Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fremo, not Free-Mo

There has been a thread on, that has left me thinking that there are still people who don't fully get the point or potential of Free-Mo/Fremo. As I write in the following article, which was published in RMC back 09, the point is mainly to be able to get together and create "layouts" that wouldn't otherwise be possible. The Fremo events are not public events, but there solely for the pleasure of the members to be able to run trains and view each others work. It's not there as public "show" piece. "Hey Johnny look at the cute trains" is not the driving force.
The standards of workmanship are high and achieved, in large part to insure that nobody is disappointed because someone wouldn't follow the wiring standard, thus shutting down the entire setup while the source of factory smoke is located.

Hopefully these images can in part, give a sense of the scale of the setup.

Adventures in Freemo Part 3
Actually Fremo this time
Fremo Nordhorn2009
For 3 ½ days over the last weekend of May 2009, I had the pleasure and privilege to observe and participate in a large Fremo meet in Nordhorn, Germany.
Fremo, which stands for, Freundeskreis Europ√§ischer Modellbahner, which roughly translates to Circle of friends of European Modelrailroaders,   is a 28 year old association of over 1200 modelers from Greece to Norway and Finland to Spain and is the forerunner to North America’s Freemo movement.
As well as setting standards for module design and construction, Fremo is responsible for organizing the setups and publishing a periodical magazine and a couple of very well executed promotional pamphlets. With the annual dues set at 37.50 Euro ($52.00 US approx.) I’d say it’s a good bargain.
Fremo maintains a website. On it you will find all of their standards as well as photos from many of the setups. It is mostly in German, but some pages are translated. The photos alone are worth looking at.
The meet setup design was created and plotted by Dirkjan Kaper, who using the Fremo design database, which has every members module plotted in CAD, spent almost 3 weeks generating the layout plan. The end result was a layout with some 300 metres (975’) of mainline formed from the 208 modules that were brought by 35 of the members of Fremo for this meet in the 21 metre x 36 metre (117’ x 68.25’) room. Dirkjan then spent another 2-3 weeks creating the timetable for governing the movement of the 160 trains that were run in 4 hour operating session.
I was told that this setup was of a modest size compared to past events and that for the 30th anniversary in Oct 2010, over a kilometer of mainline is being planned for. I may have to return to Europe just to see that. I don’t think that the photos can properly portray the sheer scope of the setup. It has to be seen to be truly appreciated. In that regard it’s interesting that these setups are not generally open to the public. It is for the pleasure of the participants.
The system used is similar to the Timetable and Train Order system of controlling trains, with a little more authority for the station masters, patterned after German prototype practices as well as the familiar car card system for moving individual freight cars. Some 23 station operators were required to control the train movements of the 160 trains that were run during the session. All stations and towers were connected by telephone. Up to 15 trains were running at any one time. Using a 6-1 fast clock a 24 hour period was represented in a 4 hour operating session. 2 sessions a day were run on Saturday and Sunday and one session on the Monday.
Given that European homes tend to be smaller than the North American counterparts and basements as we know them are a rare thing as well, it is to be expected that group modular model railroading such as Fremo is as successful and popular as it is. I don’t know of too many home layouts that can offer the scale of operations that a Fremo setup can.
Control for the layout is based upon the Digitrax Loco-net protocol, with lots of either home built or small after market manufacturers components. One interesting feature of the control system used by Fremo is that there are individual handheld throttle units for every locomotive. With space being at a premium in the smaller European locomotives, hard programmed decoders make far more sense than the programmable units we use in North America.
Unlike North American Freemo standards, Fremo does not require a UP-5 type unit in every module or module set. But rather during setup a crew goes around the layout with plugin boxes that clamp to the layout and are then daisy chained together, with as many plugins as required then placed in key locations. A very sensible approach I feel.
As one would expect the overall quality of the modeling is very good. Modules were there in varying levels of completion, which allows one to see different work methods and material choices. Always a bit of a learning experience viewing other peoples efforts.
The lighting conditions in the hall made some of the photography difficult, but I hope that the images printed will give an idea of the quality of the work being done. A couple of module sets, I believe warrant special mention.
The station set of Rothenburg, built by Michael Baensch, Stefan Tilke, and Gordon Bickner, is a set of modules about 12 metres (39 feet)long representing a medium sized station on a double tracked main line. It is fully signaled, following German practices, with lots of urban structures flanking the station building itself. The platform is fully illuminated and I neglected to count the number of figures waiting on the platforms(hundreds I’m sure).
The station set of Truedelburg, built by Thorsten and Dieter Petschailles, is a medium sized station and junction built on a 100 degree curve. It is designed to receive traffic from both the double track mainline as well as 2-3 single track branch lines.
Both of these sets can be well seen on the track plan.
The best rural scenery on the layout had to be Steiles Eck. Gordon Bickner has done an excellent job on this long curved cut through the German forest. Hundreds of commercial trees have gone into this beautiful set of modules and the little human touches help bring it to life. The 2 hunters on the fire break chatting before continuing the hunt. The shepherd in the shade under the bridge watching his flock grazer on the floodplain.
I mention these three not to take anything away from the rest, but more as examples of the overall high level of execution all the modules shown.
Mean while in the other room.
A smaller Fremo setup and operation was underway. N scale finescale. This layout showed some of the most impressive workmanship I’ve ever seen.
These fellows have developed a functioning scale European style coupler. There’s a photo-etched stainless steel item which represents the loops and turnbuckle as seen on the prototype and they use a hand held magnet to lift the item and drop it on the hook of the adjacent car. It works very well and looks right.
The trackwork by Henk Oversloot, is some of the best trackwork I’ve ever seen. It’s all done by hand, no filing jigs or tools. Hard to believe that it’s N scale. When you look at the photos, remember it is indeed N scale.
I knew that when I decided to accept the invitation to travel to Germany and take part in this event I was going to see some very fine modeling. What impressed me even more was the gracious reception I as an overseas visitor received and willingness to accommodate my lack of language skills in their native tongues. Equally impressive was the high level of mutual respect shown by all. At one point during an operation session there was an electrical equipment failure in a station, resulting in a shutdown of a key junction point. Trains very quickly started to back up. While the owner of the modules tried to establish the exact nature of the problem and repair it, the train crews all waited quietly and patiently for the problem to be resolved. No smart comments, ribbing or heckling. Just a collective confidence that the problem will be resolved as soon as possible. Nice to see.
I’d like to again thank all of the Fremo members who attended Nordhorn for their hospitality and the warm reception I received while there. There are no borders when we share the love of trains.

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