Tollie, the Shay
The Shay we have dedicated as “Tollie” descended from a machine invented in 1879 by a Michigan lumberman named Ephraim Shay. As have so many loggers before and since, Shay contrived machinery to ease his own burdens.
Ephraim Shay’s invention served the lumbermen and miners of the nation for a good 80 years. But trucks came along to replace old methods of railroad logging and the Shay, like the horse and the bull and steam donkey, came to realize that it, too, belonged to the Past.
Lima Locomotive Works of Lima,, Ohio, built 2,761 Shay locomotives between 1880 and 1945. Only five were built by this company after 1930.
Tollie, No. 7, was one of 20 Shays constructed in 1924. Its dimensions are given in a copy of the original specifications card below.
Heyday of the Shay was from 1898 through 1917 when 1,865 engines were turned out to finish the timber harvests of Michigan and Minnesota and open the great cutting of the Pacific Northwest forests.
Ephraim Shay wanted a locomotive that would run on a cheaply constructed railway, and one that could negotiate heavy grades and curves. He began with an ordinary flat car built on two trucks for four wheels each. A small upright boiler with two vertical engines was fastened to the center of the car, and power was extended to the trucks on side through a flexible shaft, bevel gears and pinion wheels.
A barrel of water was placed at one end of the car and a box of firewood at the other, and – wonderful day! – The Shay locomotive was born.
Merely looking at the Shay distresses some people. Everything from the cab forward seems out of balance and out of whack. Three chunky vertical cylinders have sprung up to push the firebox and boiler out of kilter to the left. Not content with giving power to the engine, a series of inter-locking shafts also force the tender to help shove the load.
These unconventional features gave Shay’s dreamchild the surefootedness of a Tibetan yak. Its gyrating underpinning could twist around the most awkward turns until, it is claimed, the headlight would shine over the engineer’s shoulder into the firebox.
The sight and sound of a Shay clawing its way up a mountain grade was unforgettable. The short rods of the triple cylinders thrashed wildly and the frightful crash of the rapid exhaust sent frightened animals scampering into the timber for dear life.
“It sounds like 100 miles an hour and looks like hesitation mixed with uncertainty,” snarled one old Timberbeast.
The official literature of the Lima builders bespoke of these virtues:
Because it had no counterbalance in the driving wheels to hammerblow the rails the Shay could operate on lighter track.
It could outrun rod engines on curves and a wobbly track.
It could be replaced easier than rod engines when it left the tracks. Sometimes the Shay could run itself back onto the tracks with only the help of common wrecking frogs.
It was so simply constructed and easy to operate that a blacksmith could mend its troubles.
Oh, all Shay fans can be proud of these old lokies and their history. Now most of them, like Tollie, are at rest or melted down. The ash hoe, clinker hook, flue scraper and jackscrews can be stacked in the corner. Their day is done.
Tollie: Researched and Written by David A. James