• NYC – Shay Locomotives

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by chnhrr
This is something I wasn’t familiar with until recently. Apparently in the early 1920’s the NYC purchased some Shay geared steam locomotives for the New York’s West Side line. One thinks of Shays for use only on logging railroads. The locomotive were covered in a shroud to meet the requirements of an obscure city ordinance in which steam locomotives that travelled at street level had to be covered so as not to frighten horses.
What was the technical advantage of using this locomotive type as essentially a switching unit, especially when oil electrics were being introduced? Were Shays used elsewhere on the system (i.e. Detroit, Cleveland) and did any other major class 1 railroad use this loco type in as similar application?
  by BR&P
At least a few of those Shays were later transferred to Rochester for use on the GFR (Genesee Falls Railroad), a short industrial branch with tight curves. Presumably the advantage was their ability to negotiate difficult trackage better than a rod locomotive. I don't recall hearing whether or not they retained their shrouding by that time frame (WW II era) but I believe originally the shrouds were to keep the reciprocating parts from scaring passing horses in NYC.
  by Eliphaz
Richard Leonard has another pic and a short write up on his excellent web site

As for why, in 1920, the railroad owned little or no fuel oil handling equipment and had little or no experience operating diesel engines.
coal(or more likely coke) burning truck engines would appear to be an excellent match for the application.
  by TB Diamond
The Owasco River Railway in Auburn, NY was purchased 50/50 by the Lehigh Valley and New York Central in the early 1930s. Two shays were brought in to operate the line. The NYC operated the line while the LVRR maintained the locos. One of the shays was kept at the LVRR facilities in Auburn on standby. About the mid-1940s both shays went to the Marcellus & Otisco Lake where they were utilized for a time.

Information from Herbert V. Trice.
  by chnhrr
Thanks all. This discussion has furthered my interest in geared steam locomotives, to the point that I am planning a trip this summer (when the daily temperature gets below 90!) to the Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia to see some of these units in action. I have seen two static locomotives at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
  by jaystreetcrr
I have a vague memory of a Railroad Model Craftsman article from the late 60s on building a model of these interesting locomotives. I'm sure the article had some historical info in it. Another interesting thing with these engines is that a city law required all freight trains on the West Side to be led by a man on horseback with a flag or a lantern at night--thus, the "West Side Cowboys".
Even so, this area was known as "Death Avenue" and led to to construction of the High Line to get freight tracks off the streets.
  by Allen Hazen
Think of a Shay as a steam locomotive designed to "emulate" a diesel. Swivel trucks (so good for tight curves). Gear ratio that allows power to be developed at very low speeds, and with comparatively even torque (unlike a conventional, rodded, steam locomotive, where the number of cylinder events is dependent on the number of driving wheel revolutions). Now think of the application: switching, and at most very short distance haulage, in an urban environment with street running and very tight curves onto industrial sidings. First choice: diesel. Second choice: Shay, the closest thing to a diesel that steam can provide!

I ***think*** that the New York Central got these Shays BEFORE the Alco-GE-IR prototype/demonstrator visited the Westside line. So easiest explanation for their purchase: diesels weren't available!
  by Allen Hazen
Dates: NYC's Shays apparently built in 1923. Alco-GE-IR demonstrator #8835's first demonstration was on the New York Central's west side terminal, starting in June 1924. So, the NYC bought Shays, and then, while they were still new, leapt at the chance to see if there was something better.
  by scottychaos
Allen Hazen wrote:Think of a Shay as a steam locomotive designed to "emulate" a diesel.
Allen Hazen wrote: First choice: diesel. Second choice: Shay, the closest thing to a diesel that steam can provide!
considering the first Shay was built in 1877! I think its more accurate to say:
"Think of a diesel as a locomotive designed to "emulate" a Shay" (as far as swiveling trucks anyway..they have nothing else in common)
and "First choice: Shay. Second choice: Diesel" ;)

  by Aa3rt
You may want to check out http://www.shaylocomotives.com

I found information on five Shays built for the NYC:

NYC #1896, later #7185, SN 3235:

http://www.shaylocomotives.com/data/lim ... n-3235.htm

NYC #1897, later #7186, SN 3236:

http://www.shaylocomotives.com/data/lim ... n-3236.htm

NYC #1898, later #7187, SN 3237:

http://www.shaylocomotives.com/data/lim ... n-3237.htm

NYC #1899, later 7188, SN 3238:

http://www.shaylocomotives.com/data/lim ... n-3238.htm

Finally, NYC #1900, later #7189, SN 3239:

http://www.shaylocomotives.com/data/lim ... n-3239.htm

I seem to remember that there were some shrouded Climax locomotives used in the Boston area (Can't remember by which railroad) in a similar application. Unfortunately most of my reference material is in storage at present while the interior of the house is being repainted.

EDIT: A little surfing revealed that it was the "Union Freight Railroad" of Boston. Here's a link to the locomotive in question:

http://www.climaxlocomotives.com/confir ... sn1617.jpg
  by BR&P
Re TBDiamond's mention of their use in Auburn, a quote from Borntrager's book "Keeping The Railroads Running":

"...the major reason for the excessive cost was the operation of a very antiquated steam locomotive. This locomotive was used because the bridge over which it had to be operated ...was of... limited capacity...." "... repairs had to be made frequently, and this was very expensive, tied up switching service, and at times produced some heavy overtime on switching crews." Thus Auburn got one of only 2 diesels in the Rochester area in the early 1940's, the other being used on the State Street branch because of the weak bridge over the Genesee River. We discussed the Auburn diesel before on this forum a year or two back and if memory serves me it was a GE 70 tonner. (?)
  by Tommy Meehan
The late Charlie Smith, who was Central's last Chief Mechanical Engineer - Locomotives, was for many years, the chairman of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society's New York Chapter. Charlie attended most of the monthly meetings. In fact it was for that reason -- to meet Charlie Smith -- that I joined the chapter in 2000.

The West Side Shays were one of the (many) things we grilled Charlie about during meetings. He laughed when we asked him why they bought them.

He said he had never been able to find out the reason and he had asked many people. He agreed the timing was pretty strange. Not only were diesels already being put into service nearby (Jay Street Connecting for one) the railroad was deep into negotiations with the City of New York over plans to electrify the West Side Line.

This was also one of the occasions when he told us the quickest way to get in trouble on the New York Central was to ask, "Why are we doing this?" He said decisions were made on high and the staff's job was to implement those decisions. Not question them. That sometimes decisions were explained but not always. He suspected this was the case with the Shays.

As I recall the best explanation he could offer was, "Somebody wanted them." :)
  by scottychaos
At the time (1923) the Shays made perfect sense..
the best tool for the job..

Diesels were very experimental..Shays were reliable, average, proven steam locomotives, that everyone understood..
in hindsight, to us today, diesels might "make more sense" than Shays..but probably not by the thinking of 1923! ;)
In 1923, the shays probably made WAY more sense than diesels, to management and workers alike..

and as for possible electrification..maybe they couldnt wait?
if you need new locomotives now, and electrification is years away, you cant wait..just buy the Shays, because we need them today..

I dont think its accurate to portray the NYC shays as some kind of "mistake" or "weird management decision that made no sense"..
they were perfect for the job, at that particular time and place, and served well and for a long time..

  by Tommy Meehan
BR&P wrote:We discussed the Auburn diesel before on this forum a year or two back and if memory serves me it was a GE 70 tonner. (?)
Yes I believe it was, one of eight 70-ton center cab diesels received by Central from GE in 1942. They were numbered 506-513.
  by Allen Hazen
Suppose you had wanted, in 1923-1924, to compare steam and diesel-electric locomotives. On the diesel side, your choice would be limited: the basic 60 ton, 300 hp, Alco-GE-IR boxcab may not have been quite the only game in town, but it was state-of-the-art and there wasn't much else on the market. So, suppose you wanted to make a comparative test, and so wanted a stgeam locomotive as closely comparable to it as you could find: the New York Central's box-cab Shays would be the ideal choice!

---BB wheel arrangement. (A priori I would think the "transmission" of the Shay would limit the degree to which its trucks could swivel, but they were designed for use on appalling track, so they may have had about the same limiting curve radius as the diesel: anybody here know?)

---Bidirectional. (One of the photos in the links Aa3rt gave us (Thanks!) shows one, with the "cowboy" on horseback ready to lead it-- indicating that it was about to make or had just made a move hauling a train on the city streets-- with the coal-bunker end leading.)

---Very close to the same weight. (The data tables in Aa3rt's links give the "empty" weight as 118,500 pounds... I suppose with a full load of fuel and water they might have been closer to 70 tons.)

So. Who wins the competition? The general index of the Shay site Aa3rt linked to shows a table of Shay classes. A 60 ton Shay with three 12"x12" cylinders (the dimensions given for the NYC Shays) and 200 lbs/sq.in boiler pressure (plausible for the early 1920s) is shown as having a tractive effort of somewhat over 28,000 pounds. Starting tractive effort for diesel electrics (until the microprocessor wheelslip controls of the GP50/B36-7 generation) was conventionally listed as 25% of the weight on drivers: say 30,000 lbs for a sixty tonner. And even with three cylinders and a 2.2:1 gear ratio, torque wouldn't have been as even on a steamer as on a diesel-electric. So the only performance data makes the diesel seem marginally better.

But who ACTUALLY won the competiton? The New York Central didn't immediately buy standard Alco-GE-IR switchers after #8835's demonstration: they were electrifying much of the West Side trackage, and when they got "diesel" switchers to supplement their electric locomotives they purchased GE's "Tri-power" (diesel electric/third-rail electric/storage battery electric) derivative of the Alco-GE-IR type (with the same IR engine). And other railroads with similar New York City operations (I'm not sure how many hosted #8835 for demonstrations, but even on the ones who didn't, the relevant motive power officials could compare notes with their New York Central counterparts) were clear about what they wanted. CNJ 1000 is not a Shay.