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


I choose "Proto-freelance". By this I'm loosely doing a central Pennsylvania narrow gauge that connects to the PRR main in a small town. That's the "proto" part. The "freelance" part is that the narrow gauge RR name, the town and the track connections are fictional.

This allows me to run PRR standard gauge engines and rolling stock.
There were many narrow gauge RRs throughout central PA around the turn of the 20th century. These came and went, changed names etc, so I'm modeling the general feel this these and the products they transported, lumber, live stock, stone and other goods (box cars). The era is before WWI which doesn't require the larger engines and rolling stock. This helps alot on a small layout as more cars fit on sidings and the main/branch and I really like those early wood cars.

The other main consideration is the layout size and shape (2 ft by 16 ft). Every thing must be compressed and the narrow gauge basically paralleling the standard gauge main. None of the PA narrow gauge RRs did this (they tended to move away from the PRR main through the mountains). This also means that the I don't have room for the double main of the PRR so there will only be a single main.
I chose proto-freelance.
I'm modelling Boston & Maine's Fitchburg line. I live less than a mile from the tracks, which are currently used by MBTA commuter rail.
This is my first layout build; I'm still in the research phase and discovering that some of my initial assumptions may be incorrect - I was under the impression that the Fitchburg line was the primary route to the Hoosac tunnel - which will be part of my layout - but now I'm not so sure. More research I guess, which is actually pretty exciting.

I have no real interest in steam, but was planning to model the transition era so as to keep my options open. This period was right at the very end of B&M's use of the line for freight (I think). Also, I might want to roll in some Guilford and Pan Am equipment, so this is where things may really start going freelance.

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Part two - Prototype to Freelance.

Space for a layout was always a problem. My room was 8x9. We had no basement, family room or attic. Fate intervened and when N-scale was introduced in 1969, I immediately made the jump. Suddenly I could actually have a complete layout in my bedroom! The starter set had an Atlas E8 in Santa Fe red warbonnet. Suddenly I was modeling the Santa Fe. In 9th grade drafting class I finished all my required work with an A+ so the teacher let me launch into individualized projects. One that I choose was a basement size layout. I researched the Raton Pass for the subject matter.

It was also about this time I discovered my local library had magazines. There was one called Trains and the other called Model Railroader. I also discovered that the librarian could bring out back issues. A monthly trip to the library became a regular event. Somewhere I decided I wanted steam power on my Santa Fe line, and with my new found source knowledge I began researching backward to a time where both steam and diesels would be natural on the Santa Fe. This is where I discovered that the CB&Q was a leader in the dieselization process and developed an interest in the road. The next logical question was where do the CB&Q and Santa Fe meet? Oh what do you know, they meet in the Colorado Front Range! So working in mountain railroading theme I get the Rio Grande too.

Skip forward a year to sophomore year and several things happened simultaneously that greatly influenced my next few years. First, my now on-going research demonstrated that neither the Santa Fe nor CB&Q railroads owned any Challenger class locomotives, or any articulated hardly at all. Bummer. Second, at Christmas time I made the annual trek into Woolworths to see the train stuff and I discovered a GN Big Sky Blue passenger car. This was news to me. Passenger cars can be some other color than stainless steel. Wow. Then third, our English class assignment was to write a short story. I agonized over the topic. Then I stumbled across a MRC magazine article on a fan trip on the V&O (March 1970, p 29.). I thought, “I can do that”, so I invented my own railroad on which to take a fan trip. The Pine Ridge railroad was born. I was now officially a freelancer of a railroad that did not have stainless steel passenger cars but did have articulated locomotives.

The setting was now southern Colorado and the Pine Ridge connected between the three railroads for which I already had equipment, SF, RG, and C&S.
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I model PRR but decided proto-freelance for a couple reasons. One, it means I can do whatever I want while still retaining PRR insignia ;) two, I can paint my locos in my own made up schemes which is easier and I like personalizing locos :D Plus, people who model too closely to prototype are stuck up :rolleyes: Haha just kidding for all y'all who love to do all that accurate work you do some great work guys!!! :D

Oh yeah I forgot to mention that I love the PRR because I live in Johnstown, only a half hour from the Horseshoe curve and the Juniata Engine shops in Altoona. And the railroaders memorial museum. All that history just amazes me

Dave S

Tree Farmer
I picked Maine Central because i'm a dyed in the wool New England Yankee and i've always had a particular fondness in particular for our largest state. In fact the wife and I hope to retire someday to some land we own north of Bangor.

I also decided to go proto-freelance as well so I can use the engines and rolling stock I already have as well practice my kitbashing skills by repainting and remarking selected stuff to Maine Central schemes. I just finished relabeling a set of seven Santa Fe Heavyweight Pullman cars with decals I got from Highball Graphics for example that (re)-taught me a lot. Amazing what you forget after 30 or so years being out of something! Next up is some maintenance of way equipment and locomotives.


Registered Member
Staff member
Wow! this thread has been ongoing for over a year (Orig Post Jan 2011). I voted but haven't posted to it until now.
Proto Freelance was my choice because a regional line was started by CN selling off it's interests in the Northern portion of Nova Scotia to Rail Tex of Texas. Since it is in our area and I was sick of seeing anything but CN the CB&CNS became my choice of roadname.
Today all the loco's are leased/patched, it's not really a time of interesting change so my interest lies in the period before leasing became the norm for most short line roads
For a short line it's kind of long 245 miles of it :D with all MLW locos. To model the earlier operations it would be difficult ie: a train of 9 C 630 loco's with over a 100 car consist from Sydney to Truro (CN interchange) would take up a lot of real estate. About a year after, locos from other Rail Tex lines became common sights adding much to the interest. When Rail America purchased Rail Tex more different road names became available, the last orphan locos being low nose GP 9's from "RaiLink" the Ottawa Valley line . So for someone who likes lots of colorful locos (as I do) it's a good line on which to do a bit of modeling.


Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Installment 3 - After College into Prototypically Modeling.

The Pine Ridge freelance lasted through high school, college, and into my career. I used it for many school projects and it had evolved into the Pine Ridge & North River. Then sitting in the Kansas City data center waiting for a conversion to run, I doodled out on a napkin the first N-scale incarnation of the Pine Ridge. My theme was to model the Santa Fe mainline with the transcon trains passing by while at the same time having my interchange with the Pine Ridge one which industrial switching could be done. The primary industry was an old AHM coal mine. But my dilemmas were many. First was that on a small layout a continually running train even if very slow would come around so frequently there was not time to use or even cross the main to get the switching done. Second was that the Super Chief (or any transcon) only runs once a day. So having it pass the same switching operation eight times seemed just silly. Third was that there was no room to turn the running train so the “mainline” traffic was always one direction. My epiphany was to set up a yard behind a scenic block where I could park trains and bring them out only occasionally and in the direction that I desired. Little did I know at about the same time a column writer was about to publish and idea where the model railroad was a stage on which trains normally kept hidden would be brought out for their “performance” and then return.

In 1983, I got more serious about model railroading. I wanted to create an exact model replica of the CB&Q E5s used on the Texas Zephyr that supposedly ran through my layout. A little math told me that an exact ¾” hand rail was way too small to implement in N-scale, well, that is, without breaking it the first time someone breathed on it. In the same time period I had discovered Command Control. In the 1979 Model Railroader was a series of articles on how to build a CTC-16 system. The CTC-16 decoders where huge and hard to fit into an HO unit let alone N-scale. Finally, I purchased a PFM sound unit. I had wanted one forever and was finally able to afford it. No way to fit a speaker into an N-sale loco, not even the massive Bachmann 4-8-4. Wow now I have three major reasons to go to a larger scale. I made the silly decision not to switch scales but to start modeling the Great Northern in HO. So now I am trying to be prototypical in HO and Freelance in N.

Even this did not last long research soon showed the GN had many unique steam locomotives that would only be available in Brass. So I included the NP and SP&S as railroads I was prototypically modeling.

Pete V

CEO Bangor and Santa Fe
I lived in Santa Fe for over forty years and ran with the spur freight Santa Fe Southern on occasions as well as the American Orient Express which spent a lot of time in Santa Fe as the tourists melted their credit cards down. I also spent a lot of time with the Cumbres and Toltec out of Chama NM. All of my trains were Santa Fe and D&RGW.

Then we moved East to take over the family tree farm. When a property has been in the family over 200 years, you don't say no. Well no one around here had anything on the Santa Fe let alone the D&RG and I wanted to move from straight DCC to DCC with sound. When John quit at Maine Trains in Kezar Falls ME, he had a serious sale and I picked up a little SW1500 for $125.00 with sound and I loved it. SO now it has wormed its way into the roster but it's Bangor and Aaroostock!

The freelance is based around power generation for a glass melting facility. That involves moving coal. It involves a silica mine called Short Mountain ( which is real) and a lot of Owens Corning hoppers. I decal up my own Diamond Potash , FMC Soda Ash. Kosher Lime boxcars which are off loaded pneumatically which is how glass factories handle it. The materials are moved from mine to processing and ultimately out to a gallery district in Santa Fe as artwork.

The railroad name now? well since the Bangor & Aaroostock cozied up to the Santa Fe roster it's now the B'NSF. That's Bangor 'n Santa Fe. It makes getting decals easier.

Lionel fan

I still don't know what I'm doing! I started with the idea of a double main loop so I could run two trains without interference. But then I thought "I would love to have a turntable!" So I added a turntable to go with the Atlas Roundhouse kit. Then it kinda grew with a couple more sidings...

I have a Pennsylvania K4, a New York Central F3, a Delaware and Hudson steamer switcher, and a Chessie System Diesel of sorts.

I don't know what I'm doing!

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
Then we moved East to take over the family tree farm. When a property has been in the family over 200 years, you don't say no.
I had the exact opposite. Our family had two homesteads that came into the family with the Oklahoma Land Rush. About 15 years ago when the grandparents made the living trust they decided that it was going to be broken into 4 parts. Among the children (our parents) it was decided that none of them wanted to have Oklahoma land or work a farm. So we were going to get the farm in leu of any other part of the estate. This arrangement was in place until last year when grandpa really dies. Suddenly the children get real interested in exactly what "they" are going to get and begin to research everything to the penny. They discover that a developer is intersted in the land rush property. It is now the most valuable part of the estate. So they decide to screw the family heritage and sell this land to get the money. My children would have been the 6th generation to own it, and they are just now old enough to begin managing a farm on their own. What rotten luck.

Of course from a railroad perspective it didn't have any tracks through or beside it so I guess not a great loss. Taking another tangent I can't win on that perspective either. Our Kansas property had tracks (Missouri Pacific) 2 city blocks from it. But they abandon it. Even came through a few years ago and ripped up all the track. heavy sigh
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Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
I have a Pennsylvania K4, a New York Central F3, a Delaware and Hudson steamer switcher, and a Chessie System Diesel of sorts.
Hmmm, There is a Warren Truss Trestle in the south part of Winfield Kansas that someone has carefully painted LIONEL on the side of. Not too New Englandish at all but it is a real place.

Pete V

CEO Bangor and Santa Fe
Well, the other two sisters wanted to cash it in so we got a big mortgage and bought them out. Then 2007- 2008 happened. I keep thinking my kids aren't interested in it and then they say strange things. They hopefully have lots of time to figure it out. It sure is different than Santa Fe. They will have to deal with the railroad in the basement.


Still in the planning stages. I want to model what's around me in Southern California, and I like trolleys. But we don't have trolleys here. So I came up with a vintage trolley tourist line that was set up in a modern county similar to my own real-life one.
my railroad is set in southern west virginia. I model Norfolk Southern, CSX and a fictional railroad the AC&S. Its modern day but i made a few changes to the history of some of the surrounding railroads. The PRR is still independent. My railroad is heavy on the Norfolk Southern. The railroad moves a lot of coal.

Pete V

CEO Bangor and Santa Fe
Still in the planning stages. I want to model what's around me in Southern California, and I like trolleys. But we don't have trolleys here. So I came up with a vintage trolley tourist line that was set up in a modern county similar to my own real-life one.
Is there not a major trolley in San Diego? The red line in LA from the forties comes to mind as well.


Whiskey Merchant

I grew up in southwestern Montana with relatives working for both the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road. Well over 20 years ago I had a large N scale layout, butback then the biggest majority of the locomotives where what I would call marginal and the choice of road names were pitiful. Everything was sold and I switched to HO guage. I really wanted to model wither the Milwaukee Road or the Northern Pacific, but didn't feel that I had the space to do either one justice being that I wanted to model the area right here where I live.

After a lot of thought, I decided to model a small branch/bridge line that connected to both the Milwaukee Road and the Northern Pacific. This would allow me to have power from both roads show up in my layout, plus by freelancing, river counters wouldn't have anything to whine about. The power from the Milwaukee Road and NP are all extremely accurate, but with my own railroad, I came up with a paint job that would show a family appearance, plus I could detail these locomotives the way I wanted without someone saying that something was wrong. It has worked out very well.


Master Mechanic
I proto-lance. My RR name was chosen when I was twelve. It has always been the Alabama Central. Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only had there been a real Alabama Central but there were a total of 4! The last prototype ACRR was abandoned in 1956, and it was the one that I followed. Click on the homepage tag in my signature, and you'll see what really happened.

Burlington Bob

Well-Known Member
I proto-lance also. I grew up along side the CB&Q's tracks and loved the sight of blackbirds and chinese red locos and the sounds of those first generation EMD's. I had a layout based on the early Burlington Northern with a mix of everything but this time it's strictly Burlington Route from about 1960-1966 with NO premerger green to be found anywhere. In fact, any of the employees who mention a possible closer working relationship with other Hill Line railroads are looked upon as being a little odd!:p I also wanted the freedom to take a few liberties with actual places and maybe practices, that is where the free lance aspect comes in. No overly large deviations, though.


Another proto-lancer here. My wife is from near Calgary, Alberta, so I ended up choosing Alberta in the 1990's as the setting for my 12x13 layout - "But honey, I'm building it to help remind you of home!!". Between the foothills and the prairies, there are lots of interesting scenic possibilities which I'm incorporating into the layout - from a small town dominated by grain elevators and which incorporates several features from the one my wife grew up in, to farm scenes, to my own take on the Morant's Curve, to various other elements which may not have a particular basis in Albertan reality but which I wanted to have on my layout anyway. And despite both Calgary and Morant's curve both being CP-land, I chose CN as my road (because who can resist those colors and all them zebra stripes, really?), with VIA (obviously) providing passenger services, and occasional visiting/loaned power from BC as well as south of the border. Also, on my layout CN acquired IC and WC about 10yrs earlier than in reality, and VIA kept using their FP9s and steam gennies until well into 1990s.


I have not decided, everyone here seems to have a back ground with railroads, which I, sadly, do not. I have driven past the yards in KC many times which has peaked my interest to model trains. Wouldn't the "Argentine Yard" be fun to do?
Yeah, not enough room:p
Since I live in Kansas, the flat between the two ranges, I want mountains, tunnels, about everything not in Kansas.
My heads is just full of ideas gathered mainly from this forum (thanks!!) i just can't get it on plans.:rolleyes:

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