The "Shay"

Camino, Placerville & Lake Tahoe Railroad

Steam-Powered “Geared” Locomotive

Built by:

Lima Locomotive Works – 1922

Wheel Arrangement:

3 Truck Shay


65 Tons

Donated by:

Michigan-California Lumber Company – 1955


C.P. & L.T. No. 2 in operation - photo courtesy Martin Hansen.

If you look at the wheels of this locomotive, you may notice it’s not like most of the other engines around Travel Town…  This is a “geared” locomotive — one specifically designed to work on a railroad with unusually steep, uneven tracks and lots of sharp curves.  Those kinds of tracks are not suitable for a traditional steam locomotive, so most railroads went out of their way (literally) to avoid such conditions.  However, some commercial operations in mountainous areas, such as logging, mining or dam construction, presented unavoidable track challenges.  One such lumberman’s answer to these challenges was to just invent his own locomotive!  Manufacturing of locomotives under Ephraim Shay’s patented design began in 1880s.   Three types of geared locomotives became popular: The “Shay”, the “Heisler” (see our Pickering Lumber #2) and the “Climax” (we don’t have one yet).  All three types were designed for flexibility and power on grades and curves.  The “Shay” was not a fast locomotive, but it could haul 167 tons up an impressive 6% grade.   Not only are they very strong locomotives for their size, the flexible suspension of their wheels allow them to operate on very rough and uneven tracks – such as might be hastily laid to reach a logging or mining location.  Once the resources of such a location was depleted, the company might tear up the track and lay it down elsewhere to reach another place on the mountain.   Take a look at the video below to see Shay locomotive in action at the Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Play Video

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More Interesting Information:

Most steam locomotives were specifically designed and built for a particular railroad company to meet that railroad’s own individual specifications.   However, locomotive manufacturers also offered a catalog selection of “stock” locomotives that could be purchased by less affluent clients, such as lumber companies, rock quarries, and other smaller-scaled industries that required a engine to use in their facilities — much the way as a business might purchase a forklift or delivery truck.  Our Shay locomotive was one such “stock” locomotive.  It was originally purchased from the Lima Locomotive Works Catalog in 1922 by the Little River Redwood Company for their logging operation in Humboldt County, California, becoming their engine No. 4.  Ten years later, in 1932, the locomotive was sold to the Michigan-California Lumber Company and became No. 2 on the company-owned Camino, Placerville & Lake Tahoe Railroad, an 8-mile long ‘shortline’ operating in the Sierra mountains east of Sacramento.

A page from the Lima catalog.