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.
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 "L" shaped space
First Run Analysis
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.