This weekend I invited myself to a private Freemo event in Winnweiler, Germany, about 40 minutes from my home. My friend Peter Aue was going to be there so I e-mailed Peter and he arranged for me to visit Friday after work.
About 25 guys, most of them from Germany, brought US-theme Freemo modules and set them up in a grade school gym about 125 x 40 feet. Here’s an overview of the layout, below.
Peter and I sat and talked for two hours about a whole lot of things. Peter is quite a modeler and craftsman. He makes his own etchings and produces parts for a small number of manufacturers, and makes outstanding decals. He is an accomplished woodworker which comes in handy for making Freemo modules for friends. He models the Santa Fe, circa 1950, and is a regular at the Santa Fe Historical Society conventions in the U.S.
Peter spent a career working for various US companies, including Emerson, which was based out of St. Louis. Peter speaks excellent English, which is lucky for me since my Deutsch ist nicht so gut.
The team arrived on Wednesday and started operations late Thursday night after all the modules were set up and some power distribution problems were figured out. They ran four operating sessions per day, each lasting a couple of hours, and operated an entire week’s worth of trains. This session, by the way, featured 1970s-1980s equipment. I was told they have also held steam-era and transition-era meets.
They used a modified DCC system for operation; each locomotive had it’s own cab. Radios were used to communicate with the train dispatcher. Yes, there was a train dispatcher, yardmasters and car clerks. Each town had it’s own operator who ensured operations in that town were efficient and all the right cars were picked up and dropped off by the right trains at the right places.
There were two main yards, one on each end of the layout. This was one of the yards; multiple crossovers allowed any train to reach any track in the yard. It reminded me a little of St. Louis Union Station, or one of the interlockings in Chicago. It was fantastic.
Here are some close-up photos of the crossovers. Peter told me “Can you believe this guy–he scratchbuilt all these turnouts and crossovers!”
Notice how all the turnouts and crossings are perfectly aligned. The diverging tracks are curved through the crossing…impressive indeed.
Underneath the junction was just as impressive. This thing is entirely automatic and hooks right up to the Loconet.
This is the yard on the other end of the layout. It is not quite as advanced but it did the job. Here, trains as long as 12 meters could be staged. Trains on this weekend’s layout had a limit of 10 meters–about 39 feet.
These guys planned this operating weekend for months. They built the largest layout possible based on the room dimensions, published layout plans, published an operations scheme for each day to include train schedules and worked out car cards for each car based on the industries available. They got the layout and the operating plans together in less than a day.
In the views above and below you can see trains staged and ready for the next run. Trains were assigned to individuals at random; some trains were locals and some were long through freights like these.
By coincidence one of the major towns on the layout was called Golden. A schematic of Golden is included below. A close look at the drawings reveals that each track is named. Car spots for each track are shown. Industries are shown along with other important details about the customer.
Interestingly the German modelers deliver cars based on the AAR designation, unlike most American modelers, myself included, who delivery cars based on their general description such as “box” or “flat”. I had several conversations with guys that would explain as a matter of course that this industry “gets an XM” or “I need to order an LO”, and so forth.
On the right on the drawing you can see when each customer is scheduled to get a delivery or pickup. Every car on the layout has a car card, and clerks at each yard are able to route cars to the right destinations based on these schedules. If cars are empty and are picked up by a local, the car clerks would diligently try to find a place along the way that needed an empty. “We try to replicate prototype operations just like the real railroads do” one guy told me. I was quite impressed at how prototypical the car forwarding system was.
Keep in mind that all this planning was done for a layout that will only exist for four days.
The layout was interesting because, while it was Freemo and was built under standards with templates, there was a lot of variation in each module. Some modules had manual turnout control, some had working signals, some had DCC-controlled turnouts, some had unfinished scenery, and on and on. I didn’t see any sections built with foam subroadbed like my layout and many others.
Many of the modules had scenery that I would consider to be “complete”. This one, below, looked especially nice with the sun streaming in late on Friday evening. This series of modules was called “Bend Of Brothers”…something like the HBO series…
Another view of the layout, below. US-theme signs and flags and memorabilia were placed everywhere to help everyone get in the spirit.
Below. My host Peter Aue, right, and my new friend Thomas Stauss at left.
Thank you gentlemen for a nice visit! – John G