By William “Skip” Deegans
If one had to choose one machine that most impacted the industrial development of Greenbrier County, it might be the Shay locomotive. Shown this week is an undated photo of Rainelle’s Meadow River Lumber Company’s Shay No. 2 and its crew. The steep hills in western Greenbrier County made transporting logs a challenge. Conventional steam locomotives did not have good traction, and their long frames made it impossible to make tight turns. Ephraim Shay came to realize there was a need for a better locomotive for logging. He was born in 1893, and became a teacher, doctor, and served in the Union Army’s Corps of Engineers during the Civil War. After the war, he became a timber man in Cadillac, Michigan. Shay designed a new geared locomotive that had good traction, could pull large loads, and would run equally well forward and backward. In 1881, he received a patent for his new design and gave the Lima Locomotive Works the exclusive right to manufacture Shays.
While the days of steam locomotives hauling logs are long gone, the Cass Scenic Railroad allows us an opportunity to ride behind a Shay. There are nine Shays – operational, on display, or being restored – in Cass. Two of the Shays had been in service by Meadow River Lumber Co., and two were used by Cass’s Mower Lower Company.
Photo courtesy of West Virginia University Regional History Center.
Sources: Logging Locomotives by G. Leroy Crislip; Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association.