How The Shay Survived

The survival of Yosemite Lumber Co. Shay No. 4 was a matter of unusual luck. In 1943, in the middle of WWII, the Yosemite Sugar Pine Lumber Company, the successor to Yosemite Lumber Co., was bankrupt. They sold No.4 to Levin Scrap, a scrap dealer in Stockton, California. The locomotive was almost 25 years old, although that’s fairly young for a steam engine, and in pretty good condition. But it was to be melted down, perhaps to become part of a new battleship or tank for the war effort. However, when the war ended the Shay hadn’t been scrapped. Perhaps it was harder, or took longer, than expected to get the engine down out of the mountains. Perhaps the price of scrap metal was going down, and the scrapper waited, hoping that the price would move back up. We don’t know exactly why, but No. 4 survived the war despite the nation’s need for metal.

With the war over, Levin Scrap, like many scrappers across America, went out of business. No. 4 was still sitting in their yard when the property was purchased by Davidson Scrap. Davidson collected used tires for tire recappers, which were companies that melted down worn-out tires and used the re-cycled rubber to put new tread on tires that still had some life in them. As the company accumulated a stock of old tires, a tire pile began to grow. Within several years, the tire pile had grown into a tire mountain, covering the scrap left by the previous owner, including No. 4. The engine sat buried and, eventually, forgotten. Through the decades of the fifties and sixties, when most railroad steam engines were melted down, No. 4 slumbered under the weight of its tire coccoon.

In the 1970’s, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the removal of the mountain of tires. The surprise came as the last of the pile was cleared away revealing a Shay locomotive sitting quietly where it had been parked for more than thirty years. One of the Stockton papers carried a picture of the patient No.4’s first light —


News of the hidden locomotive reached a group in Heber City, Utah who needed an engine for the tourist railroad, the Heber Creeper, they were putting together. They examined No. 4 and found it in good shape. They quickly brought it back to life pulling tourists instead of timber, but it wasn’t popular. The problem? Shay locomotives are designed to pull very heavy loads at very slow speeds. Tourists didn’t find much excitement creeping along at six or seven miles per hour. Once again, No. 4 was out of work.

The Nevada State Railroad Museum stepped in to purchase the locomotive and move it to their facility in Boulder City, Nevada. There they operated it occasionally, but eventually the museum realized that they didn’t need it for their permanent collection, and they parked it, unneeded, in the hot, dry air of the desert.

In 2002, the Sierra Nevada Logging Museum began to look for a working logging locomotive that could demonstrate the sights and sounds of a real timber railroad. A Shay was considered most representative of California logging history. Eventually, the search led to YLCo No. 4 at Boulder City. It was old, but it had been in operating condition right up to the time the NSRM shut it down and parked it. The dry desert air had arrested most deterioration. The boiler seemed to be in good shape, and it was obvious that it had been maintained well during its working life in the woods. Most important, a thorough inspection suggested that it could be restored at a reasonable cost. The two museums struck a deal and, in 2004, more than sixty years after it came down out of the mountains to be melted into scrap, No. 4 moved back home to the Sierras.

The original hope of the people bringing the Shay to the Logging Museum was that someday it would be running for short distances somewhere near the museum. That isn’t going to happen, at least as long as the locomotive is at the museum. The locomotive sits by White Pines Lake, a domestic water supply, and it is on property owned by the Calaveras County Water District. They have made it very clear that the locomotive is never going to be fired up on their property. As this revision is written, a CalTrans grant is being used to renovate the boiler and the plan is to finally run the locomotive a short distance on compressed air.

Shay No.4 Ready for Restoration

YSL Shay No.4 upon completion of its first ultrasonic boiler inspection. The boiler front, boiler tubes, boiler sheet metal and steam dome cover have been removed for the inspection, slightly changing the Shay’s normal profile. Some of the boiler tubes that were removed are visible on the ground at right in the photo. The honeycombed panel inside the smoke box is the front tube sheet, which will be replaced and moved about a half-foot further back into the boiler. Restoration will begin when grant funds are released by CalTrans — soon, we hope.

If you have additional or different information about No. 4’s history, please leave us a message so we can expand or update the engine’s story.

Thanks, John and Mark


  1. Al Le Fevre Says: January 26, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Hi John & Mark;

    In reading your history of how the shay survived I would like to add a couple of comments Nv st rr m did not run this engine at all and the rolling stock that came from Heber was acquired by means that probably should not be mentioned here, but the shay was never run after the wreck. It had been exposed to a fire at Davidson that singed the front as did the other two engines. It did not work the best working down in the canyon but it did a fine job on the diner train as we only went at a leisure walk going down and back to the river then I could open her up to clime the grade back to town she would run at about 15 miles per. we would take about 3 1/2 hours to make the round trip of about 22 miles to give the people plenty of time to eat as we would have about 100 on and could feed only about 50 at a time. We had to add a tank car to have enough water for that round trip, the tank car was an aluminum 10000 gal. and we did not use any from the tender as it had a problem of derailing when it was empty but I did dump a quit a bite of ballast and when I was gone all day with two or three trips we would empty the tank car and about half of the tender. I have one pic. of a ballast train I will find and scan and email, it is kind of my favorite because you can not date it or say where it mite be.

  2. I am curious why you are saying that the front tube sheet is going to be relocated? I am supposed to oversee the restoration for the Museum, and it’s the first I’ve heard of it. FYI- The rear tube sheet will have to be completely replaced. Likely the front tube sheet will need the lower portion replaced a few rows up. In any event the tube sheets are to remain in the exact same locations.

    Luckily the shell exterior is devoid of the usual wastage due to the fact that the Heber renewed the boiler lagging (insulation) with fiberglass, rather than the hated asbestos. Asbestos holds water forever, which leads to rust, which leads to the shell being eaten away slowly. This is the one good thing the boys at Heber did for this locomotive.

    -Chris Allan, HRC

  3. Kyle Wyatt Says: July 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    I was personally involved in the purchase of the Shay by the State of Nevada from the Wasatch Railroad & Museum Foundation, one of the several owners of equipment operated by the private Heber Creeper (which actually operated under several names over the years). The Shay was part of a large purchase of equipment at Heber that ultimately involved 7 separate purchase agreements with 4 separate groups and individuals, plus several other creditors being paid out of escrow funds. The combined collection was purchased in bulk, knowing that it included some individual items that Nevada would not ultimately need.

    At the time of the purchase in the early 1990s the Shay had already been out of service for several years and was not operable. Nevada never operated it; it was stored in the dry climate of Boulder City. The Sierra Nevada Logging Museum was considered an historically appropriate organization to receive the Shay, and a mutually satisfactory agreement was reached for its acquisition and subsequent shipment back home to California.

    Kyle Wyatt

  4. I have been in model railroading since 1986.After year 2000 I joined the Hoosier Valley Railway museum at North Judson,Indiana,about 40 mile’s from where I live inCrown Point,Indiana.
    My reason for interst in this article in particular.A little over 20 year’s ago I had a deam while asleep one night.In the dream,I was walking thru wood’s somewhere in Indiana and found an old tomatoe cannery hidden back in the tree’s.I peeked inside and saw empty botle’s and canning machinery.
    I walked arond a the building’s a bit more and spotted some large ,rusty object hidden behind more bush’s and tree’s.It was a peculiar steam locomotive with all kind’s of unusual mechanical contrivance’s visible.
    It seem’s that I compared the side gearing of the locomotive to some of the cannery machine’s having gear’s and shaft’s on part of the canning line.Power transmission.
    End of dream,as far as I can remember.
    Somewhere thru the 1990’s,reading one of around 600 model rail magazine’s belonging to my older brother,I ran across an article concerning the discovery of an old Shay by an abandoned Indiana tomatoe cannery.
    I hope to find that article again in the pile of magazine’s.I since acquired a Pickering Lumber 3 truck Shay in HO from “Roundhouse” model’s.It’s “tracking” nature has been fascinating,the telescoping shaft bind on curve’s requiring some special attention.I replaced the plastic with brass on the shaft’s.
    Let me know if you ever happen across an article on an “Indiana cannery ” Shay back in the wood’s.

  5. Ekpruke, Jude Says: October 9, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Keep up the good work. But i am looking for a maching that can per-boil to thickness granded tomatoes.

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