The first one I have not tested but am confident in is to buy a Tyco locomotive. I ordered one used from ebay for around 15.00. I assume Tyco makes all of their products able to function together, and the pictures of the locomotive reveal that the little blocks that house the axle gears are not sticking out of the trucks. I will update my site as soon as I receive and test the locomotive. The second way to solve the problem is harder, but you can use your existing locomotive. All you have to do is take teh blocks that house the axles off. I used a dremel to carve them out since they're made of plastic. I was successful for the most part, but when I tried the second one I went a little too aggressively and I chipped a tooth off of one of the gears that drive the axles. My locomotive still worked, but it woudl stall, especially in reverse. So I am probably going to sell it for parts now, and use the Tyco locomotive I bought. So if you try solution number two be careful, and it should work.   Here are some pictures, including a picture of the "gate" that is part of the special track and opens the petals underneath the cars:

Here is a shot of the petals on the operating hoppers. They close themselves when right side up so the material only comes out when they are on the specia track with the gate:

Here is a video of the unloader in action. It is a little hard to see, but if you look really closely you can see the petal doors moving on the bottom of the hopper as it moves over the special track: 

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