Shay Locomotive - Cadillac, Michigan

A Shay Locomotive is in the park in downtown Cadillac, Michigan


shay locomotiveIn the early 1800's the lumber industry was in deep trouble. The easy flat lands to the south were lumbered out and the markets were now further away. Most work was still done by men and horses. Train locomotives were in use but, in rough country, they were unable to negotiate steep grades and icy conditions. By 1873, the cost of moving logs from stump to sawmill was 75% of production cost. To make matters worse there was a significant drop in demand. Enormous forests lay to the north but the lumbermen were going broke.

Ephraim Shay, originally from Shaytown, was a mechanical genius with many innovations to his credit. His Shay Locomotive revolutionized the lumber industry in Michigan and impacted industries in rough country all over the world. The innovation was a departure from the usual approach of trying to build them bigger and faster. The Shay Locomotive employed an ingenious limber drive-shaft. The result was a small workhorse that could turn like a pony and pull like a mechanical mule.

The engine could produce power and traction to easily handle slippery rails, steep gullies and sharp turns. Once the engine was in production, new areas were opened and production costs plummeted. The lumber boom was on again and was moving north rapidly. In fact, this one innovation improved efficiency so much that the lumber era was probably shortened by a few decades.