Flag of the State of West Virginia Emblem of Pocahontas County WV

Railways around Spruce

West Virginia

Shay, Heisler, Climax

One of the developments that enabled the boom in the North American logging industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the introduction of the geared locomotive. They were designed for use on lines with tight curves and steep gradients. Moreover, unlike the rack (cogwheel) railways that were becoming popular in the mountainous parts of Europe, they did not require special track. This meant that new lines could be quickly and easily laid using relatively light construction.

There were a variety of types of geared locomotive from different manufacturers. Three of the most popular — Shay, Heisler and Climax — are illustrated on this page. The Cass Scenic Railroad has examples of all 3 types.


Western Maryland Shay #6
Western Maryland Shay #6 as newly built

The Shay was the commonest of the geared types, and also the one that remained longest in production. It was first patented by Ephraim Shay in the 1880s and produced by the Lima locomotive works.

The Shay is characterized by vertical cylinders (2 or 3) on one side of the boiler. With the exeception of one special order for a Mexican railway, the cylinders were on the right hand side. These drove onto a longitudinal shaft located immediately below the cylinders, which through a system of gears, flexible joints and extensible shafts powered each axle of the locomotive individually. The locomotive boiler was offset from the centre line to accommodate the cylinders.

The last Shay (and also one of the largest) ever built was Western Maryland #6, pictured here when new. It entered service in 1945 for use on coal traffic, but had a working life of only 4 years. It is now in use on the Cass Scenic Railroad.


Middle Fork Railroad Heisler #7
Middle Fork Railroad Heisler #7 as newly built

The Heisler was patented by Charles L Heisler in 1892. The first examples were produced by the Dunkirk Engineering Company, who also produced their own geared type. Later models were manufactured by the Stearns Manufacturing Company, who subsequently changed their name to the Heisler Locomotive Works.

The Heisler had a pair of inclined cylinders, one on each side of the boiler, forming a V. They drove onto a longitudinal shaft located under the centre of the locomotive. An arrangement of gears and shafts powered one axle on each bogie (truck), the other axle being driven through connecting rods.

Middle Fork Railroad #7 was built in 1941, the last Heisler to leave the production line. The Middle Fork Railroad operated near Ellamore WV until the 1960s. #7 has spent time with various museum projects before arriving at the West Virginia Railroad Museum, where it is currently in a disassembled state pending restoration.


Climax locomotive
Climax “Horizontal Style B” as shown in the manufacturer’s catalogue

The Climax was produced by the Climax Manufacturing Company from the late 1880s until 1928. It had inclined cylinders on either side of the boiler driving onto a transverse shaft. From a gearbox at the centre of this shaft the drive train was geared to each axle individually.

The Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad Durbin Rocket is hauled by a Climax locomotive.

Next Page: The Cheat Mountain Salamander

Back to Top
Railways Home
Railways of the World
Railways of the USA
Tourist & Museum Railways in the USA
Tourist & Museum Railways in WV
Railways around Spruce WV
Glyn Williams’ Home

© 2007-2011 Glyn Williams
Locomotive images are unattributed archive pictures taken from various sources,
including the websites of the Cass Scenic Railroad and the West Virginia Railroad Museum
West Virginia flag image from Wikipedia
Pocahontas County emblem from the Pocahontas County website
Special thanks to the Mountain State Railroad & Logging Historical Association
for providing much of the information and several of the photos used in this article
Thanks also to SPV for their excellent Railroad Atlases