The genesis of the Southern California Free-mo group was an informal gathering of several modelers active in the prototype modeling movement at a recent model railroad open house. We were looking at the layout of the Pomona Valley Model Railroad Club when Tom Bacarella commented that he would really like to have some "dirt" upon which to place his prototype-based railroad models. I had shared the same sentiment for quite a while.
I too wanted expand my modeling to include the modeling of a prototype-based scene. How could this be done? What modeling strategy could be pursued to achieve this goal? Short of a full-blown layout, how could a prototype scene be modeled realistically both from an appearance and an operational point of view?
I had been following Free-mo since my first exposure to it at the 1996 NMRA National Convention in Long Beach when the San Luis Obispo Model Railroad Club had their layout setup there in a Free-mo format. Subsequently over the years, I had seen the SLOMRC's Free-mo setup at other events further, piquing my interest in what I considered to be a revolutionary modular design. Finally, when some friends began an organized Free-mo effort in the San Francisco Bay area under the name of Bay Area Regional Free-mo, I decided to take the plunge and build a Free-mo module.
So when Tom Bacarella thought wistfully about having some "dirt" for his models, I had a suggestion for him on the tip of my tongue: build a Free-mo module. Being a Free-mo neophyte, I gave Tom the best explanation I could of the Free-mo concept and referred him to the excellent Free-mo.org website as a resource for more information. Like me, Tom became very enthusiastic about Free-mo. As a result, Tom and I resolved to organize a Free-mo effort here in Southern California.
For prototype modelers, especially those without the room, space, or inclination to build an entire layout, Free-mo really sells itself.
Given the inherent flexibility of Free-mo's standards, Free-mo provides the opportunity for the prototype-based modeling of a scene in a modular format. Free-mo modelers are unconstrained by the classic rectangular module shape that is the defining characteristic of so many modular layouts. The ability to design and build modules with unique shapes resulting in more accurate renderings of prototype scenes gives Free-mo modelers the freedom to create what is essentially a realistic operating diorama.
It is on this basis that SoCal Free-mo [was] organized: the realistic prototype-based modeling of railroad scenes using Free-mo standards. What we desperately want to avoid is the "circus module syndrome" that seems to pervade so many modular layouts. By the term "circus module syndrome," I mean modules that are based on someone's fantasy or modules that are built with an element of humor. Our intention in SoCalFree-mo is to build modules based on actual prototype scenes. Without regard to era or railroad, what we are looking for are modules that are realistic presentations of real railroading in miniature.
You now know the origins of SoCalFree-mo and where things currently stand. If you are prototype modeler in the Southern California area, are interested in Free-mo, and would like to get involved with us, please e-mail us.
Edited and republished from the May 2000 issue of Free-MoNthly