What is Free-mo?

The latest in HO scale modular model railroading

The Free-mo Concept: San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Club at San Rafael, CA in February 1996 at the Pacific Coast Region Convention.

Free-mo was developed with the idea that a set of standards focusing mainly on module endplates would enable faithful modeling of prototype trackplans and operations in a modular environment. The length and track configuration of a Free-mo module or module set is up to the modeler. Free-mo takes the boredom out of running trains monotonously around a double or even a triple track mainline. With Free-mo, less is more.

Free-mo operates like a permanent or sectional layout but still retains its modularity (Free-mo is actually more modular then existing double track modules). Free-mo layouts are operated with a single track mainline in a point to loop, loop to loop, or point to point. Layout sizes can vary to any size conceivable.

The Free-mo mainline is centered on a two foot end so modules can be inverted 180 degrees and still mate up to the adjacent module without modification to wiring or track. The Free-mo mainline also takes advantage of stronger industry support of code 83 rail.

Free-mo was developed with the idea that a set of standards focusing mainly on module endplates would enable faithful modeling of prototype trackplans and operations in a modular environment. The standards just mandate the ends where modules connect together, leaving the length and track configuration up to the modeler. This in turn yields extremely flexible standards that work! For example, if you want to build a module that is 5 feet 7 and 3/4 inches long with an angle of 19 degrees and a 2% grade, you can do it with Free-mo!

Free-mo enables the modeler's creativity to shine through their modules. No longer are modelers confined to fixed-length modules of 4, 6, or 8 feet long. They may build a module to their own needs and dreams.

 

The Free-mo Philosophy

On the official Free-mo website, there is the quote "More than Just a Standard" up there at the top of each page. Hopefully this message will help provide some details behind this catchphrase.

As I had a hand in developing this site, and in the Free-mo Standard, I'll try to explain.
The Free-mo standard is just a PART of what Free-mo is. As with the field of law, there is the law itself, and then there is the spirit or intent behind what the law tries to regulate. With Free-mo, we have the standard, and then the philosophy or spirit behind the standard.

The majority of the Free-mo Standards specification as we know it is the physical standard itself - track/benchwork specifications and wiring/connector specs - to ensure that we have seamless interoperability between modules not only within ONE group, but between different groups as well.

The Free-mo standard also tries in part to put some quantifiable measures on what essentially is the Free-mo philosophy.  Examples of this include: maximum rail size (S3.10), minimum turnout size (S3.8), and scenery (S6.3).

Some have "bashed" the standards personnel on saying "well, hey.. you can't put a measure/caliper/voltmeter/whatever" on what is prototypical and what is not.

They are CORRECT. However, the SPIRIT and PHILOSOPHY behind Free-mo is that we are here to "provide a platform for prototype modeling in a flexible, modular environment." With Free-mo, we try to build our modules whose trackwork and scenery reflects prototype practices as much as possible. We are here to build plausible/BELIEVABLE scenes that are realistic, and provide an environment in which we can choose to operate trains in a realistic fashion.

We already summarize this Spirit and Philosophy behind Free-mo in the written standard and in the introductory text on the Free-mo website.

Quoting the standard: www.free-mo.org/standard.

S1.1 The objective of the Free-mo Standard is to provide a platform for prototype modeling in a flexible, modular environment. Free-mo modules not only provide track to operate realistic models, but also emphasize realistic, plausible scenery; realistic, reliable trackwork; and operations. Free-Mo was designed to and continues to push the envelope of modular model railroading to new heights. It goes beyond the traditional closed-loop set-up in creating a truly universal "free-form" modular design that is operations oriented and heavily influenced by prototype railroading.


Sure, if you look at things, we are talking about okay..just a bunch of model trains, but what we are trying to do with Free-mo is to build a set of modules that push the level of modeling beyond what is typically displayed by traditional module groups commonly seen at train shows nationwide.

Free-mo is NOT about building modules that rest at the lowest-common denominator of shoddy modeling. There are plenty of ways to achieve poor trackwork, unreliable operation and toylike scenery without the help of ANY standard!

All we want to do here is to not merely build modules according to the PHYSICAL Free-mo standard, but also comply with the SPIRIT of Free-mo, which is to provide a platform for prototype modeling and operations by providing plausible, believable scenery and reliable realistic trackwork in the modules we build.

Free-mo must avoid the cliches and toylike gimmicks or fantasies (Godzillas, Hot Wheels, operating tornados) and poorly executed scenery that is so common and well, sometimes just plain tacky, as seen in other modular modeling venues.

Our goals in Free-mo should be to build GREAT looking modules that measure with the best of the same home layouts that you see published in Model Railroader or Great Model Railroads for instance. We should strive toward modeling excellence. In our modules, we should seek to model not only what is "prototypical", but model what is typical and common for the time frame and locale for which our module represents. We need to get away from the excuse of "there's a prototype for everything", thus acceptable, but instead, try to model a given location as faithfully as possible based upon photos, books, or other research materials that represent your subject. Yes, free-lance is fine too, but it would be best to base your modeling on prototype practices typical for your timeframe and locale.

Free-mo simply boils down to realism, excellence and elegance. We aspire to accurately simulate the reality of railroading to the highest fidelity that is reasonably practical with module engineering/construction, scenery, rolling stock and operations.

We are not out here to "beat them" or to be "better than anyone", but only to stretch our own limits and goals by freely sharing the best of our skills with others within our group and with nearby groups to achieve the common goals of realism and excellence.

AGAIN - while it has been stated that there is some sort of "elitist" element, THERE SHOULD NOT BE. Again, unless you are God Himself, ALL modelers are NOT perfect, and need the help of others to build better modules and module sets.

Personally, I do NOT consider myself, nor the work of my own to be "better" either, but rather, I and all of us should look toward others, and share the best of your techniques with others to achieve the goal. Again, let's help others build higher-quality trackwork or scenery) electrical, benchwork or whatever we are good at), and they can return the favor for your modules as well! Therein lies the FUN!

So what about the Current Standard?
OK.. now about the standard and the evolution of the Free-mo standard:
Those that are on the standards committee (which comprised of key representatives from ALL over the USA), are NOT looking to say.. deem existing Free-mo modules "non-compliant" at a certain date.

Rather, all NEW module construction should comply to the current standard published at www.free-mo.org. If you have something that is non-compliant with the new standard, try to fix it, but if that isn't possible, it should be at least compliant with the prior standard.

Not much has really changed in the standards reformatting and update. There was much in the old standard that was left up to confusion and lack of interpretation, so we tried to clarify that, as well as introduce current best practices as minimally as possible into the REFORMATTED standard. The standard will continue to evolve based upon the input and discussion from those here on the list, but the chief philosophy of Free-mo remains - to provide a platform for prototype modeling in a flexible, modular environment.