Building that PROTO Layout

In last week’s post, I suggested that more modelers build PROTO layouts. Today, I want to explore two ways to build that layout.

Building a model train layout is a big task to begin with and something that’s never really finished – at least in my experience. There are always things to add, improve or change.

Building a PROTO layout is an even bigger task, because PROTO modelers love details and have to build many parts from scratch. Just converting and supering a car or engine can turn into a major undertaking. Thus, the building process takes much longer.

So how am I supposed to build an entire layout in PROTO:87?

Going micro

Over the last few weeks, I have been following The Protocrastinator blog and love his musings about building a PROTO:87 micro layout. I think this is the perfect approach to fine scale modeling: Choose a scene that is manageable in size and tell a story.

When we first moved to Manhattan last year, I was thinking about building a micro layout, too. I did some research and found Carl Arendt’s Micro/Small Layouts for Model Railroads website, which contains over 1,500 ideas, track plans and photos on micro layouts. Whether you are looking for an Inglenook or Timesaver, single level or multi level, a track plan with or without switches – Carl’s got you covered.

Going micro is definitely a good plan, but for me it seems somewhat limiting and that’s not because of the size. What I am missing the most is context. Micro layouts are great for operating alone or with a buddy and are certainly terrific as exhibition layouts to show off your craft. But at the end of the day, you are confined to your scene on a two by four.

Going modular

When you turn your micro layout into a module that connects to other modules with matching end plates, you are literally able to connect to the great wide world. Your scene is now one of many along a (model) railroad line with a new story to tell every time it is set up. Your short story suddenly turned into a novel – now here is the context I was looking for.

If PROTO modeling is supposed to gain more traction in the U.S. (which I hope it will), I firmly believe that starting a modular PROTO:87 group is the way to go.

This not only allows you to connect to other modules. More importantly, it connects you to like-minded modelers who pursue a common goal. Individuals can further develop their specialties and help out fellow modelers in areas where they may lack expertise and vice versa. It’s a win-win situation.

Your turn

Interested in starting a PROTO:87 modular group? Want to take the Free-mo or the FREMO-USA route?

Leave a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

8 thoughts on “Building that PROTO Layout

  1. Ed McCamey

    Could be a way to expand actual layouts and allow for displays at conventions and shows. Critical is the interface design and template as well as the minimum standards for the modules. If steamers will run, then the radius issues will be more constraining. A “free-mo” approach – but with say exclusively point to point operations (less radius issues) may be a way to consider. The Euro FreeMo P87 module approach (one central main line rather than a isle positioned main) may be a better option than the US based Free-Mo, as there exists several fine P87 modules already being interchanged and operated. The Germans had a fine modular P87 layout at the Houten, NL P87 International Convention in March 2009.

    -ed mcccamey-

  2. Johannes Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Ed. I also think that the P87 FREMO style with the main in the center is very reasonable. In terms of radii, I feel that going with large prototypical curves is the way to go. The FREMO:87 group builds modules with 300 cm radius – no problem for steamers.

  3. Bob

    Interested in starting a PROTO:87 modular group? Want to take the Free-Mo or the FREMO-USA route?

    There is no such thing as Freemo-USA.

    Freemo is the European standard.

    Free-mo is the standard we are building to in the US. It is not a USA standard. There are groups in Canada, South America, Australia and Derby UK all building to the Free-mo standard.

  4. Bob

    I think you need to take a close look at Free-mo. We are not proto-87 but we are doing prototype modeling. Free-mo is more than a standard, it is a philosophy. We use large radius curves

    I do not understand Ed’s comments,

    A “free-mo” approach – but with say exclusively point to point operations (less radius issues) may be a way to consider.

    Free-mo is point to point. Yes some of the members have build balloons, but they have a large radius and will take a steam engine. It fact, point to point is a killer on a steam engine, no way to turn it. Run 50% forward and 50% backwards.

    The Euro FreeMo P87 module approach (one central main line rather than a isle positioned main) may be a better option than the US based Free-Mo…

    Free-mo is a central mainline and not an isle positioned main. I think you have Free-mo and some other standard confused.

    Everything you are looking for is Free-mo, except proto-87 track. We do build track to the NMRA standards, but we use code 87 on the main line. We try to encourage the use of some of the finer track available (not Atlas code 87). Some are seeing the light and some are not.

    Bob Schrempp
    Free-mo SLO

  5. Johannes Post author

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for your feedback. I didn’t mean to confuse you or anyone else. You are right, there is no such thing as Freemo-USA. That’s why I wrote FREMO-USA in the blog post (note the slight difference in spelling).

    FREMO-USA is a group of modelers in the European FREMO modeling US prototype. They have been doing so since 1990 and there are several H0-USA standards or divisions within that group. Here is a quick overview of the FREMO-USA history and standards. Sorry for the rather crude automatic translation.

    I am quite familiar with the idea and philosophy of FREMO – I have been a member since 2006 and was part of the FREMO:87 group before leaving Germany. I haven’t been at a Free-mo meeting yet but would welcome the opportunity.

    The goal of this post was to inspire other modelers to think about a PROTO:87 module group. At this point, I don’t have any particular standard in mind and I am open for discussion, so keep the comments coming.

  6. Jamison A.


    Proto:87 modeling in modular form is something I’ve been mulling over for more than a year. I’d actually decided to strike out on my own and develop my own standard for future use, inspired by elements of existing standards and combining good techniques I’ve seen and studied elsewhere with my own innovation.

    I guess it goes without saying that I’d be game for the idea.

  7. Johannes Post author


    Thanks for your post. I am curious to find out what you have developed so far.


  8. Arved

    Proto:87 is what Freemo has been missing. Actually, reading the standard, I’m not sure Proto:87 would be “illegal” in a Freemo module, as there is no requirement for Kadee couplers (ergo, we are free to use Sergent couplers), RP-25 wheels (thus, we are free to use Proto:87 wheels), or prohibiting NMRA S-3.1 standard (Proto:87 or Fine:HO) trackwork!

    Doing so and showing up at a Freemo event would be anarchy (or, at least, unwelcome) I am sure, but technically, until those standards are adopted as part of Freemo, I don’t see anything prohibiting a Proto:87 Freemo layout.

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