Thursday, November 22, 2018

FRED - Protecting Your Trains

As our recent blog posts have shown, our efforts have shifted from building a layout to building a railway company. Several small details, not directly related to modelling but supporting it have to be implemented to improve the way we run the layout and FREDs are another small detail taht can make a difference.

Before committing to paint, ballast and scenery, we feel it's better to troubleshoot the layout as much as possible and fine tune operation. If changes have to be done, it will be less destructive.

In 1994, cabooses altogether disappeared from the old CN Murray Bay Subdivision. The new owner - Chemin de fer Charlevoix - was a shortline and had probably no use keeping up with such an old and costly technology. This may have been a contributing factor to my lack of fascination with CFC in its early days.

Replacing the caboose was a FRED (Flashing Rear End Device) which is nothing more than a yellow stick with a flashing red light mounted on the last car knuckle. Quite spartan, but it certainly made history.

A FRED inserted in a standard Kadee  #148 coupler

Replicating a scale FRED is quite easy. Any yellow stick with a red spot should do the job. In our case, we used a Peco yellow insulated plastic rail joiner and added a red square tape on it. The FRED bottom half was painted black to make it less conscupious. The plastic peg normally creating a gap between rails works wonder to keep the FRED firmly anchored into the knuckle.

I'm well aware much more sophisticated options are available. A few manufacturers offer working FRED which are cost prohibitive, out of scale and of no use for operation. Most of these gadgets require to be wired directly to a truck. It means the FRED must be permanently mounted on a specific car, which makes very little sense for an operator. One could argue you can make a much more realistic FRED using pico LED and I would agree, but it wouldn't hide the fact you must provide a power source.

A spare FRED is kept in Clermont yard and D'Estimauville just in case...

I my mind, working scale FRED is a sophistry. What may looks more prototypical ends up being less prototypical. In real life, flashing FREDs are barely visible in daylight, now imagine them in scale and the light becomes irrelevant. In fact, the most important characteristic to reproduce is versatility. FREDs imposed themselves because they were a simple and efficent way to protect a train rear end. The moment your scale FRED can't be moved around, it kind of lose its purpose.

On the other hand, a flashing FRED will probably appeal to people running trains at exhibition or who run some trains which doesn't require switching the last car. In these case, why not! But for simple operators, keeping things simple is bound to be more than enough.

*** Some will remark my few latest posts are all about implementing very crude solutions to improve operation. Does it means we lowered our standards? Not really.  While trying to step up our operations, several ideas must be put in action in a relatively fast way. The goal isn't to make great models at this point, but rather mockup and test them. Improvement will come as seen fit. In the case of FRED or scale brakemans, I'm happy with what we actually use. They aren't great under close scrutinity, but play their role and replicate in a decent way the real things. Being under constant use, it would be foolish to be too fancy since sturdiness is the key feature. And yes, if I find better figures, I'll gladly use them!


  1. How I built a FRED for about $10, perhaps less: