“Geared Locomotives in East Texas”
By Richard W. Keeling
Logging railroads in East Texas did not reach the spectacular proportions that were characteristic of the Pacific Northwest. There were no inclined planes, no “engineering- wonder” timber trestles, no Mallets. Most of the Southeast Texas timber belt was flat enough to allow logging with rod engines, the lighter the better, especially in the wet months of winter and spring. By contrast, the central and northern parts of the timber country were hilly enough to attract the geared locomotive with its light tread, even torque and ability to negotiate curves of almost street-car radius.
Once it proved itself, the geared engine was used to bring a few loaded cars at a time out of the rough country near the “timber front" to a convenient transfer point. A rod engine could take a train on to the mill, either over a fairly good main-line tram or over the lines of several major railroads operating in the timber country. It was cheaper to flog a geared engine into bringing two or three loads up improbable grades on sketchy track than it was to invest in the civil engineering and construction that would be necessary to push closer to the “front” with track suitable for the more heavy rod engines. Three major manufacturers built geared locomotives when railroad logging was in its glory. These were the Lima Locomotive Works at Lima, Ohio, the Heisler Machine Company of Erie, Pennsylvania, and the Climax Manufacturing Co. of Corry, Pennsylvania. Of these three types, Lima’s vertical-cylindered Shay, or “side-winder” dominated the East Texas logging picture. Over one hundred of these engines in assorted weights and sizes were delivered new to Texas lumber companies by the Lima Locomotive Works. An undetermined number --- possibly never to be accurately known --- found their way into the state second-hand from operations in Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Some came from states even farther from Texas.
The Heisler geared locomotive, with a two cylinder, Vtype engine, had a good reputation in high-water country and for that reason was used extensively in Louisiana. Although the Angelina County Lumber Company of Keltys, Texas, owned several Heislers and used them on logging operations in Louisiana, but it is not know for certain that any were ever used in the Texas. operation.
The third make, the Climax, was more like a conventional steam locomotive than the other two. It had a pair of normally- placed cylinders that drove a cross-shaft. The cross-shaft drove a lay shaft that ran down the center-line of the locomotive, driving each axle through special bevel “skew” gears of Climax design. Of several Climax locomotives rumored to have operated in East Texas logging operations, only four have been verified. These were George M. Dilley Co. #1, operating around Palestine in 1907, Miller- Vidor Lumber Company’s #103, operating on the Galveston, Beaumont and Northwestern between 1893 and 1907, Hilgard Lumber Company’s Climax, number unknown, operating at Laurelia between 1897 and 1906, and Knox Lumber Company’s 4-spot, operating at Hemphill, Texas between 1919 and 1921.
Of the Shays, Kirby Lumber Company is known to have purchased eighteen new from Lima and may have operated some second-hand ones in addition. Of the other large lumber companies still doing business in Texas, Angelina County Lumber Company had six, W.T. Carter and Bro. had five, and Temple Lumber / Southern Pine Lumber Co. had four. The remaining sixty-five or so Shays delivered new to Texas were divided among many lumber companies long since out of business, forgotten or absorbed by present-day concerns. There were probably many operators where one Shay was the sole motive power, and many others that operated with a Shay to get the logs out of the rough country and a rod engine of doubtful parentage and precarious condition to get them to the mill.
Each of the geared engines had its good points and its weaknesses, its followers and its opponents. The Shay, with its usually unguarded bevel gears operating at knee-height to a man standing beside the track was a traveling safety hazard and killed or maimed many loggers, among them the brother of a Kirby engineer and the young daughter of a Carter engineer. The bevel gears, universal joints and crankshaft journals operated in dust, sand, water and mud and taxed the patience of shop men and the pocketbook of operators, Stumps had to be cut extra low if adjacent to logging spurs, otherwise one of the Shay’s three connecting rod ends would come down solidly on top of a stump, resulting in major damage to the machinery or overturning of the locomotive. On the other hand the Shay, purring softly under a pine tree while the loader filled out another car of logs, offered evidence of why they were so popular in the forest of East Texas. These included the convenient location of machinery, flexibility that allowed track to change directions several times both horizontally and vertically between one coupler to the other, and the good availability of spare parts even if they had to come from the disabled sister back of the mill’s machine shop.
The Heisler was a natural in the swamps. The cylinders were up high and the lay shaft ran between the wheels and above the axles. The bottom of the firebox was usually higher above the rail than that of a Shay or the average rod engine. It was not uncommon in the rainy season for a Heisler to operate all day with the crew never seeing the rails. Getting logs to the mill was imperative but getting there rapidly was not particularly important so long as she was running fairly smooth the crew could assume she was on the track. When running-gear repairs were necessary the Heisler definitely was not a favorite with shop men. Everything was inside and underneath, like a rod engine with Stephenson valve gear. Operators in the upland woods found that the Heisler, with her two cylinders operating at ninety degrees to the horizontal axis of the locomotive, had a tendency to “rock herself off of the track”.
The Climax, too had its good and bad points. The cylinders were in the conventional rodengine location, although inclined to the horizontal axis of the locomotive, and the main-rods and crank-pins were outside the frame. The lay shaft and bevel gears were inside, giving poor accessibility, but above the driving axles for good deep-water performance. An engineer assigned to a Climax found her to be smooth riding, as logging locomotives went, and inclined to turn in a good day’s work with a minimum of coaxing.
Of all the geared locomotives once operating in Texas, only the Shay owned by W.T. Carter and Bro. Lumber Company at Camden remains. A Shay was marooned on an island in a gravel pit near Romayer in the late 1940’s but its present existence has not been verified. The last Shay operating in Texas was Kirby Lumber Company’s #49, used to switch their Voth, Texas, mill until operations ceased there in 1950.