Reexamining the Concept

Free-mo has come a very long way since 1995 when I first launched The standard was very much in it's infancy. Just a critical few modules were in an operable state and far from complete. I have taken on an assignment about the history of free-mo for an upcoming project. Having been on a Free-mo sebatical of sorts, as of late, has given me a fresher perspective then one that I had just 5 years ago. Further, reading some of the haphazard articles I wrote when I was a mere 18 (half my life ago) has really been a nostalgic activity. I must say that there certainly is a feeling of excitement again for setting up my modules. I look forward to working on them and enhancing them to a more complete state. Approaching my modules again reminded me of a famous quote "Art is never finished, only abandoned." - Leonardo da Vinci

I'm thrilled to say that I have dug up many of my old articles. Part of the on going effort of building modules will be, atleast once a month, republish them from the old Free-moNthly. Laughable, as I reread some of these things, that half the time I'm apologizing for being late with the issue, or even miss publishing an issue. So let's assume old habits die hard and I'll repost these, as time with work, and module building, allow.

So, going back to October 1995, here's the first article I posted called...

Examining the Concept - The Origins

The concept of Free-Mo is not new by any means. The origins are actually from Germany where I developed the American version. The article is in the November 1992 issue of Model Railroader Magazine page 154.


Alf Bossaers

FREMO is the nickname for a large railroad hobby organization called the Friends circle of European Model railroaders. This group of European model railroaders was organized in 1981 to bring together modelers interested in building modular layouts. It has now more than 550 members scattered across Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

During the group's early days, the members worked entirely with HO scale modules. As interest grew, similar standards were developed for comparable systems in N scale, HOe (HO scale 9-mm

A very large and impressive FREMO setup. Dated October 16, 2010 - Photo from wikipedia

narrow gauge), HOm (HO scale, European meter narrow gauge), HO-USA (HO scale, North American prototype), O, and Om (O scale, European meter narrow gauge). Unlike the well-known Ntrak system, the FREMO modules features a common theme: a German single-track branch line with a point-to-point operating pattern. Both ends of each module use standardized profile boards so adjacent units will blend together. Special modules, or module sets, contain junctions where the route splits or towns where switching may be done.

Operating sessions are held for members only, although invited guests are welcome. A fast clock is used to coordinate the traffic, and a waybill system provides specific car destinations. All the operators try to run their trains at realistic speeds and follow standard railroad operating rules. For more information see the Club News section of the November 1992 issue of Model Railroader Magazine page 154. Click here for further information on FREMO

Examining the Concept - The Reasoning

The first public setup of Free-mo occured in Paso Robles 1995. This is the layout configuration we used to fit a very odd
The first public setup of Free-mo occured in Paso Robles 1995. This is the layout configuration we used to fit a very odd "L" shaped space. The setup went very well and attracted many more setup opportunities. More importantly this setup proved the versatility, and the viability of an operation oriented single track "open type" modular system.

It is a little known concept that operation can be enjoyed more by the public then running around and around. Simply because it demonstrates what actual railroads do, therefore becoming a learning aid for the public. The hitch is we need to keep things on the move and avoid long durations that trains are not running. Another reason for this style setup is the majority of the public that will be present is interested in model railroading, and interested in furthering their skills in one way or another. This setup configuration give these people a chance to see what model railroading really is, rather then just a bigger version of the Christmas Tree layout.

This setup configuration has been around for a number of years but it has not been introduced in the United States, until now. The only other forms of point-to-point style layouts are ones that are either permanent or sectional. The flexibility of Free-Mo is very apparent.

Free-Mo is actually both sectional and modular. The idea was to preserve the modular concept also keep the unified look and operations of a sectional layout. In the process, Free-Mo, became even more flexible, being able to invert module 180 degrees and have the adjacent one mate up with no wiring modifications.

These qualities were demonstrated in Paso Robles, the first public setup of Free-mo by the San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Club (SLOMRC, the club has continued on as San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Association). 

Republished from the October 1995 Free-MoNthly

Gary Green asked me a great question, "Why you depart from the FREMO standards?" The answer to that is pretty simple, but will require some additional background; it's a great example of how the internet has changed not only how we all communicate, but gives us the ability to freely communicate beyond our country's boundaries.

A "departure" would indicate I had prior knowledge to FREMO specifications.  This was not the case at all. In 1992 my only exposure to FREMO was the Model Railroader by-line from Alf Bossaers. Remember the time before the internet? It's hard to go back to those days, Free-mo's proliferation was directly impacted of the free communications benefitted by the internet. I don't see how it could be where it is today without the net. In fact, I found out later, around 2003, from my friend Joe D'elia (owner of  A-Line) that in the 1970s there was a modular symposium that developed an "open type" modular system. I was able to connect later a few participants from FREMO into this early effort to develop modular railroading. The NMRA aligned with N-Track "closed loop" after the symposium and FREMO utilized the "open type" system moving forward. I digress....but my point is there were a few United States hold outs that were pushing an "open type" modular system in the States. The effort died out. In my opinion it died out from not being able to proliferate fast enough with letters and phone calls. If the internet would have come of age a decade earlier, Free-mo would probably be called something else! However during this period of the "dark ages" is when Free-mo was conceived. I was young, and had no idea about how to even contact FREMO across the ocean.This would sort itself out as Carsten Möller contacted me much later after Free-mo was on the net for a few years.

I moved forward interpreting the photograph of their layout into actual plausible written standards. Reverse engineered is an appropriate term for this. What I saw was a single track mainline roughly centered on the module. At that point I had an "A-ha!" moment. The module's symmetry on the interfacing ends would allow it to be reversible.

The prospect of a module, in 1992, that could be turned around 180 degrees to alternate the direction of a curve was just plain unheard of. SLOMRC had encountered this problem trying to do this with a conventional NMRA double track module. It meant the construction of adapter cables and odd fascia alignments.

The symmetrical module was really the launch pad and fueled the rest of my transposition of the photo into the Free-mo standard. The intent was to create something to be used with existing NMRA double track modules to enhance setups and scenery. My mentor, Art Armstrong, really became enthusiastic about the idea. He helped develop the electronics for the intermodule wiring scheme. His solution, the dual two pin Jones was adopted. The SLOMRC was familiar with Jones and knew they were long lasting and durable plugs. I had no photos of under the FREMO module, that meant we were on our own to write the standards to completely fit our own vision of a "reversible" module.

Originally the modules were set to be 42" to top of the mainline rail. The 50" rail height came after the initial setup in Paso Robles with the proposition of George Gibson. Operationally the 50" height was better for following and interacting with your trains. That was the first revision to the Free-mo spec and it happened before 1996.

As a teenager I became very interested in operation, and realism. SLOMRC was at the time gifted with a permanent place to setup the conventional modular layout at the mall. That was a double edge sword. We were blessed with being able to run trains whenever we wanted, but no one wanted to, simply, running the circle was SO boring. To maintain the interest of everyone in the club we proposed our primitive, yet complete, standards as an addition to the existing modular standards. No one in the Club went for it. The idea was too "radical" of a departure for them. Art and I did get another participant in Paul Deis. The three of us went on to build the first Free-mo modules. All three of them were used later in the Paso Robles setup.

It was a long road to get the Club to give Free-mo a shot. Art later became president of the club. That was the break we needed to demonstrate the idea vs. just tell the membership about it. Ironically our lease was about to expire on the mall storefront we had a month to vacate, but before we did, Art had the membership help him rearrange the entire layout for the last month we were in the Madonna Plaza. I remember I wasn't able to make it due to finals and my parents were on to me about grades. HA! Well seeing is believing, the membership that participated in that last mall run were really taken with Free-mo. The ones that were skeptical to an "open type" modular system opposed to the conventional "closed loop" were able to get a first hand feel for running in something other then circles. It only took two years to convince them.

From there we had a small one evening run at the San Luis Obispo to introduce Free-mo as a single track railroad to the rest of the members that weren't able to make that last setup in the mall (me included). The entire membership in SLOMRC embraced Free-mo. It wasn't proven in a public setup scenario at first so there was much hesitation about setting up Free-mo modules to the public.

Our first Free-mo run came out of necessity. The origins of the setup in Paso Robles was an invitation by the North County Model Railroad Society. SLOMRC was actually going to setup a conventional layout for the show as Free-mo was unproven for public setups. The space we acquired from them was a really odd shaped "L". No amount of planning could get a conventional modular layout into that "L" shape without leaving most of our integral pieces, like the yard, and we didn't have enough corners available for the setup to do an "L". Art gave me the opportunity to design a Free-mo style layout for the space. I sent him my configuration and he was all on board, he met with the rest of the board in SLOMRC and Free-mo was approved for Paso Robles.

The next article is from November 1995 describing the first Free-mo setup in Paso Robles.