How did you decide on your Road/Theme? is a free Model Railroad Discussion Forum and photo gallery. We cover all scales and sizes of model railroads. Whether you're a master model railroader or just getting started, you'll find something of interest here.

What kind of road did you choose?

  • Freelance

    Votes: 28 24.1%
  • proto-freelance

    Votes: 57 49.1%
  • prototype

    Votes: 27 23.3%
  • still can't decide!

    Votes: 4 3.4%

  • Total voters


Here's a thread which hopefully will get some good conversation going - how did you decide on your theme and prototype/proto-freelance/freelance road?
Was it a RR you grew up near, or just liked the paint scheme, or did you choose UP because of the massive motive power or...?


I chose the OC&N because I grew up near it, and always wondered, "what happened to the railroad that used to be here?" When I finally got into the hobby, it was a "let's find out" thing.
I also decided to freelance a railroad (the Greater Rhode Island-Maine Railway)
and add a couple of prototypes to make it seem realistic (B&M and MEC). So I've got basically everything going on at once!


Motive Power

Well I choose Amtrak due to the EMD F40PHR.
But I wing more into the freelance due to the F40PH went out of service 2001.

Also Freelance due too i can create some Tier 1 & 2 Locomotives and have fun with my creations.

Guilford Guy9887

Northeast Railfan
I went with what's around me.... I live in maine 50 feet from pan am's mainline so I model anything they come into contact with, as well as the past like the old bm and mec


Craftsman at heart
At first it was trying to duplicate what was around where I lived, but I got so misinformed about dates, trains, and paint schemes that I ended up with a mix. When I got my first brass steam switcher, I was hooked on that moving detail, but I still liked the older paint schemes of the diesels so I choose to focus on the mid fifties and eventually narrowed it down to the CNR 1956. I model the region where I grew up, which has most of the time been an economically depressed place and in some places still looks like the fifties.
My layout reminds me of where I came from and in a way is a collage, but not of that era, but of the people who have had an influence on my life - I name locations and businesses on my layout after people and places I knew.
Now I'm starting a new collection for a future layout that will depict the same region, but a different era - the summer of 1974, which I remember fondly.
Last edited by a moderator:

NH Mike

CEO & Wheel Cleaner
I grew up about 1/2 mile from the New Haven's Needham Branch and about 3 miles from their Readville Shops so the influence was there. My road is freelanced and based on the New Haven in the late 50's to the end of the NH in 1968. The main difference other than color schemes is my road hasn't ever filed for bankruptcy. ;)

Power and rolling stock for my road is largely the same as the NH except being feelanced I can also run locos I like that the NH never had such as an SD24 and FP9's for example. I even have an SD60 EMD demo I run with a GP38-2 when I feel like it. Neither are of my era but who cares?, it's my railroad and my money.

Did I mention I have a Y6B Mallet that I pull coal drags with sometimes just to watch all that rod motion in action? :D


Loveably weird
I went with Uncle Pete. Eventually my layout will depict North Platte to Cheyenne. I've always liked the big steamers that UP ran, and it's a Nebraska railroad, based in Omaha. Right now my layout consists of a small switching yard and a mainline interchange. But someday.........:)


Low Budget & Old School
I'm not sure I fully understand this new term "Proto-freelance" so I voted freelance, though I freelance based on various prototypical operations, standards, concepts, and situations. Maybe someone could provide a proper definition for those of wondering?

When I was young I was a CN fan, my first train set was CN, I had travelled on CN trains, and I lived in a CN city. So CN has always had a stall in my roundhouse so-to-speak. That being said I have never modelled CN.

Since March of 1980 I have modelled a freelance operation that is based on the idea of unwanted prairie branchlines belonging to CN or CP being purchased by a private interest in order to continue downsized operations to support those former communities who still require service but at a less than regular capacity favoured by the BIG boys. This allows me the latitude to stray from protype restrictions yet still maintain prototype activities. In fact it was not too many years later that real life follwed model when this very thing happened for the first time in Canada by the former Central Western Railway in Alberta (now part of MRL or some other stakholder) in the middle 80's. I actually worked for them for a time before moving on to other things.

Anyway, it was actually my Dad who decided this whole thing for me in that year of 1980, as it was his idea and his birthday gift to me that started it all - a locomotive modified and painted for our new shortline. I have continued to model this theme ever since and have a lot of fun with it and all the aspects that go with "not having to stick to what the prototype had/used/did". Yet at the same time modelling the real life prototype all around me on the Canadian prairies. I model what I see and what I know and what is interesting to me that can be fit into my great scheme of things.

I love the freedom of freelancing yet the have a prototype for everything I do. If that is what proto-freelancing is, then I guess I do that too.


I originally chose what's near me (mainline less than 100 yards away from my front porch) which is MRL with heavy BNSF bridge traffic. But then I decided I'd like to run some steam (not just an excursion) so now I'm ALSO doing Milwaukee Road in Montana, but for that, I'm doing the transition era. That choice was easy because I grew up a few blocks from a major Milwaukee Road service facility and saw the trains every day AND MRL still runs on some of the old Milwaukee Road roadbed and there's a lot of history here. It makes it a bit of a challenge to to model buildings and industries that work for 1940 as well as today, but I have vehicles for each era so I swap eras several times a year.


My first engine was an Atlas Santa Fe Alco S-2. It was a nice little engine, but I wanted something bigger so I went to the LHS, looked through the clearance table and bought a brand new Athearn RTR Chessie SD50 for $40 and change. So, I decided to model the Chessie-Seaboard transition to CSX (I thought that modeling a transition would give me the most variety in engines). However, the club's president has more engines than CSX ever had so he'd "squat" all of the DCC decoder addresses.

So, I decided to model the present Guilford Rail System/Pan Am Railways. Atlas made the engines and it was cool to run huge trains with multiple GP40s. Eventually, Pan Am and Norfolk Southern started a third company, Pan Am Southern, a joint venture between the two railroads in an effort to improve freight traffic (and so that NS can get into New England). Because of this, I model both Pan Am Railways (modern day Maine Central, Boston and Maine, Springfield Terminal, and Portland Terminal railways), and Norfolk Southern.

I decided that I wanted to do some passenger operations so I decided to model Amtrak as well.


Missori Pacific RR
Very easy for me, it's in my blood.

Dad worked for MoPac in the 70/80s. Cousin and Uncle still work for MoPac (UP yuck, gag, puke).



I model the Soo, in a freelance division. Soo ran through our town as did C&NW, Milw Rd. Growing up I lived closer to the Northwestern line but the Soo always interested me. Being less comon than the other two lines and even less people modeling it, there was very little offered in HO. I had to custom paint Most of my Motive Power it wasn't till recent years I aquired some factory painted stuff.


My Columbus & Hocking Valley is named after the real C&HV before it merged with the Columbus & Toledo Railroad to become the Columbus,Hocking Valley & Toledo Ry better known as the Hocking Valley..

Well my Great Grandfather worked on the real C&HV and my dad had a 2 rail O Scale HV 4-6-0 that I ran when-according to my sisters 6 months old-but,I remember the locomotive when I was four.I wanted to model the HV but,not the steamers so,it slow cooked for years before I decided a modern short line operating over the former HV track could resurrect the name thus the Columbus & Hocking Valley was born.

Last edited by a moderator:


Active Member
Im attempting to model a modern day logging layout. It has traces of the lines in history that used temporary tracks and big Shay steamers.

My railroad is really the ultimate mutt. It has traces of the Alaska RR, CP Rail, Delaware and Hudson, and my own ficticious shortline.

I knew i wanted to do something like this because i love the woods, those RRs (except AKRR) run near me, and there are tracks on the way to my camp that are long retired, but ive always wanted to see a train there. One of the things id like to have on my dream layout is a village that is only open during the logging/mining season, so everything goes in, everything comes out. Im picturing a train full of vehicles, equipment, and generators on flatcars, boxcars with supplies, trailers on flatcars, half empty log cars carrying out the last of the wood, ect.


I used to love to watch the Chessie System stuff go by on the RR tracks near my house growing up as a teen in the 70's. I had both O guage a Nscale of various sorts to "play " with as a kid and teen. When I jumped back intothe hobby 5 years ago i decided on Chessie....but I also wanted steam..So I settled on the B&O and ALL its incarnates through to CSX now. I can swap out engines and RR cars and a few auto cars to switch eras on my layout so as not to get bored. Most buildings can remain, though a KFC would notbe around in 1920.
Lovely Wendie99
Last edited by a moderator:


Tom Stockton
At one time, I was going to model the Illinois Central, circa 1969 or so. That is still my primary focus -- but I'm not going to stick completely with that. There are a lot of other things I like as well... so I'm going to "kinda" model 1969, and the ICRR will still be my primary focus. But the N&W and the NKP will be represented, as will the Penn Central (don't know why but the PC green grabs my eye)... there will be some more-modern Indiana Railroad... I think the C&IM will make an appearance... and I plan to take some old Rivarossi 85' passenger cars, cut them down to 60' or so, to be able to run on 22" radius curves, and they'll be pulled by some F-units -- all painted in the ICRR's orange and brown livery. And probably some 1890-ish steam as well... You know, whatever catches my fancy!

Tom Stockton


I'm not sure I fully understand this new term "Proto-freelance" so I voted freelance, though I freelance based on various prototypical operations, standards, concepts, and situations. Maybe someone could provide a proper definition for those of wondering?

Proto-freelancing or proto-lancing (which I think is the better term, but the first one has more recognition) is the concept where you make your own freelance railroad, but it's strongly modeled after a prototype. Tony Koester's Allegheny Midland is a proto-freelance, based upon the Nickel Plate road.


It really sounds like a lot of you prefer the proto-freelance route! I'm enjoying hearing everyone's rationale for their choices.


N Scale with Stone Tools
I've never really been into a single prototype (the railroad where I live is ex BN, operated by RailAmerica, and is less than inspiring). I figured that with a freelance railroad, I could run whatever I wanted, in any configuration, and make up a reason for its existence.


Proto-freelancing or proto-lancing (which I think is the better term, but the first one has more recognition) is the concept where you make your own freelance railroad, but it's strongly modeled after a prototype. Tony Koester's Allegheny Midland is a proto-freelance, based upon the Nickel Plate road.

On the other side the coin you have my C&HV that isn't proto-freelance..Its 100% freelance.The real C&HV disappeared into the CHV&T in 1881 which in turn was controlled by the C&O starting in 1910, then in 1930 the HV was merged into the C&O.

So my C&HV is just a freelance short line that resurrected the Columbus & Hocking Valley moniker when CDB Industries bought the track from the Chessie System in 1977..

The C&HV one of seven short lines owned by CDBI.

Affiliate Disclosure: We may receive a commision from some of the links and ads shown on this website (Learn More Here) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.