Ephraim Shay, the Shay Locomotive & Shay Days

Mancelona Logging and a Shay Locomotive

Mancelona MI Logging and possible Shay Steam Engine, photo by Don, the Up North Memories Guy

The Harbor Springs Area Historical Society holds their annual Shay Days celebration this Friday & Saturday (July 15-16, 2016). They share that inventor Ephraim Shay was likely retiring when he moved to town in 1888, but during his “retirement” he created over twelve miles of water mains to bring running water to the city, designed and constructed his unique Hexagon House, and started a railway known locally as the Hemlock Central.

They will celebrate his life and work with all kinds of engaging history including live steam model trains with the Michigan Small Scale Live Steamers group, games, historical photograph displays, and self-guided tours at the Shay Hexagon House. Shay himself will even be on hand Saturday so you can wish him a happy 177th birthday – click for all the details.

Shay Locomotives is an online book about the most widely used geared steam locomotives invented in Michigan lumber camps by Ephraim Shay. They share that Shay was born July 17, 1839 in Huron County, Ohio and received a better than average education for the day. After serving in the Union Army in the Civil War, Shay married his lifelong companion, Jane Henderson:

Shortly after their marriage, the Shays moved up to a farm in Ionia County, Michigan. Here Ephraim was known to have served as a clerk in the Township of Sebewa, 1867-1868. In 1869 the Shays were in the Township of Sunfield, Michigan and Ephraim was now operating a steam sawmill until 1873. Their son Lette was born here in January of 1870.

In 1873, with the tract of timber in Sunfield exhausted, the Shay family moved north to the Manistee river basin of Michigan and set up his sawmill and a general store near a lumber camp called Haring, newly settled only the year before.

Logging in the 1870’s was far different than today. Essentially once all the trees along the rivers were harvested and floated down river to a mill, logging operations were done in the winter month as loggers depended on snow cover to more easily move the cut timber on sleds drawn by horse or oxen. This method naturally depended on the weather systems and if there were a mild winter there would be a low yield of lumber from the mills.

…What Ephraim Shay had invented was a locomotive capable of delivering equal torque directly to wheels on both sides of the engine at the same time. This over came the dynamic force of his common rod engine whose normal pistons strokes jerked the engine side to side on each stroke, delivering excessive force to the wood rails, especially on the curves.

Read on for much more about one of the pioneers of modern transportation – includes some great old photos!

View Don’s postcard background big and click for more of his Shay Locomotive photos.

More trains on Michigan in Pictures.

3 thoughts on “Ephraim Shay, the Shay Locomotive & Shay Days

  1. You can see an excellent example of a Shay locomotive in the city park, near the waterfront, downtown Cadillac.
    Engineers and aficionados of mechanical hardware will appreciate his innovative design.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The locomotive in the picture is most certainly not a Shay locomotive. The boiler is offset on Shays and they never had a saddle tank as shown.


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