If you ever have had one of those days where you are looking for one thing and you find something else, you will be able to relate to this story. For some reason, I had thought about that joke my neighbor Andy used to tell about the two drunks so I wanted to find the Deep Rock tank car that I knew I had somewhere. In looking for it, I came across my Shay locomotive. I’m not sure I’ve shared much about this little guy but like so many of my models, there’s a story behind it.
Probably back in the late 1970s, I visited Cass. West Virginia, with my dad & brother for Railfan Weekend. Three whole days of nothing but steam powered, logging locomotives. Of course, the highlight of the trip was Saturday where it took all day long to go up to Bald Knob & back because about every mile, the train stopped and we all piled out for a photo runby. The details of that weekend are another story but when it was all over, I knew… I HAD TO HAVE A SHAY.
There was no Ebay back then so my only resort was to find something listed in the monthly columns of MODEL RAILROADER Magazine or maybe at a train show. OUCH! The only Shays available at that time were brass… and far, far beyond my means. But I never gave up.
Along about the same time, Model Die Casting/Roundhouse started an insiders program for modelers complete with an occasional newsletter. I seem to recall that it cost a few bucks but I thought it would be worth it so I signed up and began receiving newsletters, catalogs and special mailings about future projects. This was about the time that they started doing the “Three in One” kits for scratchbuilders/kitminglers. But one day, something totally different came in the mail… it was a huge folded advertisement for their newest locomotive; A SHAY… and it was in kit form which made it reasonably affordable!
I probably called The Semaphore right then and there to tell Tom & Lou that I wanted one of these kits. “We got ’em on order, Dan; we’ll let you know when they come in.” Although I’m sure it was only maybe a couple of weeks later that I got the call, it seemed like months. We went to Toledo the next day and I got my Shay kit. When I got it home, I went to work. I spent many hours on that little guy and got it running but not to my satisfaction so I tore it all apart and worked on it some more. I realized that the crankshaft & piston rods were creating a drag on the rest of the mechanism so I carefully used a toothpick and smeared toothpaste on all of the places where the moving parts touched. I reassembled the engine then put it on a stand to keep the wheels off the ground and fired it up. The longer it ran, the faster it ran so I kept throttling back. After about an hour, the mechanism ran like a fine Swiss watch. It turned so slow I could actually see the motor turning. I took it all apart again to thoroughly clean off the toothpaste, then reassembled it and oiled it up ready to go. I set it on a piece of track and gave it only the slightest amount of juice; it took four minutes for the engine to run its own length. I knew I had a keeper.
The following weekend, I took it back to Toledo to The Semaphore. They were surprised to see me come in so soon and thought that maybe there was something wrong with the kit. But when I put it on their small shop layout and kept turning the power down, down, down, they were impressed. They later told me that when “veteran” model railroaders came in to the shop and complained about all of the small parts in the kit, they simply told them, “Ah c’mon… there’s a blind guy down in Findlay who has built one of these!”
That was a long time ago and my, how things have changed. MDC/Roundhouse has been bought by Horizon Hobbies and no longer manufactures kits, Lou has passed away, The Semaphore has been closed for years… and the Shay won’t run! I need to take it apart but somewhere along the line, either a gear is slipping or is completely stripped as the motor runs but there’s no other action. Hopefully, it can be fixed because I’d like to use it once in a while on my layout under construction. I guess we’ll have to just wait and see… And to top it all off, there’s a local link since they were built just down I-75 from here in Lima. Yep, still love those Shays!