Ephraim Shay (1839-1916) was a logger himself, and like those who try to build a better mousetrap, he decided to build a better logging locomotive. In 1880, he constructed a successful prototype, basically a flatcar with a steam boiler mounted amidships; fuel and water on opposite ends. What set this locomotive apart was the unusual cylinder arrangement. Two vertical cylinders drove a crankshaft, which in turn drove a pair of geared trucks through a system of universal joints and sliding shafts (jackshafts). On most Shays, the boiler is offset to the left of center, to balance the cylinders on the right.
In 1882, Ephraim assigned the rights of the locomotive that would bear his name to a company that would eventually become Lima Locomotive Works (Lima, OH, pronounced LIE-mah). They refined and enlarged the design: Shays could burn coal, oil or wood, and varied from tiny two cylinder, two truck models to three cylinder, four truck monsters weighing over 400,000 pounds.
Shays produced a distinctive sound; due to the rapid firing of the cylinders it seemed they were going about 60 mph, whereas they were actually chuffing along at 12 mph! This slow speed, high tractive effort locomotive could climb grades as great as 14 percent. One other advantage the Shay had was the exposed cylinders and running gear.This made repairs relatively easy, as everything was accessible.
Shay production lasted until 1945. There were 2,771 Shays built, of which approximately 84 still exist. It's a testimony to the Shay design and construction quality that many of these remain in active service many decades after they were built. Most of the survivors are in tourist railroads – there is one at Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad at Felton, near Santa Cruz.
In the center of Cadillac MI, you can see a city park honoring Ephraim Shay, with a two-truck Shay on display. You can also visit the location where the first Shays were built, to see modern replicas run by the current landowners - George Ice.
The L.E. White mill owned three Shays - #2, #4 and #5 on the roster. The first (#800 on the Lima Works list) was built in 1903; the second (#957) was built in 1904 and the third (#2942) was built in 1917. All three were abandoned in 1936. All three Shays were delivered as wood burners but were all converted to use oil.
Typically a Shay could pull 10 times its own weight - #2 weighed 53,000 pounds which meant she could pull some 250 tons of logs.
This Shay - picture right - worked at Glen Blair. When the Glen Blair mill closed in 1925 the Shay was stored in the shed and lay undisturbed until this photo was taken in 1938. This Shay was built in 1889 and is believed to have been the first Shay on the Mendocino Coast. She was bought by the Glen Blair Redwood Company in 1903 from the Usal Redwood Company. She was scrapped by the Union Lumber Company (who bought the Glen Blair redwood Company) in 1947.
Check out this Reference and Research website for Shay Locomotives.
The museum at Elk contains a model built by Colin Menzies of a Two Truck Shay. The model was built by Colin in 1/24 scale – ½ inch to the foot. It is a static model ( i.e it is not powered). It is atypical of the class of Shays owned by the L.E. White Company. The entire model was constructed from drawings and photographs by Colin of styrene plastic with the exception of the wheels which were bought. It took some 400 hours to complete.
Colin Menzies’ widow Diane has been kind enough to give to our club another of Colin’s incredible models (see gallery lower left). This one is of a very early Shay with a vertical boiler. Like the model in the gallery above left, it is unpowered and was built from scratch using plans that Colin drew from measuring photos. Right, is an 1880 picture that shows what the real thing of this type of Shay looked like.
There are several Shays “alive” in California and three of them still operate.
The Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad (YMSPRR is a historic 3 ft narrow gauge railway with two operating Shay steam locomotives located near Fish Camp near the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. The YMSPRR began operations in 1961, utilizing historic railroad track, rolling stock and locomotives to construct a tourist line along the historic route of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. The two Shays operate daily during the summer months, while the railroad’s Model A “Jenny” railcars, capable of carrying about a dozen passengers, typically handle operations during the off-season.
More Shays live and operate at the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad near Felton, The Railroad owns several Shay locomotives. Not all are operational as some are undergoing renovation and extensive refurbishing.
The Dixiana, Roaring Camp Engine #1, is one of three engines designated a National Mechanical Engineering Historical Landmark.
The Dixiana has an historic and varied past. The "Dixie," as she is affectionately called, was built by Lima Locomotive Works, Shop No. 2593, on October 12, 1912. She served on six different short line railroads before coming west to California. Although she saw service on the famous Smokey Mountain Railroad in Tennessee, it was a little narrow-gauge mining railroad (now abandoned) in Dixiana, Virginia, that gave her the name " Dixiana." A two-truck engine, the Dixie weighs 42 tons with a tractive effort of 17,330 lbs. and has 29 ½" drivers. Three 10 x 12 inch cylinders can maintain 180 pounds working pressure. The beloved Dixie was dubbed Roaring Camp Engine #1 because it was the first locomotive acquired by founder, F. Norman Clark, who inaugurated steam train service from Roaring Camp on April 6, 1963.
The second operational shay is the Sonora, Engine #7. She is a three-truck, 60-ton Shay engine built in 1911 by Lima Locomotive Works, factory number 2465. The West Side Lumber Company purchased the engine from the Butte & Plumas Railroad, where it was engine #4, and renumbered it #7. After long years of service, it was retired and stood in a county park in Sonora. It was refurbished to operate in 1977 as engine #7 for the West Side & Cherry Valley Railway, part of Quality Resorts of America Inc. Purchased by Roaring Camp in 1985, the engine was retained as #7 and nicknamed "Sonora," in honor of its gloried past.
The "Sonora" is one of only 83 Shays left in North America, and one of the few fully operational Shay engines in existence today.
There are two non-operational Shays at the Timber Heritage Association Engine Barn in Samoa near Eureka. Click here for the listing of their locos and click on a loco for more details.
The Shay Locomotive – Titan of the Timber by Michael Koch
Published by World Press Inc in 1971
Michael Koch was considered to be the leading expert on the Shay Locomotive. This book is the 'must have' Shay reference guide for those interested in the complete history of Ephraim Shay and his geared steam locomotive that remained the most popular logging locomotive until the end of steam and railway logging in general. Mostly it is of use for modelers and prototype researchers, going into exhaustive detail about changes and improvements to the engine over time, as well as documenting the history of the Lima Locomotive Works and other manufacturers the Shay as well as a chapter devoted to the Willamette locomotive. The book also includes a complete roster of every Shay ever built by Lima.
It is now a very rare and very expensive book (only 400 were printed), but worth the price if this subject is a major interest of yours. We are lucky to have access to one of these rare copies.
This site is an excellent starting point if you would like to learn more about Shay Locomotives.
The Willamette Locomotive by Steve Hauff and Jim Getz, Published in 1977
In Michael Koch's book, "The Shay Locomotive – Titan of the Timber" there is a short chapter on the Willamette Locomotive. This book is solely about the 33 geared Willamette locomotives that were built by the Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland, Oregon between 1922 and 1929.
If you were alive in November, 1922 and were passing the Willamette plant you could not have missed a large banner stretched across a geared locomotive which proclaimed, "First Locomotive Built in the West". The polished new geared locomotive was destined for service at the Coos Bay Lumber Company.
At first glance she looked like a Shay. But, she couldn't be a Shay because that was the trademark of the Lima Locomotive Works. To the trained eye she was different. She wasn't a Heisler or a Climax or even a geared locomotive made by Baldwin. She was a Willamette.
The Willamette locomotive was very similar to a Shay, but had many differences, as the company that made them intended on making an "improved Shay", even though the "Pacific Coast Shay", later made by Lima, took up many of the features on the Willamette. Six Willamettes survive; one of the six is being restored at the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad in Mineral, Washington.
The Willamette was not significant because of the originality of its design. Similar to, and often called a copy of the Shay, its refinements forced its competitor to improve its own product.
This book is an excellent record of the geared locomotive that Willamette built – its shortcomings and advances, its failures and successes.