Refresh of NorCalF’s Goals

Gregg Fuhriman

September, 2017

I thought it would be useful to post the roots of NorCalF's history as we celebrate the 20th anniversary of NorCalF's founding. But more importantly, after looking through the photos that were shared of this latest BarnBQ layout, I'd like to remind the group of NorCalF's big picture modeling philosophy and goals.


Free-mo in northern California originated in 1997 when Jim [Lackner], Harry [Wong], Doug [Fuhriman], and myself decided we wanted a way to operate our super-detailed, weathered, prototypically-accurate locos and cars that were sitting on shelves or stored in boxes. Gary [Green] soon joined, forming the core foundational group whose original tongue-in-cheek name was "Bay Area Regional Free-mo". We soon linked up with Chris [Palomarez] from SLO and some of his colleagues from LA, who briefly assumed the name "Southern California Area Regional Free-mo".  So when we did our first joint test setup in a San Mateo motel meeting room in 1999, we were literally "SCARF and BARF". Ha Ha.  We decided a more serious name was needed for our first big public event, a joint setup with the SLO modular club at the 2000 National Train Show in San Jose. And NorCalF was born.


The NorCalF "founding five" set the goal to build modules with track and scenery that were just as prototypically realistic as the train equipment we had been building, sort of an "RPM for scenery". In fact, there were several links formed between the RPM crowd and Free-mo, as our modeling philosophies and goals were basically identical - build models that were as close to the real thing as possible.


I want to refresh these goals now, so that NorCalF setups will soon once again present the very best, most prototypically accurate modular model railroading on the continent. Doesn't that sound like a great thing to be part of?


For train equipment, that means prototypically correct detailing, painting, and weathering. Real trains are almost always dirty, to one degree or another. You very rarely see factory-floor shiny locos and cars in the real world.  So with this in mind, I strongly encourage everyone in NorCalF and Free-mo to pursue the "RPM mindset" and resist the "easy" path of pulling a new loco out of its box and dropping it on the Free-mo layout. Take the time and put in the effort to research your chosen prototype, add the correct details, tweak the factory paint, and *weather* those locos and cars. Or at the very least, hit them with some Dullcote (though that is a weak substitute for actual weathering).


Perhaps there is some fear involved in potentially "wrecking" that expensive loco, and so it remains all shiny and toy-like forever? There's an easy way to overcome that fear: practice on low-cost, "disposable" models to build up your detailing and weathering skills until you have the confidence you won't "wreck" those models you really value. Go on eBay, etc. and pick up some cheap, old models to practice on. At worst, you'll ruin some $5 cars. At best, you'll be able to turn a profit by re-selling the weathered cars (it's surprising what weathered equipment can go for on eBay etc.).


And while weathering those cheap cars, take on the mindset that it's the most valuable car in the world to you, so you'll try to do the very best job possible. Otherwise, if you see the car for what it is (a cheap piece of disposable junk), your efforts will be for naught. At least half of good weathering is the mindset of the artist.


I've been putting this into practice myself. I'm slowly working my way through my DCC loco fleet and upgrading the lights, details, and paint, then weathering them using a mix of chalks and airbrushing. I will no longer run out-of-the-box locos at Free-mo setups (I hope to do the same with cars, eventually - now when I prep a new car for operations, I weather it before putting it in my Free-mo transport boxes). I use prototype photos found on the internet, or from my own collection. I simply *look* at what's in the photos, and then try to replicate it. I go piece by piece - what do the trucks *look* like? OK, replicate that. What do the pilots *look* like? OK, replicate that. What does the roof *look* like? OK, replicate that.  Pretty soon, the entire model is weathered just like its prototype.


The same process can be used when designing, building, and scenicking Free-mo modules. Choose a prototype, study photos of it, then break it down into small "pieces" and replicate what you see. If uncertain what scenic materials and techniques to use, just practice on disposable blocks of foam or scrap pieces of plywood until your methods and skills can produce the look you want. Don't be afraid to use non-commercial materials. You'll be pleasantly surprised what can be done by *not* opening a box! This is how I did my Glen Frazer module. I failed at a lot of side experiments before hitting on the formula that produced the look I wanted.


As illustration and inspiration, here are some pics of a few locos I upgraded in recent years following this method, staged on a section of Glen Frazer module. These are factory-painted models to which I added or corrected a few details, added small decals and brushwork to correct the paint, and then weathered: 

Thanks for reading.