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The Little Engine: 1906

The Little Engine: 1906

Harbor Springs, Michigan, circa 1906. "Excursion logging train." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.


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William Crippen & Mr. Shay

My 4-great grandfather, William Crippen, worked with Ephraim Shay on parts and design in his efforts to make his first geared locomotive in 1877. Crippen operated the Cadillac City Iron Works, but his little operation was unable to fill the demand of Shay's orders. Crippen was also busy designing his own engine which he received a patent for on Oct. 17, 1882. He only built a single finished locomotive of his own design before he passed away at the age of 59 in 1888. He is buried in Cadillac, Michigan.

For more information about the Crippen Geared Locomotive, visit:

What's in a name

Records in my collection show the name of the engine to be "Baby." It's the best photo I have seen of her.

Ms. Secular

That isn't a clerical collar. It's simply a woman with a white shirtwaist under her black overdress who is wearing a cross.

Hemlock Central Railroad

Turns out this loco was owned by the inventor of the Shay, old Ephraim Shay himself. Track gauge was 30 inches. More here.

(Thanks to the experts over at

Ephraim's Own

Ephraim Shay, who developed the geared locomotive along with the Lima Locomotive works, lived in Harbor Springs and designed a hexagonal house with walls of stamped steel, built around a central tower. The house still stands on East Main Street. He also designed and operated a private waterworks for the town.

The Harbor Springs Railway (nicknamed the "Hemlock Central"), another Ephraim Shay enterprise operating with Shay locomotives, hauled lumber and ran passenger excursions for 25 cents a head.

Built by Shay Himself

According to the Shay historical site whose link is given below, those trucks are from a 9 ton Shay built by Ephraim Shay himself. He was from Harbor Springs and owned the two-foot six inch gauge Harbor Springs Ry., also known as the Hemlock Central. Vacationers were hauled for 25 cents a trip. Now the remaining mystery is: what was carried in that lock box on the side of the cab?

Hemlock Central Railroad

Yes, this is indeed a Shay locomotive, and the reason it looks cobbled together is because it was--by Ephraim Shay himself, built in his garage.

Ephraim Shay invented and patented the Shay locomotive, which was exclusively built for the commercial market by Lima Locomotive Works, Lima OH, starting in the late 1870's. The Shay was primarily used in lumber operations, including Shay's personal logging railroad the Hemlock Central, which ran excursions like this out of Harbor Springs during the summer months to supplement the logging revenue.

Shay built his three Hemlock Central Shays himself in his garage. I want to say this is #3, but I can't be sure because I don't have my father's definitive book on Shays at hand.

The Hemlock Central was torn up in 1912. Shay died a few years later. He was a fascinating man, one of America's greatest inventors, holding many patents besides that on his geared locomotive.


I think the trucks on those cars trailing the locomotive are the same design that are currently in use on the Eurostar trains. Yep, quite sure.


I am not a train expert but after reading the comments on the engine and looking at the strange way the cars are attached to the trucks, I would say this train has been modified for a height clearance. The cars have a home made look to them and are barely tall enough to stand in. The roof line of the cars, the engine and the smoke stack are all the same.

United Methodist Church

The Rev. Ms. Who probably has something to do with the Bay View Association. These are what we call Summer People, and if you live in Harbor Springs that can be a derogatory term. In 2010, Summer People would have nothing to do with religion.


A surviving Shay with a great deal of similarity:

The Reverend Ms. Who?

I'm intrigued by the woman wearing clerical collar and cross. She must have been from a very forward-thinking denomination to have been an ordained clergyperson in 1906.

Where's My Headlight

That is a Shay locomotive, very common in period logging operations. What set it apart is the gear drive vs. the side rods on typical steam engines. Shays had the ability to climb very steep grades. I notice also that the trucks (wheel sets) on the cars are not sprung. I bet these folks were more than happy to stand at the end of their journey.

Happy Bunch

There seems to be a larger percentage of smiles in this photo than there are in other photos from this time. Must have been something in that Michigan air.

Shay logger

This is a Shay geared logging locomotive. What's unusual about this is that it's missing the shielding that you usually see around both the 3 cylinders and the gears that drive the wheels. The cab looks home-made, too, and you can see evidence of some significant damage around the steam dome (where the pipe comes out to the cylinders). At best, this is a loco that was substantially damaged and repaired. But I'm wondering if it's a new boiler on a recovered Shay drive mechanism, a real kitbash.


The interesting thing about this Shay is that it doesn't have a base for the boiler to sit on. Don't think that I have ever seen one quite like this. Also of note is that the boiler sits back on the wheels instead of being over them or at the very least flush with them. Maybe the original was destroyed and the pieces for the drive shaft and such were fitted to whatever components they could find to make it work. Very much a backwoods sort of thing. The boiler probably comes from a totally different engine and was fitted for the purpose. Excellent find Shorpy! Anyone else have thoughts?

Unusual Drive

I know next to nothing about steam trains (or any other type for that matter), but I've never seen a worm gear type set up to drive the wheels before. That's pretty interesting looking.

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