Sunday, March 22, 2015

More on the Shay of J Neils Lumber Company **UPDATE DEC 12, 2014**

Your kind donation would be appreciated. See the steps that have been taken so far to bring her back HERE.

(Text taken from the Heritage Museum information, Libby Montana)

Shay Steam Locomotive (Serial #1643)

Shay locomotive, serial number 1643, fondly known as “Ole Four Spot”, is on display in front of the Heritage Museum, next to US Highway 2, and is one of our most prized exhibits. She served as a workhorse for the Libby Lumber Co and later the J. Neils Lumber Co. for logging operations in and around Libby, Montana in the early 1900s.

This is a powerful standard gauge, Class B 37-2, gear driven Shay locomotive, commonly referred to as a sidewinder or a stem-winder because of the peculiar arrangement of gears and a drive shaft running the full-length of the right side of the locomotive making all wheels drivers. It was manufactured by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1906 at Lima, Ohio as one in a special class of four locomotives (serial numbers 1642, 1643, 1644 and 1645) built for the Thompson Greer Construction Company. All have the same builder date of March 7th, 1906 and all were shipped to Buhl, Minnesota. Locomotive No. 1643 was designated Thompson Greer Engine No. 11. and is the only survivor of their class, all others having been scrapped.

It is believed she may have been leased to the Rainy Creek Lumber Company for logging operations near the Minnesota--Canadian border for a time, but it is known that she was delivered to Buhl by common carrier and hauled across a frozen lake on a logging sleigh to the company logging railroad. There she hauled logs from the forest to water until 1909 when purchased by the Libby Lumber Company of Libby, Montana and shipped there by rail. The Libby Lumber Co. designated her Libby Lumber Engine No 4 and she has retained road number 4 through all subsequent ownerships.

At Libby, she hauled logs, supplies and logging crews until about 1924 over rough, uneven, steep logging lines east of Libby with an efficient operating range of only about 15 miles due to an operating speed of about 12 miles per hour. Later, rails were laid some 12 miles to the west, over J. Neils’ RR logging bridge across the Kootenai River to access valuable forest reserves owned or operated by the company. The abandoned J. Neils RR logging bridge was destroyed by US Army sappers during WWII as a training exercise.

Between 1925 and 1931, she operated on the Great Northern mainline north of Libby along the Kootenai River for a distance of about 12 miles and after 1931 was used primarily to haul logging crews and equipment to logging camps and to perform switching operations in the woods.

After 1936, railroad logging gave way to logging by trucks. The "Ole Four Spot" was used primarily for switching cars in the mill yard and to the local Great Northern mainline, a distance of about 1/2 mile. This use continued until about 1944, when she was replaced by a larger locomotive, J. Neils No. 5, brought here from Klickitat, Washington. However, she continued intermittent switching until retired from operations in about 1946, for an active service life of about 39 years. Ole Four Spot was then left to molder in the mill bone yard until about 1963 when the new mill owners, The St. Regis Lumber Co., decided to give her a cosmetic face list and put her on permanent display outside their Libby offices. There she remained until acquired by The Heritage Museum. She was moved by truck to the new museum grounds not a half mile from her former place of labor as a switch engine at the end of the line and but a few hundred feet of the site of her days in the bone yard.

In the mid 1980’s Ole Four Spot, in need of preservation, received a further cosmetic treatment by museum volunteers to keep her on display a few more years until restoration might return her to glory with the ultimate goal of returning her to active service as Engine No 4 on the recently established J. Neils and Heritage Museum Logging Railway.

Shay Locomotives were built from 1878 until 1945 in many sizes configurations and gauges. These steam locomotives were used coast to coast and the world over with 3,354 locomotives manufactured by the company in the Shay pattern. The shay has a very distinct frontal profile. Because of the great weight of the (2 or 3) vertical steam engines on the right side of the locomotive and the geared drive shaft arrangement, the boiler is off set to the opposite side to balance the weight of these two major components. From the front shays appear to have been in an accident that shifted the boiler to one side.

Shays were fueled variously by wood, coal, oil and gas with even experimentally configured diesel engine driven shays. Although few of these were actually manufactured by Lima and none are known to survive as originally configured shay designed diesel locomotives, rumors abound of after market conversions.

  • Builder Specifications for locomotive no. 1643

  • Original empty shipping weight: 64,900 pounds

  • Weight with full load of fuel and water: 42 tons

  • 42" Wagon top boiler

  • Original Working Pressure -180 pounds

  • Three 10" by 12" vertically oriented cylinders on the right side

  • Two trucks of four 29.5 inch wheels under each truck

  • Steam Jam locomotive brakes

  • Westinghouse air brake to control cars making up a train

  • Steam dynamo electrical lighting system

  • Fuel Used by locomotive 1643

  • Wood in the Minnesota and early Montana operations

  • Coal in Montana operations until about 1927

  • Converted to Oil probably in 1927

Speed of a train handled by this locomotive was approximately 12 miles per hour on good track. Operations on spurs in the woods might involve grades from flat to over 11%. On the steep grades of up to 11%, this locomotive was designed to push two empty steel logging cars uphill at a speed of about 6 miles per hour. Coal consumption for an average day's work was approximately 2 tons which had to be shoveled into the firebox by a fireman. About every 3 hours, the locomotive would take on water by siphoning from a nearby stream on logging spurs or from a water tank located on the mainline or at the mill. Ole Four Spot carried 2000 gallons of water in her tank. Water from creeks and streams were plentiful and only rarely were additional water tenders added to Montana logging trains.

The National Railway Historical Society gives $5000 Grant for Shay 1643. The Heritage Museum received a $5000.00 grant from the National Railway Historical Society to begin preservation of the Shay. The money was used to plan and begin a multi-year project to stabilize, preserve and protect the engine until full restoration could be undertaken. This grant allowed the Heritage Museum to begin efforts to save the remaining native logging engine in Northwest Montana.



  1. Hello, on thursday Dec. 22 We moved Shay locomotive # 1643 by rail. From the parking lot to the Enginehouse. A distance of 250'. There should be a news writeup on it in The Western News or The Kootenai Valley Record this week.I live over in Troy. Have always loved to be around trains. Will be in on restoring the Engine.

  2. Awesome, thanks for the heads up. Are they going to restore it to operating condition or static display?

  3. Have the Shay settled in to the Enginehouse. Many repairs to be done for her. Have new wood bumpers front and rear. New wood for the cab rebuild. Taking boiler shroud off, to have the boiler ultra-sound tested for use. May need new firetubes in boiler. Lots of rust and paint to scrape. Have new paint on order. We have our work crews come in on Saturday's. Have wood stove in Enginehouse to warm our hands. Come and join us on Saturday's.

  4. Sounds like operating condition!

    1. Dean, did i see a comment from you about having relatives that operated one of the Shay's ,At the J.Neil's Libby operation?

    2. Yes, my late grandfather Stanley (Stew) Reedy was a fireman for his father, who was the engineer. He then moved up to the engineer postion and stayed through the transition from steam to diesel. He lastly ran the yard switcher in the yard moving chip cars, etc from the Great Northern/B.N. yard to the mill yard. He retired in the mid 70's.

  5. We will have to wait till March to get the ultrasound test done on the boiler. Paper work snafu.! Will work on the new deck planks. More pictures to take of all items on the Engine. Keep you posted dave.

  6. Dean, I have some new pictures of the Shay. How do you get them to your website? Also did your Grandfather have any pictures of hiwm and the Shay? Thanks Dave

    1. Dave
      If you email them to me, I will upload the pictures. My email is dekershner"at" (replace the "at" with "@").
      Yes I have a picture of him, with J Neils #6, he is on the Firemans side (unfortunately) Go the the chapter on this website named "Heritage Museum-Libby Montana" The list of chapters is on the top right hand side of this blog, or paste this link in your browser window.

      Scroll down a ways and you will see a b/w picture of him and #6

    2. Dean, thanks for the quick reply back. I'll send those updated pictures of the Shay in the shed. Dave