Ephraim Shay of Haring, Michigan, was a lumberman. Transportation problems precluded skidding logs from the woods during wet and muddy times. He was determined to overcome this difficulty and set to work on an idea. His sought to build a locomotive which could run on easily constructed track with rails of hardwood, capable of navigating sharp curves and steep grades. Shay purchased a conventional locomotive of light weight, but it soon tore up his wooden rails. He decided to toss out the conventional thinking on locomotives and struck upon an idea of conveying the power from a vertical engine directly to the trucks and using a flexible drive shaft and gears to transmit the torque to the trucks under the locomotive boiler. The powered engine truck would be similar to those under his lumber cars and completely different from conventional direct drive locomotives..
Shay mounted an upright boiler onto the center of a flat car. A water tank was installed at one end and a fuel box on the other. He managed to convey the power from two vertical steam engines to the wheels of the flat car along one side. His design was assembled in 1873-74. The following spring, Shay's locomotive was successfully demonstrated and was immediately put to work in the woods.
Shay wasn't completely satisfied with his new creation. He felt the locomotive had greater possibilities and could be improved upon. For the next six years during the off-time he tore down and rebuilt his odd looking locomotive, making some improvements.
Shay wrote (November 11, 1912) in A Short History of the Shay Locomotive for the Lima Locomotive Corporation, "In 1873 I owned and operated a sawmill at Haring, Michigan, getting out bridge and building timber. Business was dull and prices barely paid expenses. I was compelled to reduce costs or quit. Logging costs $3.50 per thousand from stump to mill, using horses and logging wheels, the best known plan at that time. I built a tramway using maple for rails, procured a double-truck car, and tried the plan out; resulting in reducing costs of logging to $1.25 per thousand, but the cars would catch the horses on the downgrade sometimes killing them. Brakes were impractical. Logs ran from 12 feet to 75 feet in the same bill sometimes, and trucks had to be separated to suit the load. We usually let the cars run down alone.
"I finally concluded to try a light locomotive and, with the help of a local repair shop, did so. It worked, but destroyed my track, while the cars weighing twice as much did not injure it. I could see that if I could convey the power to trucks, instead of the customary drivers, the track would stand up. I could not use the engine on wet rails while snow was falling so, during the winter, rebuilt it, conveying the power as best I could to trucks. It worked better, and six more winters I did the same rebuilding each time, as experience seemed to require, until the cylinders only were left of the original engine. All of this work was done by me and my blacksmith, and was crude to the extreme, but it drew my logs from anywhere and all places, saving much labor from teams and was extremely profitable. Of course, castings and most machine work I had to go to shops for, although I had a lathe, drill, and some machine tools.
"My friends remonstrated with me for spending so much time and money on such a crazy idea and, in fact, they really thought I was a little cracked and did not hesitate to say so. Actually, I was tired of it myself and would have been pleased to give it up, but the constant ridicule to which I was subjected angered me and I was obliged to continue in self-defense to make it a success.
"One consoling feature was that I was all the time making more money from its use, and I could get more for my timber than my neighbor mill men. My customers knew rain, bad roads, etc., it did not deter me from logging, and their bills would be out on time.
"M. J. Bond, a friend and neighbor mill man, came to me one day for advice: he said he was on the verge of failure. I advised that he get a locomotive like mine and reduce logging expense. He asked me to build it. I could not spare the time, but told him to get Carnes, Agerter and Company to do it as they put more brains in their work than any firm I was acquainted with. He telegraphed at once, and Disman came promptly; and soon the engine and Bond made money and prospered.
"Cobbs & Mitchell, Cummer & Son, and others felt the competition, and Carnes and Agerter and Company [of Lima, Ohio] got busy filling orders. Cummer soon found he could reach with profit, timber that a sleigh haul could not, and purchased a tract tributary to my mill, organized the Cummer Lumber Co., and ordered a locomotive like mine to log it. Naturally, I resented the intrusion and, finding I could patent the engine, did so, hoping I could prevent him from using it to my disadvantage. I could not, however. I could have collected royalty but never asked for it; the timber was what I wanted."
Carnes and Agerter and Company, forerunners of Lima Locomotive, were contracted to build early locomotives and to fill Ephraum Shay's needs. John Carnes, one of the owners, suggested they put a driving gear on each wheel on one side of the engine and hook them up to a combination journal box which would carry the axles, the line shaft, and driving pinion. Beyond Shay’s oroginal patents Carnes himself held several patents for improvements to the Shay locomotive design.
The locomotives soon became known as "Shays." Lima Locomotive and its forerunner corporations licensed the Shay patents. Over the years it became popular in quarries, gravel pits, and on many short line and several Class One railroads. The last production shay was built in 1937 and the final shay was built in 1945.
Ephraim Shay patent for geared locomotive, dated 1881. It was this design that led Lima Machine Works into the geared locomotive business.
Boot boiler SHAY c/n 782 RUTH CASPARIS sitting on flat car for shipment to the Casparis Stone Company -- Allen County Historical Society collection
Streamlined shay patent by Wil Woodard, father of Super-Power
Piqua Handle & Manufacturing shay c/n2951 was built in November 1917, as a wood burner but also burned coal. It was a 36 ton two truck, three cylinder shay. -- George Kadelak collection
SHAY c/n3345 was a 60-Ton three truck narrow gauge Shay, built for The New Mexico Lumber Company. It was the last narrow gauge Shay constructed by Lima Locomotive Works. It was built in 1929 and exists today at a museum in northwestern Indiana. -- Allen County Historical Society collection
Lima Locomotive Works plant switchers were Shays. Here is No. 3 c/n 3151 a 60 ton Shay built in October, 1920, going about switching around the complex. It was scrapped when LLW quit building steam locomotives. There was another identical Shay built at the same time to switch the plant, No. 4 c/n 3150. -- Author's collection
THE LAST SHAY built by Lima Locomotive Works was Western Maryland Shay No. 6, a 3-truck, 150 ton brute c/n 3354, built May 14, 1945. It was a "special favor" locomotive. Shay production had ended in 1937 and the Shay Construction Building had been converted to war time production when the order came. WM No. 6 was assembled on the production floor of the main erection shop, the only one to roll out the door of that building, all others were assembled in the Shay Building. Some production staff had to be shifted from other jobs to help machine and assemble components for the last Shay, a few retirees were brought back to do specialized work one last time. It was in service just six years when retired. It was saved and is operational at Cass, West Virginia as of this writing. -- Photo courtesy of George Kadelak
Click on the photo of Lima Stone Shay No. 10 to see images of its move into the Allen County Historical Society Museum at Lima, Ohio.
For more information about the shay locomotives click on this link