The Shay's Last Days

An earlier article dealt with the specifics of the Shay railroad that operated on the mine hill in the early 1900's. It was very instrumental in the development of mining activity of the day and it figured prominently in the economy and development of Mackay and the area.

From the day of its inaugural trip from the smelter to the mines in 1905, the miners and their families were assured a speedy and efficient method to get the fruits of their labors to market. The Shay became a permanent and familiar sight as it chugged its way up and down the hill, its whistle signaling a prosperous mining activity and money in the miners pockets. As with any mining operation, activity fluctuated with the price of metals and there were periods when the Shay's use was cut back accordingly. But then there were often periods of tremendous activity, as in 1916, that required as many as five round trips/day with as many as nine ore cars in tow. Quite often miner family members, locals and even a tourist or two would take a sight seeing ride on the Shay's round trip. The view was breath taking and a real treat.

Ironically, it was probably the optimistic future of the mines on the "hill" and good prices for the ore that spelled the end of the Shay's era. The future demanded an even faster and more economical way to get the ore from mine to smelter. Then too, there were the winter months, with snow covering and drifting the many horseshoe bends in its route up the hill, that posed special problems and delays in getting or down the hill. Quite often the Shay was unable to get through in spite of being outfitted with a snow plow and its exceptional "snow bucking" qualities.

In 1917 construction of an aerial tramway commenced, and by 1918 the tramway was put into service bringing the ore down even faster and more cheaply. The end was at hand. Not much is on record as to the date and the final disposition of the Shay engines, cars, and equipment, but some locals remember them being sold and shipped off for use in mines in Russia.

A sense of what used to be can be gained by hiking the old Shay roadbed, across its trestles, and around its horseshoes curves, to the old mining site on the hill. Included here is a poem written by an unknown bard of the Shay's heyday. It sums up quite well significance the little railroad played in the live of Mackay's earliest residents.


How dear to my heart is the sound of that whistle
When up from the smelter, the shay wends its way--
That deep sounding whistle, that joy bringing whistle,
That echoing whistle, that come from the shay.

The engine, the workman, the ore cars and payroll,
The miners at work in the big copper mines;
No sound is so welcome to folks who owe bills,
As the sound of that whistle that comes from the hills.


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