My First Love Affair

(Editor’s Note: Dave Roberts, now deceased, was formerly a member of FLM’s Board of Directors, and was heavily involved with the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum in spite of his residing out of Calaveras County—Dave lived in Jackson which is in Amador Co. When he wrote this story early in 2004, the Shay had not yet been delivered to the Museum site in White Pines. However, it arrived in all its glory on June 11, 2004)

My First Love Affair

by Dave Roberts of Jackson, CA.

It was spring 1936, when my father had taken a new job as head sawyer in a mill along the lower Columbia River in Oregon. Partners Fred Bradley and Walter Woodard had come out west from Michigan and purchased a tract of some 15 square miles of hemlock and fir timber that reached from the river up to Nicolai Mt. In Clatsop County.

The nice little company town was nearly complete by the time we arrived; some 24 houses, a cookhouse, bunkhouses and a company store. And, yes, you guessed it….the name of the town was Bradwood!

What a great place to grow up! One house was the school; fishing in the river and up the canyon in Hunt Creek; hunting and exploring. It wasn’t bad for the grownups either. The $16-a-month rent, free water piped down from a small reservoir, free electricity from the mill power plant, and nice smooth planer ends for firewood delivered at no charge by the company’s Ford dump truck.

Best of all, after school my pal, Dick, and I enjoyed playing around the silent mill on weekends. We especially enjoyed the cab of the Shay locomotive that sat by the log dump ready to go up the canyon Monday morning with 10 or 12 empty cars.

When I had a chance I’d sometimes jump on the last empty car and ride up the canyon to the third trestle, jump off and fish the creek back down to town. The engineer might not have liked this, but I waited, hidden, until he was around a curve in the track and out of view.

This “Love Affair” with the Shay logging engine continued, and years later made me dig into some of the details about it.

The “Shay” type of geared locomotive was the brainchild of Michigan logger Ephraim Shay. In 1878 the Lima Locomotive Works, in Lima, Ohio, constructed the first locomotive of this type. Between 1880 and 1945 they built 2,761.

The major advantages of the Shay type of locomotive were several:


  • Its pistons with crankshaft to line shafts to geared wheels enable it to pull heavy Loads.
  • It would climb steep grades, even 12 to 14% at powerful slow speeds.
  • Its line shafts to both front and rear trucks and wheels were flexible enough to allow some freedom of movement under the engine mainframe, and this along with its three foot wide “narrow gauge” enabled it to chug its way up and down logging railroads that were often of temporary, poorer quality, compared to the modern roadbeds of today.
  • Virtually all-working parts were easily accessed along the right side of the engine with its pistons, shafts and gears.



In the Pacific Northwest, there was a need for a local production and service for the industry. The Willamette Iron and Steel Works in Portland, Oregon, already produced some 7 to 10 logging engines (donkeys, yarders, loaders, etc.) in Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia in the early 1920s. Since Shay’s patent expired in 1898, a few other companies tried the geared concept to their locomotives (notably the Heisler and Climax companies) but it was the Willamette Company that constructed Shay type engines between 1922 and 1929 for the logging industry. They were nearly all the “three-truck” design and weighed between 75 and 80 tons.The Shay type engine was easily recognizable, because in order to compensate for the weight and position of the engines, the boiler was set to the left of center giving it a lopsided appearance.

Our logging museum in White Pines has purchased a Lima “Shay” type engine, and we expect to have it moved to the museum location sometime this year. It was originally used in the logging scene by Yosemite Lumber Co., and was designated Company #4. Later it was sold and used in construction of Lake Mead near Boulder City, NV and has been sitting there since. It was acquired by the Nevada Railroad Museum and we purchased it from them.

You railroad and logging history fans will love to come up and see it.

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