Shay locomotive

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Shay Sonora Class C No. 7 (three driven trucks and articulated tender)
Drive side of the Class B Shay locomotive No. 1 Dixiana at the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad, Felton, California
Accessory side of the No. 1 Dixiana

The Shay locomotive is a geared steam locomotive that originated and was primarily used in North America. The locomotives were built to the patents of Ephraim Shay, who has been credited with the popularization of the concept of a geared steam locomotive. Although the design of Ephraim Shay's early locomotives differed from later ones, there is a clear line of development that joins all Shays. Shay locomotives were especially suited to logging, mining and industrial operations and could operate successfully on steep or poor quality track.


Ephraim Shay (1839–1916), was a schoolteacher, a clerk in an American Civil War hospital, a civil servant, a logger, a merchant, a railway owner, and an inventor who lived in Michigan.

In the 1860s, he became a logger and wanted a better way to move logs to the mill than on winter snow sleds. He built his own tramway in 1875, on 2 ft 2 in (660 mm) gauge track on wooden ties, allowing him to log all year round. Two years later he developed the idea of having an engine sit on a flatcar with a boiler, gears, and trucks that could pivot. The first Shay only had two cylinders and the front truck was mounted normally while the rear truck was fixed to the frame and could not swivel, much as normal drivers on a locomotive. He mounted the 3-foot (914 mm) diameter by 5-foot (1,524 mm) tall boiler centered on the car with the water tank over the front trucks and with an engine supplied by William Crippen mounted crossways over the rear trucks. Shay experimented first with a chain drive from the engine through the floor to the truck axle. It is not known if he powered one or both axles, but he soon found that the chain drive was not practical and he next tried a belt drive. It did not take long for the idea to become popular.

Shay applied for and was issued a patent for the basic idea in 1881.[1] He patented an improved geared truck for his engines in 1901.[2]

Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio built Ephraim Shay's prototype engine in 1880.[3] Prior to 1884, all the Shays Lima produced weighed 10 to 15 short tons (8.9 to 13.4 long tons; 9.1 to 13.6 t) each and had just two cylinders. In 1884, they delivered the first 3-cylinder (Class B) Shay, and in 1885, the first 3-truck (Class C) Shay. The success of the Shay led to a major expansion and reorganization of the Lima company.[4] When Lima first received the Shay idea it was not impressed, until John Carnes influenced the company to use the idea, resulting in the classic Shay design.

In 1903, Lima could claim that it had delivered the "heaviest locomotive on drivers in the world", the first 4-truck (class D) Shay, weighing 140 short tons (120 long tons; 130 t). This was built for the El Paso Rock Island Line from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Cox Canyon, 31 miles (50 km) away over winding curves and grades of up to 6%. The use of a two-truck tender was necessary because the poor water quality along the line meant that the locomotive had to carry enough water for a round trip.[5][better source needed]

Lewis E. Feightner, working for Lima, patented improved engine mounting brackets and a superheater for the Shay in 1908 and 1909.[6][7]

After the basic Shay patents had expired, Willamette Iron and Steel Works of Portland, Oregon, manufactured Shay-type locomotives, and in 1927, Willamette obtained a patent on an improved geared truck for such locomotives.[8] These became known as Willamette locomotives. Since "Shay" was a trademark of Lima, strictly speaking it is incorrect to refer to locomotives manufactured by Willamette and others as "Shays". Six Shay Patent locomotives, known as Henderson-style Shays, were built by the Michigan Iron Works in Cadillac, Michigan.


According to Lima Locomotive Works in 1925, "The Shay Geared Locomotive has a wide and varied range of service, being used in industrial, quarry, contractors, logging, mining and plantation work; (also on branch lines and mountain sections of trunk-line railways). It is especially adapted to industrial railroads in and around large manufacturing plants. Its value as a switching engine is due to the rapidity with which it will accelerate a load and to its ability to spot cars in a minimum of time. It is designed to take any curve on which standard cars can be operated."[9] The company emphasized its performance on "steep grades", "uneven track", and "track too light for a direct engine of the same axle load".[9]

Shay locomotives had regular fire-tube boilers offset to the left to provide space for, and counterbalance the weight of, a two or three cylinder "motor," mounted vertically on the right with longitudinal drive shafts extending fore and aft from the crankshaft at wheel axle height. These shafts had universal joints and square sliding prismatic joints to accommodate the swiveling trucks. Each axle was driven by a separate bevel gear, with no side rods.

The strength of these engines lies in the fact that all wheels, including, in some engines, those under the tender, are driven so that all the weight develops tractive effort. A high ratio of piston strokes to wheel revolutions allowed them to run at partial slip, where a conventional rod engine would spin its drive wheels and burn rails, losing all traction.

Shay locomotives were often known as sidewinders or stemwinders for their side-mounted drive shafts. Most were built for use in the United States, but many were exported, to about 30 countries, either by Lima, or after they had reached the end of their usefulness in the US.


Approximately 2,770 Shay locomotives were built by Lima in four classes, from 6 to 160 short tons (5.4 to 142.9 long tons; 5.4 to 145.1 t), between 1878 and 1945.

  • Class A: two cylinders, two trucks. Weight between 6 and 24 short tons (5.4 and 21.4 long tons; 5.4 and 21.8 t).
  • Class B: three cylinders, two trucks. Weight between 10 and 60 short tons (8.9 and 53.6 long tons; 9.1 and 54.4 t) tons.
  • Class C: three cylinders, three trucks. Weight between 40 and 160 short tons (36 and 143 long tons; 36 and 145 t).
  • Class D: three cylinders, four trucks. Weight of 100 and 150 short tons (89 and 134 long tons; 91 and 136 t). These were no more powerful than Class C, but had greater fuel and water capacity, resulting in improved adhesion.

Two 15 short tons (13 long tons; 14 t) Shays were built with two cylinders and three trucks.

Four Shays, 600 mm (1 ft 11+58 in) gauge, were built left-handed, all special ordered by the Sr. Octaviano B. Cabrera Co.,[10] San Luis de la Paz, Mexico.


Shay "Leetonia No. 1" at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania
Anaconda Copper Mining Co. Shay No. 5 on static display by the Williams Depot

115 Shays survive today, some a combination of parts of two Shays.[11] Herewith a partial list:

Ely-Thomas Lumber Company No. 6 operating at New Jersey Museum of Transportation
Midwest Central Railroad Three-Truck Shay No. 9
  • West Side Lumber Company No. 9 (Class C, s/n 3199 of 1923) was purchased by the Midwest Central Railroad in 1966, and with a minor refurbishment in the mid 1990s, continued to operate at their southeastern Iowa location. The locomotive was used during the MCRR's three operating sessions (the Midwest Old Threshers' Reunion, Midwest Haunted Rails, and the North Pole Express). In January 2011, the MCRR and the Georgetown Loop Railroad entered into a 7 to 10-year agreement where the 9 has been refurbished by the GLRR staff. It went into revenue passenger service at the Georgetown Loop Railroad on July 14, 2012. It has since returned to Iowa in late summer 2019, and began service at the 2019 Reunion.
  • The Illinois Railway Museum, the largest railroad museum in the United States, runs a three-truck three-cylinder Lima built in 1929, a veteran of the J. Neils Lumber Company.
Meadow River Lumber Co. No. 1
  • Meadow River Lumber Co. No.1 is the only Shay in the collection at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania[19]
  • The last production Shay, Western Maryland Railway No. 6 (s/n 3354 of 1945), still operates on the Cass Scenic Railroad. The second largest Shay ever built, this 162-ton Class C locomotive was in service only four years when it was retired and placed in the B&O Railroad Museum. In 1981 it was removed from static display, in exchange for a smaller Shay (ex- Cass Scenic No. 1) and an H. K. Porter 0-4-0T (Saint Elizabeth #4), Inc Porter locomotive, and placed in service on the Cass Scenic Railroad, as their No. 6. Nicknamed "Big 6", it has now served in tourist and enthusiast service for a longer period than it did for its original owners. It is the largest Shay currently in existence. Cass Scenic Railroad is also the home of the largest collection of operational geared steam locomotives in the world[20]: 194–195 
  • There are three 28-ton narrow gauge Class B Shay locomotives, Nos. 25, 26 and 31, restored at the Alishan Forest Railway in Taiwan. Most of the Alishan's Shays survive on display in Taiwan, although one (No. 14), has been exported to Australia's Puffing Billy Railway.
  • Locomotive No. 22 is on display at Jiji Railway Station in Jiji, Taiwan
  • The Little River Railroad And Lumber Company 70-ton shay number 2147 resides at the company's museum in Townsend, Tennessee.[21]
Cass Scenic Railway Shay No. 2 at Cass Station, WV
  • The Cass Scenic Railroad is home to several more Shays other than the aforementioned No. 5 and No. 6. The CSRR own and operates Shay #11, built in 1923, went originally to Hutchinson Lumber Company, Feather Falls, California; this Shay is best known as the Feather River No. 3. No. 11, also a class C shay, weighs 103-tons. The CSRR also owns Shay No. 2, a Pacific Coast Shay constructed in July 1928 for the Mayo Lumber Company of Paldi, Vancouver Island, British Columbia. No. 2 is also the only Shay locomotive to have burned wood, coal, and oil in her lifetime; she is a C class Shay, and weighs 93 tons. The Cass Scenic has one other shay that runs, Shay No. 4; originally numbered 5, she was made for the Birch Valley Lumber Company, Tioga, West Virginia in 1922. Like the CSRR's non-operational Shay No. 7, No. 4 is a C-70 80-ton shay.[22]
  • The Railway Historical Society of Northern New York (RHSNNY) is home to the Class B Shay No. 8 "Livingston Lansing" which was willed to the museum by Mr. Lansing. It is on display at the RHSNNY museum in Croghan, N.Y., on the Lowville and Beaver River Railroad. It is not operational.
  • Three Class B Shays are at the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan, British Columbia. Shay No. 3262, built in 1924 was rebuilt in 1995.
  • Goodman Lumber Company No. 9 is on display at Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, WI
  • The Longview Public Library in Longview, WA has a fully restored Shay on the library grounds. During special events that is close to the Library and the Civic Center, the Shay is opened up for the public to walk through.
  • Shop number 2769, built in 1914 for the Great Northern Railway, is currently on display in a small park near the BNSF mainline in Columbia Falls, Montana.[23]
  • One Class C Shay is exhibited at Buenavista railway station in Mexico City, formerly belonged to Teziutlan Copper Co. as TCC-2, weighing 45 tons, with a wheel drive engaged for 29.5 inches, vertical cylinders 10 by 12 inches, a force transmission and crankshaft gears. It used wood as fuel until 1946, when it was adapted to burn oil. The Compañía Minera Autlán SA de CV donated this locomotive to Ferrocarriles Nacionales de México as a historical piece in October 1980.[citation needed]
  • Abitibi Power and Paper Co. Shay No. 70, Shop No. 3298, built in 1924, hauled lumber for the Abitibi Power and Paper Co. for many years before being donated to the Town of Iroquois Falls where it currently sits in a small park. Originally built for the Tallassee Power Co. as the 2,713th Shay built. It was passed to five different companies before retiring.
  • Lopez Sugar Corporation No. 10 is the only known extant example in the island of Negros in the Philippines. It is displayed in front of the company headquarters as of June 2022.[24]



  1. ^ Ephraim Shay, Locomotive-Engine, U.S. Patent 242992A, June 14, 1881.
  2. ^ Ephraim Shay, Locomotive-Truck, U.S. Patent 706604A, August 12, 1902.
  3. ^ "Shay" Locomotives at Work, The Locomotive, Vol XV, No. 198 (February 15, 1909); page 37.
  4. ^ Angus Sinclair, Development of the Locomotive Engine, New York, 1907; page 566.
  5. ^ H. C. Hammack, A Remarkable Locomotive -- Heaviest on Drivers in the World, Locomotive Engineers' Monthly Journal, Vol. XXXVII, No. 1 (Jan. 1903); page 51.
  6. ^ Lewis E. Feightner, Locomotive Crank-Shaft Bracket, U.S. Patent 879617A, Feb. 18, 1908.
  7. ^ Lewis E. Feightner, Superheater for Locomotive Boilers, U.S. Patent 939237A, Nov. 9, 1909.
  8. ^ Albert Claypoole, Geared Locomotive, U.S. Patent 1622765A, Mar. 29, 1927.
  9. ^ a b Shay Geared Locomotives: Catalogue No. S-4. Lima, Ohio: Lima Locomotive Works. 1925.
  10. ^ Sr. Octaviano B. Cabrera Co.
  11. ^ "115 known Surviving Shays"
  12. ^
  13. ^ "sn-3203". Retrieved 2022-03-26.
  14. ^ "Anaconda Mining Company #5 -". Retrieved 2022-03-26.
  15. ^ "▶️ Historic locomotive in Prineville moving to Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation". Central Oregon Daily. 2022-09-02. Retrieved 2023-01-12.
  16. ^ H.L. Thomas, "Lima Reclaims Her Own," Trains magazine, December 1954
  17. ^ Bytown Railway Society
  18. ^ "sn-3345" Archived 2012-07-05 at the Wayback Machine Accessed 2010-02-21.
  19. ^ Chappell, Gordon. "Meadow River Lumber Company No. 1". Steam Over Scranton: Special History Study, American Steam Locomotives. National Park Service. Retrieved March 13, 2012.
  20. ^ Cook, Roger; Zimmermann, Karl (1992). The Western Maryland Railway: Fireballs and Black Diamonds (2nd ed.). Laurys Station, Pennsylvania: Garrigues House. ISBN 0-9620844-4-1.
  21. ^ "The Museum". Archived from the original on August 12, 2001. Retrieved 2016-12-24.
  22. ^ "Cass Scenic Railroad State Park". Retrieved 2016-12-24.
  23. ^ "The Shay Locomotive Database". Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  24. ^ Lopez Sugar Corporation No. 10. June 13, 2022. Retrieved November 8, 2022.


  • Michael Koch The Shay Locomotive: Titan of the Timber World Press; Limited ed edition (1971) ASIN B0006WIHIE
  • Shay Locomotive Works Shay Geared Locomotives and Repair Parts Catalogue Periscope Film LLC (January 26, 2010) ISBN 978-1-935327-92-9
  • Philip V. Bagdon Shay Logging Locomotive at Cass, West Virginia, 1901-1960 TLC Publishing (December 21, 2001) ISBN 978-1-883089-65-8
  • The Lima Locomotive & Machine Company Shay Patent and Direct Locomotives: Logging Cars, Car Wheels, Axles, Railroad and Machinery Castings Periscope Film LLC (March 24, 2010) ISBN 978-1-935700-11-1
  • Ranger, Dan. Pacific Coast Shay, Strong Man of the Woods. (Golden West Books, 1964)

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