Geared steam engines?

I’ve got more weird and wonderful trains for you today:

“I found a photo of New York Central Railroad’s experimental jet engine, I have attached a copy,

Greg, Waterford Pennsylvania, U S A.”

“You should show the Gear Drive models still used in West Va at Cass Scenic Park !! Fantastic place to visit locomotives 100 years old operating daily !!

F”

Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

I’d never heard of a geared steam engine before. It’s certainly an interesting video. Does anybody know how/why geared engines came about?

And please don’t forget the Beginner’s Guide if you want to get going on your layout. You’ll also be directly supporting the site too.

That’s all this time folks.

Keep ’em coming.

Best

Al

63 Responses to Geared steam engines?

  1. And when it went is reverse – is that the start of Negative Gearing investing?

  2. I loved the video of the great old steam engines. I was wondering why the environmentalists hadn’t tied themselves to the tracks to protest the smoke billowing from those magnificent stacks and the whistles scaring the local fauna. I hope those trains keep running for another hundred years. Cheers! NJ Mark

  3. Believe these were developed through the logging industry, used on back woods temporary trackage. Developed high torque and traction. Hessler comes to mind and I think another version was around also.

  4. I believe they were developed for mining and logging in the western US. They are geared very low so are slow but they can be used on very steep grades.

  5. they were very common in logging…….they usually ran on narrow guage tracks, and they could negotiate steep grades…..very common in the western states………

  6. It has been almost 40 years since I went to cass. It remains one of the coolest experiences of my life. For those who don’t know: there are other designs of geared locos and Cass also has examples of them in addition to infusing lifestyle descriptions of the rugged existence of those loggers of the last century. No one will ever forget a visit to cass wv.

  7. From the Cass Scenic Rail Road State Park website
    http://www.cassrailroad.com/

    There you can also find information on all 8 locomotives they have, restore, and operate. I was there myself just a week ago. Awesome.
    12″ to the foot scale.

    Locomotives

    Invented to do the impossible, the Shay logging locomotive was designed to climb the steepest grades, swing around hairpin curves and negotiate frail temporary tracks. In addition, they had to haul incredibly heavy loads, from woods to mill. Power was all-important. Back in 1911, West Virginia led the nation with more than 3,000 miles of logging railroad line. All is gone now, except for the 11 miles at Cass, restored just as it was in the early 1900’s, making Cass Scenic Railroad State Park America’s authentic operating museum of lumber railroading.

    Unlike standard steam locomotives, Shays and the similarly designed Climax and Heisler engines are driven by direct gearing to each and every wheel. The smooth, even flow of power enables the engines to negotiate twisting mountain grades.

    All three types are represented in the Cass Collection, along with an example of a “rod” style mainline Iron Horse. Shay #2 is an example of a “Pacific Coast” Shay, the only one ever to be used east of the Mississippi. A Pacific Coast is a souped-up 70-ton three truck Shay. They featured superheat, a bigger firebox, lower gear ratio, steel cab, and steel truck frames. Shay #2 is the only Pacific Coast Shay in the east. Another in the collection, Big 6 is the last Shay ever built and the largest still in existence, weighing in at 162 tons. The collection also features Shay #5, the second oldest Shay still in operation.

    These working artifacts remain useful today as priceless and almost antique relics of the grand days of logging by rail. You are invited to look them over and visit our shop where they are carefully maintained to exacting standards.

  8. Geared locomotives were built for logging railroads where the grades were steep, curves were sharp, and the track was uneven. Shays, as pictured in your email, were the most popular. I rode one Shay in Colorado on the Georgetown Loop. Sounded like it was going at 50 miles per hour, but barely 10-15.

  9. Looks like a Shay, used in logging operations with steep grades in the West. If it is, it’s pretty common.

  10. I was told it was because they were much lighter and were used primarily by the logging industry. Being the tracks were usually not of the quality and needed lighter equipment also easier to maintain

  11. They were designed by a fellow named Shay in the late 1800s and therefore are referred to as Shay engines. Used mainly by logging companies. Google shay engine for further details and advantages of the design. Primary advantage was the distribution of drive power over the entire length of the locomotive reducing the tendency for wheel slippage of conventional rod powered drive wheels.

  12. Try googling Ephraim Shay and “Shay steam engines”. Patented in 1881, they were designed to move logs up steep grades more efficiently in the Pacific Northwest.

  13. The one shown in the video is a Shay. Another used was the Climax. Same objective but different designs. Both were used in the lumber forest industry. The rails were hastily laid and the road bed followed the route used to get to the lumber avoiding as much as possible major inclines. Routes were narrow and with many many turns. The geared engines would be able to traverse these short lived (in most cases) temporary routes very slowly due to the gearing producing tremendous torque to the drive system with very little applied power. This negated massive engines/tenders that would have required much more resources for power and routing that the geared engines…….

  14. Geared locos were used in the States for logging and mining railroads where grades were steep and tight curves plentiful – for more information look up Heisler, Climax, and Shay (I believe that is the type in the picture). Very interesting engineering which developed a product to fit an existing need! I very much enjoy reading your E-Mails and those written to you – thanks!

  15. Al,
    I’m surprised that you have never heard of a geared steam engine. Look up Cass Scenic Railroad State Park West Virginia for some history of a large logging industry started over 100 years ago. I plan on taking the wife on a excursion this coming fall as we live about 150 miles from Cass.
    Thanks for posting the video, which jump started my thoughts for the trip.

    Cary B Maryland USA

  16. Geared steam engines were used for logging. Americans are familiar with them.
    David.

  17. The Shay was the most common form of geared loco. The gearing allowed them to work steep grades in the coal mining and lumber industries. They are always a wonderful loco to watch in action.

  18. geared engines were invented to track on poorly laid and rough track. the tempory track of a logging road would derail a rod engine, but a Shay would safely tread. I love cass. and was there many times

  19. I love the diversity of the railroad industry in the world. Geared locomotives were very common in the logging industry where I grew up. Very tight turns, steep grades, and need for light rail operations demanded a locomotive that could perform. Shay, Heisler, and and Climax were the most popular versions. Another great railroad with geared locomotives is The Big Trees and Roaring Camp Railroad in California, one of my favorites.

  20. Excellent video thanks for sharing Al, as you can see with the aid of sliding prop shafts all the wheels are driven hence more traction. This can’t be done with cylinders mounted at the front driving con rods to fixed position wheels.

  21. Shay’s were used very much in the Anthracite coal region of central and eastern Pennsylvania to haul loaded coal trains up and down the mountains. The lack of a huge horizontal driver pushrod and the addition of vertical push rods, pinion gearing directly driving to the wheels, aids in reducing slippage of the wheels on grades. Saw many growing up in Pennsylvania. A fascinating steam locomotive.

  22. Twenty years ago, I got a small reward for good work at my job. I used it to buy a g-scale Bachmann Shay. It’s still runs and is a beauty. I just looked and they still sell the 3-truck version. Mine was a 2-truck.

    As someone said, they were used for logging in the US where the grades were steep, the turns were tight, and slow speeds with power were required.

    Dean, across the pond

  23. The shay geared locomotive was designed by a man last name Shay. He had Lima build it. Geared locomotives would had the poor track of logging lines better than rod locomotives. Shays were built with two, three or four trucks. Also had Heislers and Climax. All had different types of gear drives.

  24. Shay, Climax and Heisler were the three principal types of direct-drive locomotives. Atlas, among others, makes Shay models in both HO and N scales. The main reason for them is traction.

  25. The Shay was actually the first geared locomotive and was invented by Ephraim Shay in Harbor Springs Michigan (near where I lived for 3 decades). He invented the concept for hauling logs up and down the steep hills in that part of Michigan. Here is a link to Wikipedia showing some info about the Shay locomotives. I’ve always been fascinated by them and other geared locomotives used in logging and mining, having been born and raised in the hilly lands of Northern Michigan where logging and mining were the two industries that brought people to Michigan before the Automotive industry took off here.

    I have been following your email newsletter for a couple of years or more now, but this is my fist time commenting. Hope to one day (probably not until I retire though which is still another 10-15 years away) to be able to finally build an HO model railroad of a logging and mining line (already have two Shay’s in my collection, and plan to add at least one or two geared locomotives). Although working in the chemical industry I may also build an N scale modern layout with chemical/oil processing as the theme.

  26. I have been to Cass many times its a great trip they have the worlds largest collection of running shays !! They also have a Hiesler and there is a Climax under restoration you can also reserve a over night caboose trip and camp in the caboose its set up like a RV inside on top of cheat mountain great views and you can see the GBT at the NRO from there too If you like to go fishing they have a overnight caboose trip to the ghost town of spruce there’s a great Trout stream beside the siding ! Highly recommended !!

  27. I have seen several both H0 & 0 scale models of the geared steam locomotives whilst visiting model rail exhibitions in England.

  28. I often wonder why something like this was never used on main line engines!

  29. Al, check out SHAY’s as well as “CLIMAX” locos.Both are fun to watch even on a layout.If you have never heard of those there is another interesting loco to view called a “triplex”

  30. Shay was the name of the man who invented the type to use on his logging railway.

  31. Enjoy seeing your posts. Thank you for sending them.

  32. Hi from Hot & Sunny England,
    After the first world war the Railways in the UK were worn out. No investment, overwork and no renewals were the state of the game. The Railways were contained within four ‘Big Companies’ (Big for the UK that is, in 1928)!
    The Southern Railway introduced ‘Chain Driven’ Locos on some of their new mail line loco’s that were moderately successful, but the traditional locomotives method of Propulsion was soon overtook it. It was felt that had they developed if further it may have shown a new way forward, but who knows?
    Kind regards David Flood

  33. The Shay Loco’s were my absolute favorite engine to watch and listen to. Thank you so very much for sharing this video, as I did not realize there were still some active Shay’s running. What a grand sight!! Would love to find one and go for a ride/tour.

  34. I came across a miniature steam driven Shay locomotive at the Whangarei Steam and Model Railway Club in New Zealand.

    Just Google Shay Locomotive to see what they are about.

  35. shaft drive or geared steam locos where quite common in the pacific north west most of the timber companies had then. as well as some class 1 railroads

  36. By using pivoted trucks (bogies), like a modern diesel, they distributed the weight and traction over many wheels but could go around tight curves which rigid wheelbase locos could not.

    NASA did a study to see if it would be practical to use goal as a fuel for locomotives. Their suggested design used bogies. Since the old infrastructure to provide coal and water no longer exists, they loaded the coal in boxes with a fork lift and used condensers, I think, to conserve water. The thing was enclosed, to look like a diesel.

  37. Wow – a real treat to see some video of these rare geared “Steamies”… not only that, but we got to see two of ’em – Western Maryland #5 & Western Maryland #6 – a lot of maintenance, keeping those exposed cranks running smoothly I bet… I’m wondering if these locos were the first instance of using more conventional looking trucks (you call ’em bogies in the UK), like modern locos… loved the different whistles – #5 had a single pitch, which had a smooth glissando (I’m a former Trombone player) from Bb up a minor 3rd to Db, then back down to Bb again (or A# to C# to A# for those who prefer enharmonic spelling – grin)… & #6 had a two-tone whistle, which also glissando’d up & down… I’ve also seen photos of the experimental jet turbine train before – pretty amazing & far-out looking… absolutely fantastic – thanx, guys for uploading them… -Bob W, NH, USA

  38. There is one you can watch at Scranton Pennsylvania steam railroad museum. If you like seafood you can visit Coopers later. Great place. Also there is a mall where the wives can spend time while the men check out the trains. In the summer you can take a train ride to Moscow!

  39. Don:t tell me you have never heard of a Shay.
    Ian Germany

  40. Many applications required a low speed locomotive with ample starting tractive effort – industrial use, mines and quarries and logging operations, steeply graded lines and the like – especially when the track is cheaply built and not suited to high speeds anyway. Unfortunately, although the trade-off of speed versus torque can be adjusted in favour of torque and tractive effort by reducing the size of the driving wheels, there is a practical limit below which this cannot be done without making the piston stroke too short on a directly driven locomotive.
    The solution is to separate the crank from the wheels, firstly allowing for a reasonable piston stroke and crank radius without requiring larger than desired driving wheels, and secondly allowing for reduction in rotational speed via gearing. Such a locomotive is a geared locomotive. Most were and are still single speed, but some did employ a variable-ratio gearbox and multiple ratios. With that being said, just want to mention all the great work you guys are doing and enjoy much to read and learn more. Thanks

  41. The Shay logging locomotive was designed to climb the steepest grades, swing around hairpin curves and negotiate frail temporary tracks. In addition, they had to haul incredibly heavy loads, from woods to mill.

  42. Years ago I rode a gear-driven & steam-driven cog-engine to the top of Pennsylvania’s famous “Horse-shoe Curve” to watch the mighty Mikados hauling freight and the beautiful Pacifics pulling passenger trains. I don’t know if such an engine still exists as the Mikados and Pacifics are now a part of history.
    Regards. Tom (USA)

  43. Jet engine … Wow!

  44. Hi,Al, I have ridden the steam train in Cass, W.VA. My Mom used to live in West Virginia so one time when we went to visit her, we took a day and drove to Cass and rode the steam train. It was an awesome experience !

    Chuck

  45. Hi Al,
    Shay, Climax and Heisler are all types of geared steam locos. Almost all, as far as I know, were used in the Americas, especially for use on lightl laid track, e.g. logging lines. Slow but prodigious haulers, at ten mph they sounded like the 20th Century doing ninety!
    P.S. I suppose any steam turbine loco is also geared!

  46. There is yet another ‘geared’ engine that has been used for a long time in Europe. I’m thinking of the Cog engines used in the mountains for transporting sight seeing tourists and supplies to mountain top resorts. These engines have a steam driven cog wheel that engages a ‘ladder’ track set between the normal rails. The engines are small and not fast at all, but climb the steepest grades imaginable. The cars have slanted floors and seating so folks and cargo don’t slide off the train while climbing the mountain side, straight up.

  47. So much to say…
    As to the “Jet”… It was a test on the practicality of high speed trains on conventional track. Its best time/speed was 183 Miles per Hour… Fastest on American soil… It used the same engines and nacelle as a B-52 bomber and they were mounted on the top of a Rail Diesel Car (RDC) that had its normal power removed. Rail Diesel Cars were built by Budd and were stainless steel… Very popular in the United States and parts of Canada beginning with construction beginning in 1949 and lasting to 1962 — almost 400 were built — some were still operating at the dawn of our current century. They are very much like the DMU units on your side of the pond.
    John in California, USA

  48. More to say concerning geared locomotives…
    A lot has been shared by others here and it is essentially correct. Even so, I will add a little (???) more.
    When it comes to geared steam, the American designs of Shay, Heisler, and Climax are what one usually thinks of. Also one usually associates them with logging. BUT the common associations fall well short of the whole of the story…
    If one is honest, the first geared steam locomotive was also the first “practical” railway steam locomotive. It was built by Richard Trevithick of Cornwall England — 1804 — Penydarren Ironworks in Wales.
    Some early steam locomotives in America also used gears to improve their power given their small boilers and other limitations.
    Ephriam Shay was a logging magnate in Michigan (If I remember correctly)… He developed the locomotive design that carries his name to replace the horses that were moving the logs on his own lumber railroad… He wanted something more “efficient” and faster. His patents were purchased by the Lima locomotive works in Ohio and became very popular — Primarily for logging but also for construction railways, mining & minerals traffic, a few agricultural enterprises, and even a couple of early tourist railroads (tourist railroads in the very early 1900’s — not today). When the patents expired the Willamette Ironworks company started making “improved versions” of the locomotive. Copying the Willamette improvements, Lima also improved their offering.
    Another geared design was developed by Dunkirk. While it shares certain common elements with the Heisler design manufactured by Stearns, there are some differences… No Dunkirk locomotives are known to have survived. What makes the Dunkirk and Heisler locomotives different from the Shay is the “V” cylinder design for the “steam engine” and then a central driveline to one axle on each truck (bogie) with traditional rods to the other axle on the Heisler and a chain drive to the 2nd axle on the Dunkirk. The Shay uses two or three cylinders on one side of the locomotive and a driveline geared to each axle on each locomotive truck (bogie). The Heisler was both faster and more flexible than the Shay BUT because Stearns was a small company the Heisler was not as common or as popular as the Shay.
    The third design was the Climax. It used a central driveline like the Heisler but was all geared to the locomotive trucks (bogies). This locomotive was built by the Climax Locomotive Works with the earliest designs being significantly different .from the later ones. Again it suffered from the manufacturer being a very small enterprise like Stearns. The Climax design was copied by Baldwin but very few Baldwin geared locomotives were made. The Climax was generally easier to maintain than a Heisler and faster than a Shay but it had a reputation for being rough riding (a real “bone shaker”).
    There are also other geared steam locomotives built outside of the United States… A great book to read is “Articulated Locomotives” by Lionel Wiener… The book is about a dry as any textbook but the information in it is fascinating…
    As mentioned by others: Geared locomotives were built to do jobs more conventional designs could not do.

  49. Hi, Folks.
    I loved the post of the Cass Shay loco. I grew up within 20 miles of the Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railroad in the Santa Cruz Mountains and have ridden trains there many times. I rode it back in the 1960’s with a friend. When we got back to San Jose. CA we looked back at the mountains and saw a large plume of smoke. We found out that evening on the news that someone had sabotaged the trestle on the R.C.&B.T. and the whole railroad was shut down for several months in order to install switchbacks to be installed to get the trains past the burned trestle and up to the top of the mountain. One of the interesting things about a Shay locomotive is to see it coming head-on. The boiler is mounted to the left side of center in order to compensate for the considerable added weight of the gears and other drive hardware on the right side of the locos. It is a similar looking situation as one of the big Mallet engines as they enter a turnout. The boiler is still going straight but the whole front end has swung into the curve. Just one last thing, My wife and I now live on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington state. Back in the heyday of logging on the peninsula, there were over 800 miles of narrow gauge railroad tracks within about 450 square miles. I wish I had been here to se some of that. The Milwaukee RR had a standard gauge line that ran from Forks to Port Townsend to a rail ferry terminal where freight and of course, logs were ferried across to the Seattle side of Puget Sound. That line is long gone and the only remnant of its existence is a semaphore signal in Port Angeles – appropriately in front of our local hobby shop. That short line between Port Angeles and Port Townsend would have made an exceptional tourist excursion route but alas, we are at the mercy of our politicians and developers with no vision.

  50. Brilliant video. Would love to see them for real.

  51. I have been to Cass many times Rail Fan week end was always crowded and a lot of photo run bys. I have a lot of tape videos. I acquired a live steam Shay . 7 1/2 gauge and it was a fun little loco to operate . I hadn’t run it for a couple of years and thus have sold it . It now has a new home and owner that is able to give it the love and care i wasn’t able to do any longer . Long live the Shays at Cass .

  52. The locomotives in the video are shays. There are also Heisler and Climax engines and hundreds of custom jobs. They were developed to handle the tight radii and steep grades on logging railroads. The gearing a lower for a flexible wheel base and higher torque.

  53. Al,

    Geared locomotives were prodigious haulers, the Shay in particular. They were able to pull tremendous loads for their size. It has been said that there was never a load that could cause a Shay to spin it’s wheels. That is due to the gearing. Not speed demons (probably 10 MPH tops) but magnificently dependable.

    Norton

  54. There is a Willamette at Fort Missoula in Montana. I made the mistake of calling it a Shay. An older gentleman (I am 65) corrected me. He had been an engineer on that same engine in the 50’s and 60’s. He told and showed me more intracacies of that engine than I can remember. It was a grest day.

    I “found” the R.C.&B.T. RR a week ago on my way south of Yosemite Nat’l Park. It is still operating regular timetables.

    Bill

    Bill

  55. More interesting to me was the New York Central jet powered combine at the top of the post. I very much remember in my youth when they tried that baby out in northern Ohio, near my home in Toledo. Quite a stir about it, and a big article on it in the Toledo Blade. But, it turned out impractical because of very tight requirements on how level and straight the rail line had to be. This was one of the first real tests of truly High Speed Rail concepts. Bullet trains and such owe a bit to that test by NYC. A great memory.

  56. Thank you so very very much for sharing these, I am trying to get my father interested in the hobby again and have forwarded this to him. He has a penchant for the obscure (as have I 😊 ), and they don’t come more obscure than the jet train.

  57. A variation of geared locomotives used for logging are the Phoenix Log Haulers built in Eau Claire, WI. Another verson was made by Lombard in New England. They used vertical pistons like shays that drove treads like army tanks. Front of the boiler was fitted with skis. The skis ran in iced tracks, so these engines ren only in the winter. An operator sat on the pilot and steered the skis. Logs were hauled on sleds using the same iced tracks. These were used before logging railroads were built in northern Wisconsin. The last one ran until the 1920’s. It is preserved in Laona, WI. I had the opportunity to run it in 1976.

  58. Cass or Roaring Camp should be on any railroad buff’s bucket list. The big ride at Cass (in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia) lasts all day and takes you to the TOP of the mountain. And it isn’t a little hill. I believe their max grade is 5%, compare to Sherman Hill where the Big Boys ran at under 2% as the steepest mainline in the U.S. During the day you’ll inhale enough anthracite smoke to make you nauseous for a week.

    In addition to focusing the power by trading unneeded speed for it, geared locomotives like the Shays at Cass solved the torque problem steam engines have: They unleash huge amounts of energy on the push stroke, enough to break traction and create wheelspin when starting a heavy load uphill. The gearing absorbs this power spike and provides much smoother energy to the drivers. On really big locomotives like the articulateds, you can often see breakaway wheelspin on the power stroke of the steam cylinder.

    These locos shouldn’t be confused with cog railway locos like the one on Mount Washington in New Hampshire. The gearing is in the driveline, not on the railway — the rails are smooth.

  59. Correction on my earlier post: The max grade at Cass is ELEVEN percent!

  60. I very much enjoyed visiting the RC&BT RR in the 1970s and riding behind the two-truck, 3 ft. gauge “Dixie” Shay.

    With Shays, Climaxes and Heislers it’s all about torque and the ability to take sharp curves and steep grades as well as “marginal” track work. Sorry, but these low-speed mechanical masterpieces would never work in a “mainline” application.

  61. Me and my mom went to Cass WV in the summer of 2014 and stay in a hotel close to the park , we rented a caboose for the one night to camp in , they take you too the caboose drop you off and come back the next day to pick you up , or you can rent for several days very enjoyable , but remember to take everything you will need while in your caboose, because when that last train goes down the mountain your on your own and there is no contact til they come back . We stayed for three days to be able to take in everything there is to do there , there is more than just the railroad but i don’t why anyone would go to the other stuff when got the railroad to enjoy , there are different functions involving the railroad through out there season , just goto there web site and schedule what you want to see . PS. do too a neighboring town that has the largest radio telescope in the world it is a no cell phone area ( NO CELL TOWERS ) VERY VERY FUN TIME , To answer the the one comment about the environmentalists not stopping the the trains , it’s because it’s a national historical railroad and it is protected against those idiots

  62. I don’t think anyone mentioned that there are several model railroaders who model logging operations in narrow gauge with all of these engines in use. There are presently three narrow gauge scales: On3, Sn3 & HOn3. I went to the Sn3 Model Train Symposium in Seattle a few years back and was blown away by the personal layouts I went to see as part of the symposium. I am planning to add a small logging operation to my new layout.
    Dennis D, Vashon Island, WA (modeling S Scale…American Flyer)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *