Historical photo of the Shay Locomotive as a log train. Photo from the Wexford County Historical Society with permission.
The restored Shay Locomotive in its current location.
Showing the direct gear drive on the wheels.
Showing the vertical pistons.
Backstory and Context
In the 1870s logging was a seasonal operation. Horses or oxen could drag logs over snow or ice trails to sawmills or rivers. But once the ground thawed, the logs could not be moved. Ephriam Shay (1839-1916), a logger from Haring, near Cadillac, Michigan, was one of several people who decided that temporary railroad tracks and the right locomotive would allow lumbermen to haul logs year-round. Shay envisioned a small but powerful locomotive that could operate on tracks with steep grades and sharp curves. He used vertical pistons and a flexible drive shaft to transfer power via gears to all the wheels beneath the engine and tender. This produced more power, less wear on the tracks, and the ability to negotiate tight curves.
The first Shay was designed and built in Haring Township just north of Cadillac. Many additional Shay locomotives were manufactured in Lima, Ohio. The Shay on display in Cadillac was purchased from Cadillac - Soo Lumber Company. It has three vertical pistons and the drive shaft has direct gear to wheel drive on all four sets of wheels.