by Ron Marsh
On the wind-swept plains southern Nebraska sits the little town of Deshler. Though few traces of its history are obvious today, this small burg was once an industrial center and was served by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad. It is little wonder, therefore, that the community remembers its close ties to the railroad. It is, perhaps, more surprising that this heritage draws many model railroad enthusiasts to this isolated community each year.
Deshler is home to Spring Creek Model Trains (springcreekmodeltrains.com). Owned and operated by Deshler natives Dave and Debbie Zucker and their family, Spring Creek has been a thriving business for more than 20 years. The Zuckers have built their business, in part, through their regular presence at train shows across the nation each year. It is no surprise that they decided to bring rail enthusiasts to Deshler, hosting their own local bi-annual train show for the past 10 years. As a product of their notoriety and central location, some Free-mo groups approached the Zucker family about hosting a Free-mo weekend. That event was such a hit that it has become an annual event each spring in Deshler.
ABOVE: This large Farmers CO-OP provides some great switching operations for HO-scale trains on a sweeping curved module.
Free-mo is a set of modular standards that focuses on the endplates and connection of the modules while leaving more flexibility to the module builder in the middle. Free-mo setups focus on single-track operations with passing sidings in point-to-point or point-to-loop configurations. Standards for Free-mo modules are available in both HO and N scales. These modular setups make regular appearances at train shows across the country. Free-mo groups and individual modelers bring their modules together to create unique setups for operation and railfanning. (For more information about Free-mo standards, visit free-mo.org or free-mon.net.)
ABOVE: BNSF SD70MAC 8987 leads a loaded coal train out of town toward a power plant somewhere to the east on the HO Free-mo layout.
The third annual Free-mo weekend was held April 10-11, 2021 at the Thayer County Activity Center in Deshler. Large setups in both HO and N scale provided a great opportunity to see a variety of modules and scenes, run long trains, and railfan a wide variety of locations. The HO setup included more than 60 modules from five states. It was a point-to-loop setup with a staging yard at the point end. There were several nicely modeled towns and industries featured for a variety of operations.
The star of the show at this year’s event, however, was the N-scale setup. It was literally a nationwide setup, featuring modules from ten states stretching from Oregon to Delaware and Texas to Nebraska. The N-scale setup consisted of 126 modules that stretched seventeen scale miles across three rooms of the convention center. Some of the highlights of the layout included a scale wind farm, several town scenes, wooded scenes, and a lot of open country scenery.
ABOVE: An N-scale Chicago, Burlington & Quincy E5A/B set pull the road’s famous California Zephyr through a small town somewhere in the upper plains.
In addition to those who built and brought modules to the show, many attendees simply brought their own trains to run on the layouts. Operations at this event were pretty basic, with train meets at passing sidings arranged verbally between operators. There were little to no switching operations. It would certainly be possible, however, to include a dispatcher and switching operations to an event like this. It would be very interesting to watch and a great deal of fun to operate.
Spring Creek Model Trains’ Free-mo weekend was fun for all who attended. This event will certainly continue to grow in years to come. For those who enjoy seeing the work of modelers from across the continent brought together in one location it is a worthy addition to their train show calendar.
Missouri native Ron Marsh is a regular contributor to Model Railroad News and host of his own You Tube channel “Ron’s Trains N Things.”