14 shays, 7 days and 3000 miles

The first thing one has to realize when visiting surviving shays today, your going to have to travel, a lot, and not all via the Interstate. The good thing about the shays is that for the most part they are located at tourist attractions. But they are not all on public display. A few, such as those stored or under restoration, require special requests to view them.

In August 2000 I decided to visit as many shays as I could in route to a convention. Starting in Tennessee and ending 7 days later in Maine, I had visited family, friends and 14 of the shays left in the world today. Prior to leaving I contacted most of the destinations and inquired about operation and best times to visit. Look at the Shay Survivor List for locations.

First on the trip was right up the road, about 85 miles in Townsend, TN. sn2147, DORTHY, is easy to get find. You can climb all over her but there are several sections of the cab body missing. It is not in any shape to even be restored unless someone has deep pockets and good machine shop.

On to Spencer, NC and the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Here I found sn3256 in excellent operational condition. Unfortunately there were no shay enthusiasts about that day and they were running diesel on their short excursion runs. I've already been contacted and invited back. The museum grounds are very well maintained and worth a visit. Check out their web page and it's restoration photo history. If you live with a ½ day's drive, go there.

In the sleepy little town of Goshen VA, I found the most interesting shay of the trip. As my luck was running however, the owner who had been expecting me had a family emergency and was not available. However sn949, the only shay on the North Fork & Western RR, was there. The interesting aspect of this shay is that it had been converted to diesel drive about 1945 and ran this way for the McClure Lumber & Builder's Supply Co., McClure, VA until the 60's when the diesel was removed and 949 became an attraction at the Old Shay Inn. The owner Bill Harris has a five-year plan. He would like to acquire a set of 3 pistons to replace the ones removed when the diesel and chain drive was installed. His second option would be to acquire a 2-piston set. His last choice would be to install another diesel engine. He will also re-gauge it to standard gauge. Good luck Bill.

63 miles to the northwest is the treasure trove of shay engines, Cass Scenic Railroad, a West Virginia State Historical Area. Seven shays are found here with several of them usually operational at any time. It also has the largest selection of shay memorabilia within the several stores in the country. There are several excursion trips daily and it's well worth the trip into the backcountry woods of WV. The State Park has lodging in some of the restored houses of Cass.

Cass #2, sn3320, is operational and along with #11, sn3221 was preparing for a trip to the top of the mountain. It would met #6, sn3354 coming down at the switch back. These were the only 3 operational engines.

Cass #4, sn3189 is the next shay for restoration. It's on the to-do track. #5, sn1503 is currently in the shop. In fact it takes up a lot of the shop floor space as it is stripped down with parts spread all over the floor space. Several parts are being made on site as part of the restoration. #7, sn3131 is the least likely to ever be restored due to it's condition and the already heavy work load required to keep the other shays operational. #10, sn2804 is in a little better shape and will be restored after #4 is done unless something else comes up.

#6 returned from it trip with bad bearing. It had to cancel its 1 PM run and went to the shop where all went to work trying to replace it for the 3PM run. This is normal said Artie, the Cass Shop Forman, the resident shay expert. We talked some while he worked. My next visit to Cass will include an in depth chat with Artie. Being a state employee, this should not be too hard.

Next stop was the B&O Railroad Museum, Baltimore MD, home of sn1519, lettered for Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk RR. It came to the museum in a trade for the big sn3354, Western Maryland #6 that went to Cass as their #6. The B&O Railroad Museum is a half-day visit at least. There is a lot of East Coast RR history here at the birthplace of American Railroading.

On to heavy traffic, bad drivers and the NJ coast region. sn3314 is located at the Pine Creek RR, NJ Museum of Transportation located at Allaire State Park Farmingdale, NJ. sn3314 is well know to large scale railroad modelers as Ely Thomas Lumber Co #6, the first shay model mass produced in 1:20 scale, becoming model of the year upon it's release. The real Ely Thomas shay is stored in the shops awaiting restoration. It's supposed to be next in line at the all-volunteer shop. No completion date but hopes run towards late next year.

A few days later, after heroically surviving the drive through NY, CN & MA, I arrived in safety of NH. With my native NH friend along, I found sn3066 tucked thoroughly in a small two-stall engine house with three other engines at the White Mountain Central RR, Clarks Trading Post, North Woodstock, NH. It is not available for public view as a general rule. It is in need of restoration but funding is not available. All their efforts go into keeping their Climax and Heisler engines operational for daily use. Here the main goal is to get 75# pressure into the boiler some day to get it to move. It does need a new boiler. Beyond that there is little hope for the engine other than taking it outside and displaying it.

The same day we went east to the Atlantic Ocean and down to Biddeford ME. The final shay of the trip was sn918, located on the side of the road to mark the entrance to Biddeford Station on Hwy 1. This shay will not be restored. Parts of the cab are actually plywood to recreate the original cab shape. Biddeford Station is an interesting attraction using a club car as part of a restaurant and a few other nice attractions.

I'm already planning another shay adventure for next year, or maybe the following year. I came back after being gone 2 weeks to 160 emails, 70 of them regarding the shay site. Yes, weeks later I'm still trying to catch up.

Rick Henderson, ShayLocomotives.com