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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


Well-Known Member
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 prototype since I have no idea what "proto-freelance" since no one can duplicate anything but a tiny slice of a prototype, every "prototype" model railroad has some form of compression or compromise.

I originally chose the LV because of its variety of color schemes, but at that time there weren't good models of the LV's engines available and my research revealed that the LV didn't have a lot of business left in the era I was modeling.

I then went to the RDG in the early 1970's, back dated it to the 1948-1952 era to pick up steamers. I originally chose a version of the C&F branch since it had interchanges with the LV, LNE and CNJ.

After a couple moves I changed it to a favorite area of mine the Brandywine Valley and the W&N Branch. I built a 1948-1952 W&N branch layout, concentrating on the northern half from Birdsboro to Coatesville.

I had always admired the modelers doing the 1900 era. About 8 years ago I had the opportunity to operate on Rev. McGees's wonderful P&P 1906 era layout (its been in MR at least 2 or 3 times). That hooked me on the 1900 era.

So two years ago I took the leap and tore down my layout, rebuilding it as a 1900-1905 era model of the W&N branch. Its a single track branch that serves 2 steel mills, a shipyard, a port, 2 quarries, has 3 branch lines, 5 interchanges with the PRR, lots of other heavy industry, it's own engine terminal and a car ferry operation. Obviously not all that will fit in my room, but it certainly is an exciting menu to choose from.

Here is Wilmington, DE:


Eastern RailNet
I went the freelanced route simply because CN abandoned the lines here and I am a few hours away from the prototype so I model a present day regional.


On my Great Lakes and New England it was a long process it started when the Proto 2000 GP20s came out and my dad and I picked up and undecorated one. I was 12 or 13 at the time. It started with trying to come up with a leasing company then slowly became a what if NKP+EL+D&H as I love the D&H. A lot of hours behind the computer and I came up with my railroads logo that Jim and Highball graphics turned into decals for me. fast forward a few more years and I'm getting ready to really right the what if history of the railroad. along with a true system map and such.
On my Colorado Consolidated,it's a combination of the Colorado Midland,D&RGW,Rio Grande Southern,and Colorado & Southern.It's set roughly in the 1940's-1950's,long after the Midland was abandoned.
I choose to Model the Providence and Worcester. I think it wil be more proto-freelance. I will be doing it in the present day with some minor twists. I have few engines that are no longer in service that I will say got rebuilt. I am also going to have a few slightly different painted engines as "hertiage" units. These will be done in past paint schemes. I may throw in an Amtrak or two. Not sure how the layout will be. That is where the Freelance comes in. I am also going to have my own leasing company. "Fitzsimmons Locomotive Works" FLWX. I am not very handy with spray paint so getting my fleet up will take time. I have a scheme for that as well based on a previous P&W scheme but in different colors. I may try to print some of my own decals and patch a few units for now.


I am mainy L&N as my layout does have a tunnel, and the L&N did in it's day run not too far from here. Also I like it's history and the paint schemes.

Also I have some ACL, SAL, Family Lines, and Seaboard Air Lines, all these were fairly local in their day as well.

The only RR I omitted was the Atlanta and St. Andrews Bayline which runs only a couple of mile from our home. At the time of my buying my locos there were no Bayline around and I could find no decals. They use a consist of 6 GP-38-2's, half of the train is wood chip cars. With their green locos with yellow trim they look great.

Even better were the RS-1's they used once, I think they still have a couple. I always liked the sound of the ALCO's.

Nice looking, huh?


I've enjoyed reading all your responses. Here's mine, but be warned it may be more than you want to read.

I’m currently 63 years old. After American Flyer S gauge layouts and collecting, and a small 4x8 HO layout, about 1993 I started another HO layout and I still have it; it’s been lightly modified about 3 or 4 times since then. Here was and still is my approach to it.

In considering a new and larger HO railroad layout I set the following parameters:

A. I wanted long, slow freight trains in continuous loops. This relaxes me and lets me enjoy seeing railroad history roll by in all of the “fallen flag” railroad names on the railcars. I also wanted just a little switching.
B. The target location of the layout would be near a small town “back East” on the B&O/C&O (I was fascinated as a boy by calendar pictures of these railroads) where two or three mainlines meet in the mountains – with a little industry, alternate routes, one or two branch lines, and an unused passenger depot (no Amtrak.)
C. The time period is the early to mid 1970s. I chose this because I could run cars built in the 1930s (railcars have a 40-year life span unless they are almost wholly rebuilt) and could logically run many types of diesels, especially SD40-2 locomotives (my favorites; I rode them often when I was braking out of Bismarck MO on the Missouri Pacific RR in the late 1970s. They were reasonably powerful, very reliable, and were very smooth to ride in.)
D. In consideration of “A” ("...long, slow freight trains...") there would be no grades; all the track would be flat
E. The layout had to be fairly easy to move (I’ve moved it twice so far – it takes two hours to cut/disassemble, and eight hours to reassemble all)
F. The “scenery” on the layout had to highlight and help focus on the 3 dimensional trains (hence the backdrop is all scenery flats – 2 dimensional; much easier to move too)
G. Forty percent of the railroad is covered (I guess you could call it true “dark territory”) so there are about 6 tunnels of varying widths (3, 2 and single track)


* Why use “Arcadia” as the town name? I was born and raised in Arcadia MO, which is on the MOPAC (now UP) mainline from St. Louis MO to Little Rock AR.


Located in a valley that is the only flat spot in West Virginia, Arcadia is a small town where three large and two short line railroads converge, interchange cars, and pass through. There are two principal and one alternate routes of two of the three mainlines here. One of the railroads keeps a switch engine at the small yard, and it switches what is left of the town’s “industries” and periodically interchanges to/from the three mainline and the two shortline railroads.

In the 1970s the US railroads’ financial health was badly deteriorated (this was before the Staggers Act of 1981 that greatly deregulated the rail industry.) One of the means the railroads used in trying to “stay financially afloat” was railroad mergers, purchasing equipment from railroads that went bankrupt, and providing trackage rights (where railroad “A” operates on railroad “B’s” tracks.) Hence diesel locomotive consists often contained up to four or five different railroads’ engines, and unusual engines and freight combinations could be seen here. (So I’ve got an “excuse” to purchase various diesel engine models with various road names!)

In short, Arcadia WV was a very busy railroad location, and in the 1970s it became a railfan “mecca” – where men who like trains/railroads came to view and photograph a lot of varied train action. [Where I sit to run the trains is the optimum spot for train watching – the inside corner of the L-shaped layout.]


The remaining industry is first of all the team track where usually miscellaneous freight (i.e. in boxcars, coal x gondolas, loading logs on flatcars, etc.) is loaded or unloaded. It is located at the right end of the station.

There is a small warehouse for loading/unloading boxcars.

There is a spot for unloading two tank cars simultaneously (diesel fuel for the engines; the fueling location itself with hoses is at the near side of the yard tracks) and a two-car-spot small processing plant for sand, which is then trucked to various glass manufacturers (WV is known as a glass-making state.)

Three extinct industries can be seen –an old decrepit shed for loading hogs, the coal tipple (not used for 20 years –same as the water tank - but neither torn down because of cost), and an old forge – a mom-and-pop affair for 40 years, bought out by a big company and then closed after 3 years.

BRIEF SUMMARY OF SOME OF THE TRACKS and their flexible MINOR functions:

Yard Track 1 (the track closest and adjacent to Track 3’s Main track) - is the team track, and this is done at the track’s left end – close to the depot. The use of the rest of the track is flexible: fueling locomotives; parking maintenance of way equipment; setting out bad order cars; a track for temporary yard switching operations; other miscellaneous.

Yard Tracks 2 and 3 – are used mainly for switching the industries, building and breaking up small strings of cars for interchange operations with the mainline trains, and for run-around operations for serving the small warehouse (boxcar loading/unloading.)

Track 2’s Alternate route functions as part of the yard, and is used as such when switching operations are going on. Track 2’s train is then run on its normal Main 2 track or stopped. Also, because of Main 2’s train direction, at times the section of Track 2’s Alternate route track just to the left of the depot is used to interchange cars with the switch engine. The switch engine then needs to add a caboose that is kept in the yard because it runs on Track 2’s Alternate mainline route (union rules.)

Gauntlet Track with Track 1 – I installed that section of track (about 10’) because of its relative uniqueness, and for an interurban car that would run out of the far right tunnel to the station and return. Never did do this, and don’t plan on using it. I’ve kept the track because (a) I took the time and work to install it, (b) I think it looks neat, and (c) it functions as guard rails on that curve and through the curve-on-curve track switch – both are sitting atop “The Abyss” (aka the stairwell.) In 17 years I haven’t had a car or loco take the dive, yet. (I’m thinking of adding plexiglass there. I think I’ve been an Alfred E. Newman too long, “What? Me worry?)


I like to run the trains to relax, so usually the three mainline trains are all run slowly on their longest length loops. If I’m “ambitious” I run Shortline 1 also (currently a 28-car ore train pulled by a Mantua N&W 2-6-6-2. Do you know that with a couple of small tweaks that loco is running around my 11" radius curves?) If I’m “feeling frisky” I also operate the Switch engine – which means changing Track 2’s normal long-train route by taking out some cars to shorten it (or stopping it). (Five trains are then running - as you probably know all railroads count a switch engine as a “train.”)

If I “just have to see” Shortline 2 run I have to do a lot of finessing.

Now that I’m retired I run the trains (and tweak them and the layout) a lot more often. I’m also adding, for the first time, a few steam locomotives (mostly Bachmann’s 2-8-4s with added weight and 4-8-2s) that at times help pull the diesel freights. Steam locos do this prototypically when moving “light” from their home shop to another location to pull an excursion train and as advertising for the railroad (great prototype “modeling excuses” to stick one or two on the front of a diesel freight, or double-head the steamers by themselves.)

If you got this far you probably deserve a medal.



I can understand the long, slow freights, very relaxing. I enjoy that as well, just watching them loop. When I do my switching I run it real slow like it should be.

It bores the kids after a while, so usually I'll have a Amtrack going along at speed to make them happy. They'll learn in time.

As to the SD40-2's, they are great locos, really pull a load. I was lucky to be in Chipley, FL one day when a CSX train rolled in and stopped. Four engines, SD40-2's on the ends and U-boats in the middle. When they powered up to get underway the sound of raw power was unreal. I could feel it in my chest and I was approx 100 yards away.

My self I like the ALCO RS-1's, as a kid the yard engineer of the Bayline let me ride from the yard to the depot and blow the whisle on main street. I'll never forget it. I was only 5 years of age. Years back I had a tape of the sound of 3 RS-1's climbing a grade with that special sound they made but it has been long lost.

Good luck on your project, sounds like you've got a winner.



Thanks for your post below. It seems there are a few of us who enjoy "slow trains."

And for riding in the cab of a train engine at 5 years of age, and being able to blow the horn - for a boy "it just can't get any better than that."

Per your comment: As to the SD40-2's, they are great locos, really pull a load. I was lucky to be in Chipley, FL one day when a CSX train rolled in and stopped. Four engines, SD40-2's on the ends and U-boats in the middle. When they powered up to get underway the sound of raw power was unreal. I could feel it in my chest and I was approx 100 yards away. I know what you mean. I'll share an experience.

When braking out of Bismarck MO in the 1970s I often caught the "local" as headend brakeman from Bismarck to Poplar Bluff MO and return. One day we had 120 cars (105 loads and 15 empties) with 4 engines, and all or 3 of the 4 were SD40-2s.

As usual when approaching Gads Hill (site of Jesse James' first or second train robbery) the engineer got a run at the hill (exceeding maximum 40mph speed limit) and we started up (I'm guessing Gads Hill was/is around a 1 to 1.5% grade.) As happened often we got down to about .5 mph about a quarter mile below the top, and we had two "choices." We could double the hill (which we had often done before, adding 2 to 3 hours to our time to Poplar Bluff) or if possible slowly grind up the hill - which is what we did that time because it was possible that day (no wet rails from dew, no leaves on the rails, and no rain, and all the engines were working fine.)

How did we "grind" up the hill? What this amounted to was going forward 2', wheel-slip light flashes ON, forward momentum drops off (power cut off to traction motors), wheel-slip light goes OFF, (power back to traction motors) surge forward 2', repeat over and over for 45 minutes until the hill top was crested.

During this time all 4 locos were roaring in 8th notch, and the engineer just sat there, relaxed (as did I, hoping nothing went wrong - I and we all hated doubling hills). What was interesting was that the railroad did not disapprove of this method of "hill climbing", which is a testimony to at least some of the diesel engines of that time.



That's a great point about the slow trains... it helps to keep any visible compression errors from being noticeable, I think - it just makes it look more real.
Trust me everyone - long posts are more than welcome. I noticed several comments on the longer post, which meant quite a few (including me) read every word. That's the kind of info I was hoping everyone would share!
We all want to rattle on about our layouts - well, I enjoy hearing about it (I know LHS owners may not be interested, but hey, I am). So if anyone wants to add more info to what they've already posted, that would be great!
Growing up in Minocqua, WI, 1946-1958, we lived on a dead end street leading down to 2 boathouses and the trestle across part of Lake Minocqua. There were only houses on the lake side of the road as the Milwaukee Road owned the property across the road. The mainline was also there past the depot just up the road and across the trestle. I was able to see all the trains that ran on the Northwoods branch. Even got to see the occasional steamer in the early 50's. Past the depot were the sidings, water tower, coal bins, and train shed. My Dad worked for the MILW briefly after WWII and his brother as well.

Now that I have a 12' X 20' room and am retired I'll be building a layout (HO) to run my 4-4-2 and 4-6-4 Hiawatha's as well as assorted steam and diesel from that era and before. May not be prototypical but I'm not in this hobby to do more than run some neat trains.:)


Tom Stockton
I agree 100% on the idea of "slow" trains! Trains zipping around like a tin-plate Christmas train just don't look realistic to me.

A friend of mine just got a new DCC- and sound-equipped locomotive (not sure what it is because the identification part of my brain quit taking new information about the time the SD-40's came out...), and it has a feature where, if you hit a certain key on the controller, the locomotive will tell you how fast it is running! Very cool!

Tom Stockton


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.

Exactly the same reason that I proto-freelance (except I don't live in the US lol)..

Although I started out collecting Santa Fe a few years ago, they didn't own/run some of the loco's that I like, and now I have such an eclectic diesel loco collection because my proto-freelance railroad just buys up all sorts of old stock that's going cheap! lol...


"retired" conductor
Mine is a marraige of 3 roads, linked by common trackage, yet separated by years. The layout (when completed) will highlight the Western Maryland trackage from Baltimore to Hagerstown, and its junction with the Hagerstown & Frederick Interurban line at Thurmont.
In real life, the WM stopped running that line in the mid 70's, after 2 hurricaines destroyed the tracks. The H&F folded up 20 years before, and the Maryland Midland runs those rails now.
The trains wil be prototypical of each road, the scenery also, it's just the timeline of what trains are running is all discombobulated! :eek: You may very well see a Western Maryland "alpha-jet" passing a slow Maryland Midland cement train, or watch a GP38-3AC pulling cars from an interchange track under trolley wire, that were just spotted there by a turn of the century steeple cab electric.
I've been thinking of naming the 2 portals that lead to staging " wormhole east and wormhole west" :rolleyes:


I know what everyone's meaning about proto-freelancing! If MEC had just used 4-8-4's clear into 1960... they'd have been almost perfect! I guess my thought process is a lot of, "Huh... how can I combine the MEC with Norfolk-Western and get it to run all through New England?"
Originally, I was going to have a second level (Newport R.I.) to my layout, but it turned out to be too much of a hassle in a 5X8 space to get trains from one level to the other.
Great idea for everyone to try getting your church to have a layout is... tell the pastor it's set in 30 AD Jerusalem, which back then was in transition between Steam and Diesel... and letter all the club stock & engines in Hebrew! (remember it goes right to left...)

NH Mike

CEO & Wheel Cleaner
How does that work? You can only go into the street and never come back out? Or vehicles just not allowed on the street period?

Someday you have a week or so to kill take a ride up to Lynn, Mass. It is the city of one way streets. Houdini would have a hard time trying to get in and out of Lynn. It wouldn't be a surprise if they have a few one way dead end streets. :D
I lived in Helena, MT for 20+ years so I am modeling Montana Rail Link and Great Northern(the original station) with scenery to include Last Chance Gulch and Sleeping Giant Mountain. Living in Texas now I will be able to relive my days in Montana when it is too hot and humid to go outside.

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