Free-mo was envisioned and started by Chris Palomarez at the San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Club (SLOMRC). In about 1994 Chris looked at the club NMRA modules and said, why are we running in a circle, the prototype does not go in a circle, it goes point to point. Based off the FREMO concept that was being used in Europe he and Art Armstrong (I believe it was Art) sat down and wrote out the first standards for Free-mo. Chirs tells me he thinks he still has a dot matrix print out of the early standards. They then built a couple of modules as proof of concept.
In October of 1995 SLOMRC had a setup in Paso Robles that used a point to loop setup combining the new Free-mo Modules with old NMRA modules. This was the first public Free-mo setup.
In 1997 a group of four prototype modelers (Jim Lackner, Harry Wong, Doug Fuhriman, and Greg Fuhriman) in the San Francisco Bay area decided they “wanted a way to operate our super-detailed, weathered, prototypically-accurate locos and cars that were sitting on shelves or stored in boxes.” A short time later Gary Green joined them. They became the core of Nor Cal Free-mo. They found Chris and the SLOMRC and Free-mo started to grow. Greg wrote the first Nor Cal Free-mo Guidelines based off the SLOMRC Free-mo guidelines written by Chris. Greg told me “I felt we needed something more clear, comprehensive, and detailed for our needs as a group. To this day, I still feel that way … the published Free-mo standard spells out the must-haves, while our Guideline enhances that with suggested (required?) best practices in implementing the standard, and group-specific info for NorCalF (e.g., California-themed scenes), etc.” He does not remember the exact date he wrote the first standards, but the revision history shows the first revision as 5/4/1998, so it was before that.
By the end of 1997, all the major elements of today’s US Free-mo were in place – Digitrax DCC with its Track Power bus and LocoNet bus, and the Accessory Bus, as well as minimum track requirements. Gary told me that by the time he got involved “All I knew about was the well thought out and very clear NorCalF guidelines”.
In 1999 Free-mo had started to grow across the western states. The first joint setup with Nor Cal and Arizona took place in San Mateo. This proved that modules built to the same standard in different areas could work together.
In 2000 was the first big public showing of Free-mo. SLOMRC and Nor Cal Free-mo joined together to make a layout for the NMRA 2000 NTS in San Jose, CA. It was a mix of Free-mo and NMRA modules setup in a Free-mo style.
The next big ah ha moment was in Bakersfield in 2001. The layout was a large U shape. They did not have accurate drawings of the modules and as they setup the yards at either end of the U collided. They did some fast re-arranging of the module and were up and running. At the end of this show, they made detailed drawings of all the modules. Since then, they have used CAD drawings to plan setups.
In about 2002 the standards were expanded to include a double track end.
The standards had a major format change in 2005 to 2007. Up to this point the standards read like a book. They were paragraphs of text talking about the concept and standards. It was difficult to point to a specific item in the standards. It took a lot of work and time, but the standards were re-formatted into the current numbered items of S for standards and RP for recommended practices.
In 2008 was first setup with modules from a long distance coming together for a setup, it was the Anaheim 2008 NTS. We had modules from California, Canada, and Kansas.