The Calgary Free-mo Standards and Practices
Calgary Free-mo conforms to the Free-mo standards published on http://free-mo.org/standard, with local variations and recommended practices which enhance our public profile and make setups and problem diagnosis easier, but do not affect compatibility or interoperability.
The major differences are:
- that we normally operate at a family-friendly rail height of 42" (vice 50"); and
- at formal shows, we require skirts on the modules for a professional appearance.
Those who operate in official Free-mo meets will be able to set up at the standard 50" rail height.
Besides the basic interoperability of Free-mo, we have checklists for locomotives and rolling stock to ensure smooth operation, and a setup checklist to help avoid the “oops” factor at shows.
All of these are described in the following sections. A glossary of some terms is found at the end of these descriptions.
CALGARY FREE-MO OVERVIEW
The main purpose of Calgary Free-mo is to provide a place to operate finely detailed HO scale standard gauge models in a realistic fashion. Operating trains is the important aspect of meets, so the layout setup does not follow the traditional "endless circle" format of modular layouts. Instead it follows a "free-form" configuration that does not readily lend itself to continuous running; trains originate from one point on the layout, traverse it, and then terminate at the other end (or back at the starting point). This format results in modules that are viewed from both sides, and that are designed to be reversible (rotated 180 degrees).
This type of operation requires end points, typically in the form of stub end yards or reverse loops. A layout may then take on the form of an "out-and-back" or a "point-to-point". Other more complex formats are possible if "junction" modules are built; for example a wye module could allow a branch line operation.
Between the end points of the layout are modules which carry one or two main lines from one end to the other. Large modules may be assembled from small, easily transportable "sections" to create a large layout feature; for example a passing siding long enough for a full-length train could be created as a multi-section module.
To date, we have constructed numerous double-track main line modules, primarily to facilitate public operations where frequent trains are desirable. We have also built a large number of double-to-single transition modules and a number of single track mainline modules.
MODULE LOCAL VARIATIONS AND RECOMMENDED PRACTICES
Recommended practices are designed to make our setups more realistic/ easier/ better presented, but individual module builders may implement them or not as they prefer; they have no effect on the interoperability required for a setup, although some (eg signalling) may affect the setup plan.
This is the only mandatory standards variation for participation in most Calgary Free-mo setups. We normally operate at 42" rail height, rather than the 50" rail height in the official standard. We have found that at public shows, this significantly enhances the ability of the public (especially the younger members, who we want to infect with the virus) to see and appreciate the setup. For operations at 50" height, members will have various solutions – alternative leg sets, adjustable height legs, etc, so that compatibility with standard Free-mo is maintained.
The official standard does not specify a fascia colour. We have chosen to paint the fascia Mayan Green (Home Depot/ Behr colour, they change the formula from year to year but e-mail us email@example.com for the currently available mix). This gives a consistent professional appearance at shows.
Scenery Base Colour:
Scenery should be prepared with a base earth colour so that when bits of finished scenery fall off, it looks like dirt and not pink foam. Behr Dried Bark (flat) is the main colour used by our members, but any suitable colour will do.
The official standard does not specify a skirt or colour. We have chosen to use grey cloth skirting, again for a professional appearance at shows, and also to hide the immense amount of stuff that we invariably put under our modules. Because of the difficulty in getting a consistent source of material, the grey colour used varies somewhat; come see us to find out the current source for best match.
BASEBOARDS/ MODULE CONSTRUCTION
We recommend the use of good quality plywood and the avoidance of dimensional lumber, for environmental stability reasons. When planning a module, transportability needs to be carefully considered; if you cannot get a module to a setup, it does not exist. Modules should be sturdy enough to withstand frequent moves. Coffins or transport cages are recommended for protection during transport.
Track must be to NMRA standards and compliant with the Free-mo specifications. Perpendicularity to the endplates, exact spacing of dual main lines at the endplates, and flatness across the module – avoiding “ski jumps” - are essential. Calgary Free-mo members currently do not have any modules with main line grades.
Scenery should depict realistic, commonly found rail-oriented scenes. Scenery (especially tunnels and bridges) must allow hand-cleaning of all tracks using a track eraser type cleaner or alcohol soaked rag. Materials and techniques are user choice. Backdrops are not used in setups.
The Free-mo standard Floquil rail colour is no longer available. However, painting the rails a suitable colour enhances realism significantly.
We are gradually moving to a signalled system. To this end we recommend wiring such that sensing of trains can be easily installed, basically by having a module local branch feed off the main track bus for each main line track on which a current sensing system can be installed. See the Wiring Recommend Practice for the wiring implications. Signals are not installed on most modules; some members have short one foot single and double track “Signal Mos” with signal heads which provide great flexibility in setting block boundaries, the only requirement being that all intervening modules should have sensing installed. Our signalling system is provided by Signal Logic Systems (firstname.lastname@example.org). This system interoperates with the California Free-mo signalling system but provides additional realism in signal performance. Where signalling is installed, Ethernet cables for connection of the sensing units to adjacent modules will be required.
The figure below illustrates our recommended wiring practices.
- Main Bus: Track Bus, Accessory Bus, and DCC common are wired from module end to module end to terminal blocks; thence to pigtails. Note that the wire colour of the track bus changes at one end.
- Track Feeds: Local track feeds within the module are taken from the terminal block to multiple feeders on each rail, usually about one per rail piece, so that continuity is not determined by the rail joiners, soldered or not. Feeds of 18ga wire are adequate within a module. Drops from the rails can be smaller wire (eg 24 ga) for less conspicuous installation provided they are short.
- Main Track Sensing: Each main line has a local feed to one rail of the each track running end to end, but without pigtails. This is separate from the siding feeds, which come off the main bus, and allows locomotives on the main to be current sensed for signalling without false indications from anything on the sidings. Even if detectors are not installed, this is recommended as a precaution against future signal detection installation. Until signal sensing is installed, a simple jumper completes the circuit.
- UP5 Feeds: UP5s are fed track power from the un-sensed track feeds to prevent them from being detected as locomotives. Feeding the UP5s track power prevents them from having to draw power from the ThrottleNet.
- Accessory Power: Internal module accessory power is taken from the Accessory Bus at the terminal block. Accessory power is DCC; this allows DCC enabled accessories to receive commands. If DC is required, an AC/ DC converter will have to be installed, or a wall-wart can be used.
- LocoNet: The ThrottleNet feed (LocoNet, but named to distinguish it from a separately wired BoosterNet network used for distributed boosters) is daisy chained through the UP5s and through any other accessories requiring LocoNet commands. Star connection is also allowed. We do not connect boosters to the ThrottleNet, but rather only to the BoosterNet.
Although the Free-mo standard calls for a fixed jack for the LocoNet cables at each end of the module, and a jumper cable, we have found it more reliable to simply leave a pigtail cable, and have each module provide a 6 conductor 6 position data (straight through) joiner. This does not affect interoperability, since our pigtails are long enough to connect to a jack if that is fitted on the adjacent module.
We do not require LocoNet jacks on shorter modules or all sections of a module, although they are desirable. Our target is about one jack pair (normally a UP5) every eight feet.
- Dual Track Bus: This is not the same as dual sensing feeds to signalling sensed main line track on dual track modules. Some modules are wired for dual track buses so that separate boosters can be used for power load reasons – typically in a yard, where there may be many locomotives or lighted cars at one time; or for our dual track loop modules. The loop modules require dual buses because the two tracks in the loop are separately fed from auto-reversers. Modules with dual buses are required to have a single to dual bus adapter so that they can be used with single bus modules.
- Sectional Modules: If the module is sectionalized, connections between the sections should carry the main Track Bus, Accessory Bus, DCC Common line, and ThrottleNet; plus the sensed main line feeds. Local non-sensed feeds can either be carried across the section interface, or fed from the main Track Bus terminal block at the other module end. Terminal blocks are not required on internal section ends.
- Control: If a small yard is intended or able to be operated from one side of the module only, we do not require controls for turnouts on both sides of the module. Not shown in the figure, a 110VAC power cord of 16/3 ga or larger runs end to end of the module. This is used to carry power to the distributed boosters and to any wall power based accessories. Distributed boosters through daisy chained extensions are allowed in Canada, but are not allowed in some jurisdictions in the US. The setup sponsors are normally responsible for conforming to local electrical codes.
Wire colours are user preference; the preceding illustration shows the Calgary Free-mo preferred colours which aid in fault finding.
- Track Bus: Red and Blue; note change of polarity at one end to enable reversed insertion
- Sensed Mail Line Rail Feeds: Yellow and Orange
- Accessory Bus: Black
- DCC Common: Green
Since the modules are reversible in setups, the end chosen as reference does not matter.
A Fun Run is basically a private setup for our own pleasure, at some convenient location, and the guidelines are pretty relaxed. The setup is planned, but changes can occur at the last moment. Modules should be mechanically and electrically complete, but the run can be used as a venue for checking out new or modified modules to ensure wiring and trackwork is smooth, normally a good idea before scenery is applied. Glitches are accepted as bugs are worked out, part of the process of maturing a module. Operations are flexible and usually well into the night. There is usually an associated pot luck dinner or BBQ. A good time shall be had by all.
At a public display or show there is a significantly different emphasis: paying customers want to see smooth continuous operation in a well presented example of the modeller’s art. The show is planned out and committed months ahead, and the only acceptable excuse for not showing up as planned is that you are dead. Preference is given to scenicked modules (although one or two interesting “in process” modules can spark conversations with the public). Operators are scheduled to ensure a continuous flow of trains from show start to shut down, and participating members can expect to spend several hours of each show day operating. We engage people in conversation, and it is a good opportunity to recruit new members.
Shows normally distribute profits to the participating groups based on a number of factors including size, quality, distance travelled, and audience engagement. Groups also get points for volunteering in other show functions. Shows provide the major source of funds for us, as well as an opportunity to run trains.
When operating at any setup, normal practice is to:
- Maintain a two-module distance between consists;
- Throw any switches back to mainline once switching is completed;
- Maintain an open yard for others to build consists; and
- Use set-up tables while building or removing trains, and then place storage boxes underneath to maintain space for others.
Calgary Free-mo currently owns the following modules and equipment:
- Lindsay Yard: A large yard module used for making up and dispatching trains.
- Lindsay Yard Bridge: A 2-1 module for connecting single and double track modules
- TurnTable: An end-of-track turntable module for turning trains
- ART: A large double track trestle module
- Command Station: A DCS100, UR91, UR92, power supply, and LNRP in a table which act as the central hub of a setup
- LNRPs (Digitrax) and Cat6 cables for extending the Boosternet through a large setup to local power district boosters
- Power cables 11VAC and power bars
- A variety of spare components, fitter rails, rail joiners, and cables
- Setup folding tables
- Shims to go under module legs for floor protection or coarse height adjustment
- Crowd Barrier: Stanchions and yellow rope for public shows
- Calgary Free-mo banner and signs
- Donation box for “Fun Runs” where the public can casually come and watch
CALGARY FREE-MO PYLE LOOP
Standard interface main line modules built to a common physical design, with a special keystone, form a loop. Modules are usable as standard Free-mo modules in other locations.
A keystone and any combination of ten loop modules form a loop. Group members own loop modules; Group or individuals can own keystone modules.
Module tops are cut to the precise shape necessary to maintain interchangeability using a template and a top-guided router. End plates are Free-mo double-track standard. Track arrangement is at user discretion provided it meets Free-mo Main Line standards.
Variant loop modules can be double or triple the single size, with (if desired) internal segment boundaries and interfaces. This can provide more flexibility for track arrangement and scenery.
Keystones may have different physical and track arrangements so long as they interface to the ten loop modules correctly, have a standard Free-mo interface on all three track crossings, and meet Free-mo Main Line standards.
A Keystone could also be used as a junction.
The Keystone has standard single track buses at each interface. Because the modules are in a loop, the two tracks must be independently auto-reversible; this requires completely separate track buses for each track, and a corresponding four pole PowerPole connector on each end of the loop modules. The reversing section of the loop can be between any two module boundaries, but should be at least as long as the longest train. A dual auto-reverser takes the single Track Power Bus at the entrance to the reversing district and provides two independent reversing feeds, one to the inner and one to the outer track. Each Keystone should have a dual solid-state switching auto-reverser set for high sensitivity to minimize power interruptions causing sound decoder resets.
For use as a normal Free-mo module other than in the reversing section of the loop, including those in the physical loop but not in the reversing section, the dual track buses need to be connected with a 2-to-1 connector at one end only to connect both tracks to the normal Free-mo track bus. Each Pyle module should have one of these.
Pyle Loop modules can also be signaled per normal wiring practice.
Accessory Bus and LocoNet are fed through the loop as with normal practice, with breaks at some point within the module loop so that electrical loops are not created.
Checklists help ensure that nothing is forgotten and there will be no (well fewer) “Ooops” at a setup. Some are for reliable operation within an owner’s trains; some facilitate “interchange” when we are running an operating session. If the reasoning for any is not clear, ask us “How do we know that?”
Locomotives and Rolling Stock
- Metal wheels; they attract less “crud” and help keep tracks clean
- Meet NMRA wheel gauge standards
- Code 100 (0.100" tread) and code 88 (0.088") are both allowed, but code 100 have been proven more reliable on the sometimes variable trackwork of a setup
- Pivot freely
- Slight lateral rock on at least one end (three-point mount)
- Cars should roll freely down a 3% grade
- Able to negotiate a #5 turnout
- Able to negotiate a 30" radius curve
- Kadee #5 or #58, or equivalent other brands.
- Match Kadee coupler height gauge or NMRA Standards Gauge, plus or minus 1/32"
- Trip pins (if not removed) clear Kadee coupler height gauge or equivalent
- Knuckle and centering springs work freely
- Free of flash
- Metal couplers insulated from the rail
- Car Weight:
- Weighted to within +10%, -5% of NMRA specification
- DCC compatible with NMRA DCC compliant decoders
- Address 00 (DC locomotives) is not allowed. This capability is disabled in the command station.
- Two-digit address 03 is not allowed except for testing with clearance from the Run Chief.
- Prefixes 00, 01, and 02 reserved by Calgary Free-mo.
- Decoder address prefixes (first two digits) are assigned, with the last two digits at owner preference. Calgary Free-mo members have an assigned prefix. Other individuals or groups with whom we operate frequently may have an assigned prefix.
- Programing stations will be available at setups to reset addresses as necessary for guests without an assigned prefix.
- Required Items: These are the minimum required, but spares are always a good idea. Each module owner is responsible for the connecting hardware at one end of their module.
- Modules, legs
- At least one screw clamp or good quality small bar clamp (not a spring clamp) to hold module ends together; two are preferred; deep-throated clamps are best
- Fitter rails to accommodate the end of a module that has the most tracks to the next module (eg: single track = 2 fitter rails, double track = 4 fitter rails. Additional fitter rails in a variety of sizes are useful to accommodate the tolerances normally encountered are useful
- Metal joiners: Atlas makes joiners that fit both code 83 and code 100 rail; these seem to work well for fitter rails as they can be pushed easily from the fitter rail onto the module's permanent rail ends with a small screwdriver
- Insulated joiners for use at power district boundaries or on any signal sensed module
- Additional fitter rails and joiners to connect any non-butt joint tracks crossing internal section boundaries
- One RJ12 6p6c data joiner (wired straight through), to connect ThrottleNet pigtails across module joints
- AC power extension cords and outlet expanders or strips to extend wall power throughout the layout. A Block Heater style extension cord that is at least as long as your module with a 3-way outlet is appropriate. Minimum wire is 16/3 to minimize voltage drop.
- Suggested Items: These can improve the setup, or your comfort at the setup
- A train! Or more trains!!
- Digitrax throttle
- Digitrax boosters - for multiple power districts or emergency backup
- Polyfiber/ground foam thickets to cover one inter-module joint on both sides of main line
- Tools for minor repair of modules or rolling stock
- Folding chair or stool.
These amplify the definitions in the Free-mo standard. They reflect module–level descriptions; setup-level definitions are described subsequently.
- Track Power District: A section of a setup which is powered by a single booster. Typically in a larger setup there will be multiple power districts to distribute the load. Both Track and Accessory Power Districts may be required. District boosters are linked to a ThrottleNet driven from the command station.
- Accessory Power District: A section of the setup for which the Accessory Bus is powered by a single booster. Accessory Power District Boundaries do not necessarily coincide with Track Power District boundaries. The intent of an Accessory Bus District is to split the accessory power demand of a setup into parts such that each can be handled by a single booster; and to isolate sections of the Accessory Bus so that a fault in one section does not affect the whole setup.
- BoosterNet/ Throttlenet: Calgary Free-mo has segregated LocoNet into two separately wired networks carrying identical information:
- BoosterNet, which runs through Digitrax LNRPs to distributed boosters, and provides fault isolation for the critical infrastructure; and
- ThrottleNet, which runs from each LNRP through all modules in the ThrottleNet district to enable wired connection of throttles and accessories.
- ThrottleNet District: A section of the setup for which the LocoNet from the module UP5s is connected to either the Command Station or to an LNRP (LocoNet Repeater Panel). The intent of the ThrottleNet District is to isolate faults to one district rather than the whole setup; to limit the distance covered by any one district; and to spread the load on the LocoNet of connected throttles among several power sources.
- Module: Any layout component (or group of "sections") meant to be operated as a single unit in a fixed configuration. A module can have any number of sections. Both ends of a module comply with the Free-mo physical and electrical standards defined within this document.
- Section: A part of a larger module, complete with bench work, track, scenery, etc. Except where otherwise noted, standards for module end interfaces do not apply to inter-section interfaces, as these are considered to be internal to the module.
- Endplate: The standardized end surface of a module that joins with an adjacent module in a Free-mo layout. The physical aspects of the endplate are defined in the Free-mo standards.
- Fitter Rails: The 2" long removable rails and joiners used to bridge the joints between adjacent modules or sections. Must be Code 83, and highly preferred to be weathered.
- Track (Power) Bus: The continuous two wire bus feeding power and DCC commands to the track.
- Accessory (Power) Bus: The continuous two wire bus powering electrical accessories such as turnout motors, structure lighting, animation, etc. We typically power the Accessory bus with a booster to allow DCC enabled accessories, thus, it is 16V AC, with a DCC signal on it.
- LocoNet (DCC) Bus: The continuous six-wire bus carrying DCC information among the Digitrax system components such as throttles, boosters, radio receivers, etc.
- DCC Common: A continuous wire running through all modules, going to all boosters, that enables boosters to have a common reference. This is not the same as the ground on the wall power, and should never be connected to wall ground. It provides a return path for current as locomotives cross power district boundaries, and provides a steady reference for commands on the DCC power buses. It is the equivalent of the DCC common wire bound to the BoosterNet distribution system used by Calgary Free-mo, and is required for any conforming Free-mo module.
- Pigtail: Common name of any of the connector/wire assemblies used to connect the electrical busses together between modules.