Shay Geared Steam Locomotives

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Mayo Lumber Company #4 - a "Pacific Coast" Shay

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Animated Shays courtesy of Rick Henderson's   PC-Rails







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The Shay consisted of 2 or 3 vertical steam cylinders positioned on the right side of the engine  just forward of the crew cab.   The piston rods were attached to a "crank shaft" similar to that used in today's automobile engines.   Attached to either end of the "crank shaft" were drive shafts that extended to a gear box on the outside of each wheel.   The left side had no gearing or cylinders.  The boiler is located off center and to the left of center of the entire frame.  This was necessary for the location of the cylinders.  


The side of the Shay where the cylinders are located is the right side.    The side opposite the cylinders is the "wrong" side.... or at least that is what the inner circle of  Shay enthusiasts term it.   The left side or the"wrong" side has also been the least photographed side of Shay locomotives.  Folks want to take pictures of the "business" side and typically the ignore the docile left side.


The engines were manufactured with either two or three cylinders.  The two cylinder engines were manufactured early on in the life span of these locomotives and were usually smaller and less powerful than the three cylinder units.  The three cylinder models were used on the larger and more powerful engines.
Models with  two,  three, or four truck sets were manufactured.  Generally speaking as you added more more working weight, trucks \ drivers, and cylinders the more pulling capacity the locomotive would produce.  With the third cylinder being the limit quantity wise, the cylinders and their stroke size increased to produce the power needed as one progressed up the list of available models.  The two truck models carried their fuel and water bunker at the back of a single frame for the entire locomotive.  On the three truck models, an additional tender with its own single driving truck was added to the basic two truck locomotive frame.  With the four truck model, the tender was longer and was supported by two driving trucks. 

The text in the previous two paragraphs is a basic summarization of  a more formal grouping or classification system that existed for the Shays.   The following table summarizes the models available in the company's 1919 marketing catalog, The Shay Locomotive. 


Code Name

Working Order Weight (Tons) Cylinders



A Abe 13 2 2 8
  Able 18 2 2 8
B Ba 20 3 2 8
  Bay 24 3 2 8
  Bale 28 3 2 8
  Baler 32 3 2 8
  Ballad 36 3 2 8
  Balloon 42 3 2 8
  Baluster 50 3 2 8
  Balustrad 60 3 2 8
  Balustrut 70 3 2 8
C Ca 60 3 3 12
  Cap 70 3 3 12
  Care 80 3 3 12
  Carat 90 3 3 12
  Carbon 100 3 3 12
  Capture 125 3 3 12
D Dan 150 3 4 16

The last Shay ever built was a Class C unit with 3 trucks.  It was built for the Western Maryland Railroad in 1945.  As luck would have it, it has survived the scrappers torch and exists today in operable condition at the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, in Cass, WV.  


Lima Locomotive Works in Lima, Ohio.   This particular company also manufactured conventional "rod" type steam locomotives.

Geographic Use:

Although some engines were exported, the vast majority were used from coast to coast in the United States.


Approximately 2,761 were manufactured.

When Manufactured:

1880 - 1945.  -  The first Lima factory built Shay was a two truck Class "A"  sold to J. Alley Co. for $1,700 in 1880, with two others being sold that year.  The last Shay built was the three truck Class "C" locomotive (sn - 3354) sold to the Western Maryland Railroad in 1945.  This locomotive is still in operation on the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, in Cass, WV.


Wood, coal, and oil.

Invented by:

Ephraim Shay of Harbor Springs, Michigan patented (#242,992) the Shay on June 14, 1881.  His work on a prototype began as early as the winter of 1872.   
Being a timber man who was frustrated by the performance of "rod" locomotives of the day, he created and operated a single cylinder unit to assist with the harvesting of his timber for transport to his lumber mill.  He sold the manufacturing rights to Lima sometime in 1879 or 1880.

Shay Sites "Your On-Line Reference and Research Site for Shay Locomotives" 


Building the Shay book

Shay Locomotive: An Illustrated History


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