Paso Robles Setup 1995

Lance's manifest power rolls over the Piru bridge.

Flinging open the car door and disengaging the seatbelt simultaneously, I hurl myself out of the driver's seat. Giving the modules a quick once over from outside the window looking in "WHEW, nothing was damaged!" Making my way inside the setup hall, I find my cohorts, hand on their chins, holding the layout plan with a worried look on their face. As I walk toward them I overhear murmurs of "Are we going to actually be able to fit this?"  staring at the "L" shape outlined with masking tape on the concrete floor. They pause for a moment to acknowledge my arrival, only for them to discover my T-shirt inscription. "YOUNG FART" it proclaimed very loudly. Apprehension dissolves to loud outbursts of laughter. I think this might actually be a fun setup.

Looking back to this setup, there was tremendous trepidation for those that had been pulling for a Free-mo public setup. Perhaps even more so for those that were skeptical. Either way, it was time to ante up and put up modules and make a functional layout. I recall roughing the modules together and being very uncertain what we planned would match what was on paper. "Well….only way we will know for sure is if we start clamping these things together". I can't remember exactly, but I think we started with setting up and clamping the NMRA modes together that formed the siding. I remember Art mentioning perhaps we could stand up the other leg of the wye if there is room. As we progressed setting up both legs at the same time we quickly realized that this was going to fit the space perfectly. There was a point where the two 90 degree double track corner modules next to the balloon were looking like they would make contact with the yard.

Fast Forward to 2009 - If Art and I could've seen how Free-mo has developed and how the final presentation of Free-mo, portrayed by Southwest Free-mo 2009 in Winslow; it would've been like the Wright Brothers being shown a 747. Sterling Moore (left) and Dave Oppedisano discuss coal train modeling. A BN train holds the siding in Mounds. Sterling masterfully built both the module set and the train.

Photo - Brian Kreimendahl

When everything was positioned and clamped, this was not the case, but it sure gave us a scare!

This setup was important leap for Free-mo. It finally proved the "Open Type" modular system and it also demonstrated to everyone that saw the layout how well we could fit into odd spaces. The amount of public exposure to other modular groups and to the show organizers was a game changer for the SLOMRC. We were the only layout that was not going around in a circle. There were organized meets on the sidings, a yard job, a dispatcher, and several operators on the mainline pool. The layout was controlled via verbal DTC authority recited over hand held walkie talkies. The only layout at the show that had any resemblance to how the real thing operated. If pissing on the troglodytes could be defined by action…this was it!

With all honesty, the layout looked like crap. I would be embarrassed to set up a layout looking this hodgepodge and incomplete for a public demonstration. However, it was excusable as it was well known we were trying out something new and unrefined. We did alright, all things considered. SLOMRC ended up scoring a setup in San Rafael for the NMRA regional meet. By the time that setup came around, the layout looked MUCH better. I digress, with the Paso Robles setup, Free-mo came into it's own. As raw and rough as it was, the potential, the direction, and the operation was very clear.

I often think what a setup in the Paso Robles configuration would look like now using the current module base. I think that would be a great start to another setup in the future…perhaps in Paso Robles October 2015, Free-mo's 20th anniversary. Who's with me?!

Upward and onward, here's Art Armstrong's article from November 1995.

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

First Run Analysis

Art Armstrong

The San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Club (HO) held its first Free-Mo run at the October 1995 meet sponsored by the North County Club in Paso Robles, California.

The Free-Mo layout was a success, in spite of the challenge of an untried system, new modules, and a small (in modular terms) 44 by 32 foot "L" shaped space that was restricted to a sixteen feet width. The space was big enough and the noise level in the hall high enough that the club's Radio Shack walkie-talkie radios proved to be a necessity in arranging meets and clearances to leave the yard.
 The track plan was point-to-loop, originating in the club's twenty-feet long twelve-track yard and running through nearly 100 feet of track to a four-foot radius loop and then back to the yard. Single and double track modules were combined to provide for a passing track half way through the trip and at the entrance to the yard. Ten throttles, including two in the yard, allowed for flexible operation and minimized conflicts between trains.

Operation was experimental at first but evolved into three major schemes. The first was for operators to set up their trains in the yard, wait for an opening in cooperation with others who were running, and move out to the mainline when they had clearance. The second procedure was for four or five operators to assume responsibility for a section of track and control each train as it passed through their section. This required two people to work the yard: one to send out and receive trains and the other to turn locomotives and passenger trains - there being no space for a much-needed turning Y. The third operational scheme was for operators to control one train around the entire layout but include way-bills for dropping and picking up cars at the various switching opportunities around the layout. This scheme provided the most "prototypical" operation opportunities but also demanded much of the operators.

At this time only three club members have built Free-Mos but there is interest by others so the club should be able to grow and provide even more layout flexibility. Many other modelers at the meet expressed interest in the layout because of the attraction of its greater range of scenic possibilities. The sight of long trains winding through single track mainline curves is a universal inspiration for train-buffs.
The modelers who created and operated this Free-Mo demonstration feel that their experiment was a success and they have many plans for expansion of the Free-Mo idea. Future runs with more space available for layout expansion and more modules involved, both Free-Mo and dual-track, will allow more development of operation and construction practices.

Republished from the November 1995 issue of Free-MoNthly

These photos are from the setup. Most have never before been available to the public. Here is the entire set of photographs from the historic setup taken by Art Armstrong.


Looking toward mainline "East" on layout. Art Armstrong's module (Piru) after Rick's module and corner through transition from double to single track. Note the curving single track main. How hot is that! You can see how long our trains were back then. The helpers are located on the transition module turnout. The lead units were well past Wyeth now approaching the lead to the balloon. DRGW Manifest at Wyeth. Lance's Manifest train pokes through the now daylighted and leveled tunnel at Wyeth. Helpers lean in with two midcut helpers give it all they got to keep this 4000 scale foot train moving over the layout. Art's double headed steam era train trundles over the truss bridge on Piru. This is the first public appearance of Piru.
Looking South in the building. Nimitz yard in the distance. Rick Anderson's module in foreground. Moving right around curve through a transition to Art Armstrong's (Piru) module. Along the left side is Paul Deis's module and in the middle is a small yard (Furgeson Yard) I built for operation. Note also the caboose along the far wall. This is a North SLO County MRR Club trailer used in parades and, perhaps, for hauling equipment. Art's train moves along through Piru. You can see why now the Free-mo spec call for all scenery to end flat at the Free-mo end. The white thing in the background was a fledgling concept to break up the scenes to provide distance. All it added was a nuesance as it interrupted the cool curvy flowing trackwork. This was the first and last time Wyeth would be displayed with the tunnel and the view block. Looking back now, all I can wonder was "what was I thinking?!" Art's train stretches out over Piru. The nice big broad curve is excellent and keep's this module around to this day. For this setup I can say that Art's module was the best one there. Everything else looked like crap. What amazes me is that this layout even in it's wretched state landed us an offer to setup at the PCR San Rafael 1996 From inside the layout looking toward building south wall, mainline "east". Paul Deis's module showing single track - note subtle curves. Narrow and dual gauge above single track main.
Layout from overhead. The siding in front measures 2200 scale feet. Keep in mind our layout setup space was 44' by 32'. Our space was an "L" shape with a 16' square taken out of one corner of the overall 44' by 32' square. View toward west side of building showing 90 degree curve module entering balloon. Inside track (closest to camera angle) stub-ends on balloon throat, connects to main on my transition module. These 90 degree curve modules came back to my posession. Only 2 remain in service. One curve has been resurrected as the 90 degree curve on the new LA yard and the second has been rebuilt by Jere and Jesus from NorCalF to be Lincoln siding. Showing yard and balloon, turned then ran west back to the yard. Note that the Wye is now Arness Jct. We could almost do this configuration again if we had another 180 degrees of double track and a balloon. View from yard end looking toward mainline "west" to the yard from transition module between Lance Falkenstern and Paul eis's single track. Tunnel is on Paul Deis's single track module. Note narrow gauge track at the right top of Paul's module.
View from inside of the layout looking toward mainline "west" along Paul Deis's module. Single track at this point. Other track is narrow or dual gauge. Right foreground is Paul Deis's log-pool to be. Wyeth junction to the right foreground looking mainline "east" through Art's module now known as Piru. You can see the folly in the scenic divider as it totally blows the curving mainline up into different parts. I guess I had to learn the hard way, and boy did I. Now we see why I'm such a big promoter of scenic continuity. My Scenic Disruption Junction (Wyeth) after Art Armstrong's (Piru) module. Right branch goes to a yard (the old yard SLO-mo used at the first barn setup, no defunct). Foreground is un-scenicked forty-five (or so) degree module I made especially so we could set up in the space given us. This module later became Styx with the gas station. One More From the Yard over looking the entire layout. These were the days we liked running long trains. Keep in mind this is way before DCC so we were confined by how many individual throttles we had. Each individual throttle had to be set manually to jump from block to block. Each block had it's own throttle. Really long trains were pretty cool because the head end power could be controlled seperately from the helper power. The days before DCC...

 Feel free to check out my previous article from October 1995.