THE "SHAY," THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD

Any reasonable glimpse of Mackay's mining past would not be complete without mention of the Shay railroad that operated on the mountain side above Mackay in the early 1900's. To say that it played a significant role in early development of the mines would be an understatement.

In 1901 a spur line of the Oregon Short line was routed to the present site of Mackay, in large measure, to service the copper mines above the town. Not only was the village of Mackay the born, but a large smelter was constructed which in turn prompted the need for a speedier and more efficient way to bring the ore down from mines; more efficient than the pack mules used early on.

The earliest mini owners tried, unsuccessfully, an idea of an electric railway system, but it was the Empire Copper Co. and its manager, a Frank Leland, who solved the problem of laying track over the seven miles of rough terrain, and a steep 6% grade with many horseshoe curves. Mr. Leland, who had previous experience with a scenic mountain railway in Colorado where the Shay geared locomotive was used, saw immediately that the Shay had the power requirements needed here. An engine and ore cars were ordered, and delivered from the Lyma Locomotive and Machine Co of Lyma, Ohio.

In December of 1905 the 63000 lb. Shay engine # 1551 was put in commission by Frank Sweeney company master mechanic, and soon had it pulling its 10 ton capacity ore cars 60 miles/ day, seven days/ week, up and down the 36" gauge track to the mines and back. The Shay engine, due to its unique gearing design had pulling power that was amazing! A design capacity of 1520 tons on the flat and 72 tons on six percent grade. It proved capable of pulling 10 ore cars, filled with coal and other supplies, and often a caboose ( a total weight of 140 tons) down the hill; this plus the weight of the 31 tons engine itself. The Shay proved so successful that in 1907 another engine, # 1552, was purchased and placed into service. The Shay railroad would prove to be a very worth while investment for the Empire Copper Co. and would be kept busy for many years.

(Further information about the "Shay" railroad can be found in old copies of the Mackay MInes newspaper. 1910--Apr 7; 1914--Apr. 9; 1915-- June 2; 1916--Feb.23; 1920--June 29, July 13, and Sept. 14)


 

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