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Resource Railways

The Shay locomotive was designed to be used in a resource setting. Resource railways are one type of industrial line constructed to permit the removal of natural resources from remote areas to either processing centres or more centralized transfer points. The mining and forestry industries are two fields best known for their early reliance on railways to transport raw natural resources from remote areas. In the British Columbia forestry industry, railways were used to transport timber up until the 1950s, when they were replaced by logging roads and trucks.

Forestry railways were comparatively short-lived lines that were built cheaply and frequently below the standards of mainline railways. The tracks were characterized by sharp curves and steep grades that matched local terrain and the logging company's limited budget rather than rigid railway standards. These lines served as feeders to more central loading areas where the rough logs that had been transported on simple log cars were loaded onto more substantial flat cars pulled by conventional locomotives or moved by water to mills for processing.

Merrill & Ring Shay locomotive No. 4 at Theodosia Arm, B.C., ca 1926. (Courtesy B.C. Provincial Archives)

In British Columbia's forest industry, the Shay locomotive was the most popular type of geared steam locomotive available. Its distinctive design featured vertical pistons located to the side of the boiler. The pistons turned a crank shaft that was connected on either end by universal and slip joints to a drive shaft, which was connected to bevel gears on the shaft and wheels. The gears transmitted the pistons' power to the wheels of the trucks. The Museum's Shay has two four-wheel trucks. The wheelbase of these powered trucks is only 4 feet4 inches (132 centimetres), approximately half that of conventional engines with similar tractive force and weight. These powered flexible trucks allow the Shay to operate on curves more than three times sharper than conventional steam locomotives. The gearing, while limiting speed, allowed the locomotive to haul considerable loads up and down steep inclines.

A Lima Locomotive Works photograph of the brand new Merrill & Ring No. 4 engine showing the pistons mounted on the side of the Shay and its distinctive transmission system to each of the two trucks. (Courtesy Lima Locomotive Works, 1925)

The Shay's boiler is offset left and the vertical three-cylinder engine is located on its right side. The locomotive was also equipped with a steam siphon so that the tender tank could be refilled with water from fresh-water streams or ponds along the line. The fact that the majority of moving parts are visible and easily accessible made the locomotive somewhat easier to repair and well suited to the rough conditions encountered in many logging operations. The locomotives were often wood fired, a logical choice in a logging operation. However, by 1926, the Museum's locomotive had already been converted to burn oil.

Merrill & Ring locomotive No. 3, ca 1926. The large balloon smoke stack was used when the locomotive was fuelled by wood. (Courtesy Prince Rupert Historical Museum, Prince Rupert, B.C.)

* The numbers in brackets are the accession numbers of artifacts held by the Museum.