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The Shay Locomotive for Logging, Mining, Switching, etc. - built by Lima Machine Works.
Baldwin – Lima – Hamilton Corp. Archives

The Shay Locomotive for Logging, Mining, Switching, etc. - built by Lima Machine Works.

Ephraim Shay

Text from the reverse of this photo:

Ephraim Shay of Haring, Michigan, was a lumberman. He was intimately familiar with the big woods of North Michigan, and he knew what he needed in his logging business. He felt that the conventional type of locomotive was not suitable for his operation. For some time, Shay had an idea for a geared locomotive for operations on severe grades and curves. The locomotive would have a flexible truck construction enabling it to traverse rough and uneven track.

The Lima Machine Works had been doing considerable work for Shay, who had come to place utmost confidence in the firm's ability. So it was that he outlined to them his idea of a geared locomotive which was to bear his name, and with Lima's cooperation, the first Shay-geared locomotive was designed and built.

The J. Alley Company, if we are to believe the legend scribbled on the back of a faded photograph, paid out $1,700 for the first Shay. True, the old “kettle” didn't look like much, but Alley found out if it hadn't exactly purchased an iron horse, it at least was in possession of an iron mule.

Ephraim Shay
Ephraim Shay (July 17, 1839 – April 19, 1916) was an American merchant, entrepreneur and self-taught railroad engineer who worked in the state of Michigan. He designed the first Shay locomotive and patented the type. He licensed it for manufacture through what became known as Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio; from 1882 to 1892 some 300 locomotives of this type were sold.

Early life and military service
Ephraim Shay was born on July 17, 1839, in Sherman Township, Huron County, Ohio. His parents were James and Phoebe (Probasco) Shay, whose families went back to colonial New York. His parents were of majority-English descent, with some Dutch and Polish ancestry. His mother's paternal line descended from immigrant George (Jurriaen) Probatski, who was from Breslau, Silesia (now Wroclaw, Poland). In 1654 Probatski went to the Netherlands and immigrated with some Dutch via Amsterdam and Brazil to New Netherland (New York). Over time, through Dutch and English marriages and variations, the name in the United States evolved to Probasco, probably within the first few generations.

In 1861, Shay moved as a young man of 22 with family to Muir, Michigan. Shortly after he enlisted in Company D, 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (aka the "American Zouaves"). In his American Civil War diary, Shay wrote, "Received marching orders. Quite a coincidence; on the day I am 22 years old I start on my first expedition to defend my country's honor and flag." Shay served in the Western Theatre of the war, under General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was honorably discharged in 1864, and returned to Ohio to marry.

Marriage and early career
Shay married his sweetheart Jane Henderson on July 26 of that year. The young couple moved to Ionia County, Michigan, to be near his family members in Portland, Lyons, Muir, and Sebewa. In 1870 they moved to Sunfield, Michigan, where Shay operated a steam sawmill. Their son, Lette, was born there on January 26, 1870.

Lumber and locomotive
After 1873, the Shay family moved to Haring, Michigan, where Shay established a general store and sawmill, basics in a frontier town. In 1876 or 1877, he had the idea to use a locomotive to haul logs. He experimented with using maple strips on pine rails, to build rapid paths for a locomotive to travel in the forests, and developed the Shay locomotive. Shay started working with Lima Machine Works (later Lima Locomotive Works) in Lima, Ohio, licensing them to manufacture this model.

In 1880, the first Shay Locomotive was shipped to a customer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a center of logging on the Michigan peninsula. In 1881, Shay started filing patents for his works. William E. Woodard assisted Lima with improving the design of the engine. Lima built four Shay locomotives in 1881, and 37 Shays in 1883. In 1884, Lima had a 34-page catalog, featuring five models of Shay Locomotives. From 1882 to 1892, Lima sold some 300 of the Shay locomotives. By the late 1890s, Shay Locomotives were shipped around the world.

Experiments with steel
In 1888, Shay and his family moved to Harbor Springs, Michigan on Little Traverse Bay. There, he designed and built in about 1892 what is now known as the Shay Hexagon House, a hexagonal-shaped structure. It has four wings opening off the central core and a two-story tower on top. The house has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The interior and exterior walls were stamped steel, an unusual use of this relatively new product.

In 1891, Shay built an all-steel boat that was 40 feet long and a beam of 6 feet, named the Aha. Remains of the Aha have been returned to Harbor Springs and are preserved. Shay also designed and operated a private water works for the town of Harbor Springs. The use of steel for large lake freighters, developed in this period, was an important innovation to shipping on the Great Lakes.

Shay established a railroad, the Harbor Springs Railway (nicknamed the "Hemlock Central"), chartered in 1902. It was dissolved in 1912. Three locomotives of Shay's design were the only motive power. The railway primarily hauled lumber, but was also used for sightseeing. Shay also made sleds with maple runners as Christmas gifts for local children, more than 400 sleds in total.

Shay's wife Jane died on July 24, 1912. He died on April 19, 1916. He is buried in the Lakeview Cemetery in Harbor Springs.

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society annually sponsors the "Shay Days" festival at Hexagon House, on a weekend close to Shay's birthday. In 2005, the festival was held July 15, July 16, and July 17.

Ephraim Shay Overview
Born: July 17, 1839
Location of birth: Huron County, Ohio, United States
Died: April 19, 1916 (aged 76)
Location of death: Harbor Springs, Michigan, United States
Occupation: Inventor, entrepreneur
Spouse: Jane Henderson
Awards: John Scott Award (1892)

See also:

Shay Locomotives

Geared Locomotives

Lima Locomotive Works

Famous Railroad Personalities

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