Heisler - Getting Started
Nelson Riedel, Nelson@NelsonsLocomotive.com
6/20/2004, last updated


The shay is complete so it is time to think ahead to the project for next winter   ------- start a model of of a large 3 truck Heisler.    I've been interested in the Heislers for years and started a  1/4" scale model in the 1970s.  Unfortunately, a set of drawings and castings like available from  Ken Schroeder for the shay are not available for the Heisler.  Allen Models sells a wheel casting that is a good match.   I'm pretty much on my own for the the rest of the parts and drawings.  However, I do have some resources:

  • The Heisler Locomotive 1891-1941, published by Benjamin F. G. Kline, Jr.  This long out of print book is probably the best source of information on the Heislers.  Used copies are available from time-to-time from used book sellers and on ebay.  I secured my copy  via the used book search on www.barnesandnobel.com (at a price that made me weep).       

  • Building the Heisler , by Kozo Hiraoka.  This book describes the construction of a small (~ 40 ton) two truck Heisler in 3/4" scale.

  • Kemtron Plan Sheet 36   A set of drawings of West Side Lumber Company  Heisler #2 -- a small narrow gauge  2-truck Heisler drawn by Al Armitage. 

  • A Heisler marketing brochure from the 1920s reprinted by Pacific Fast Mail in 1973.

  • The Heisler section of the Geared Steam Locomotive Works WebPages.

  • The Heisler section of the Steaming in the Woods  WebPages (apparently this site is now gone).

  • The real thing  --- three surviving large Heisler locomotives as described below 

Potlatch Forests #92, s/n 1502, 90 ton built in 1924, on display in a park in Lewiston, Idaho.  1502  has piston valves and a superheater. Photos at: http://www.gearedsteam.com/heisler/images/potlatch_lumber_92.jpg and http://www.camasprairierails.com/Potlatch_locomotives.htm

Cass Scenic Scenic Railroad Heisler #6, s/n 1591, 90 ton built in 1929 and currently operating at Cass, West Virginia.  1591 is of the early design with slide valves and no super heater even thought it was built several years after Heisler converted to the West Coast Special design.  Some have speculated that it was built earlier and not sold or that it was made from spare parts --- for a good price.  Additional  Information on 1591 including a few photographs can be found at http://www.cassrailroad.com/heisler6.html .    

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad #91, s/n 1595, 90 ton built in1930 and currently operating at Elbe, Washington.   1595 is a West Coast Special with piston valves and superheater.  Details of 1595 are available at :  http://www.mrsr.com/roster-steam.html.

The following table lists the data on these three locomotives

Locomotive s/n  Manu Size Bore X Stroke Wheel  Valves  Superheater?
Potlatch #92 1502 1924 90 Ton 18" X 16" 40" Piston Yes
Cass #6 1591 1929 90 Ton 18" X 16"* 40" Slide No
Mt Rainier #91 1595 1930 90 Ton 18.25 X 16" 40" Piston Yes

*I understand that one cylinder on s/n 1591 has been bored to 18.25".  

West Coast Special:  Heisler introduced the West Coast Special design to compete with Lima's Pacific Coast Shay.  The major design change was the use of piston valves and a superheater.  Climax also switched to Piston Valves at about the same time.  

Potlatch #92 has the piston valves and super heater so I had assumed that the design change was made in 1924.   However, Kline's text indicates that s/n 1555, built in December 1927, was the first West Coast Special.   The early West Coast Specials had the steam input on the boiler side of the valve area and used outside admission. A short time later (months or maybe a year) the design was changed to inside admission with the steam entering at the front side of the valve area.   Potlatch #92 has the steam entering the front side so the engine was manufactured after 1927.    

Kline shows two photos of Ohio Match No 4 (s/n 1488), a 50 ton Class B built in 1923.  The first photo shows slide valves and the second photo, taken some time later,  shows piston valves and super heater.  The caption says that 1488  was converted to the later design some years after manufacture.  The caption also mentions that Ohio Match converted a 90 ton Heisler from slide valves to piston valves and super heater.  Potlatch #92 (s/n 1502) started life as Ohio Match #1.   There are two photos of 1502 at  http://www.camasprairierails.com/Potlatch_locomotives.htm, one is a builder's photo showing the slide valve design and the other photo showing piston valves and superheater.  It seems clear that 1502 was updated with a new boiler and engine in 1928 or later.  

After 1502 was updated, someone had a spare engine and boiler manufactured in 1924.  Recall that Cass 6 was manufactured in 1929, using obsolete parts.   The original Cass 6 boiler is stamped with a manufacture date of 1924 (photo on Cass 6 Boiler page).   I wonder if the original engine and boiler from 1502 ended up in 1591.  

Doug Edwards sent the following in response to my speculation above.   From what I understand from
the old timers here, the loco was upgraded here.  The power unit changes were likely done without removing the main castings from the frame.   From what I have gathered from long gone interested parties, I suspect the boiler was not replaced, but rebuilt with new fluesheets to accommodate the superheaters.  There were shops at that time in Spokane that were capable of performing the needed changes.  I tend to doubt that the boiler was removed and a new one shipped out from Erie.  It would have been much cheaper to just rebuild to the needed configuration.  The GN shops in Hillyard built new huge 2-8-8-2's, so changing the fluesheets would not have been a problem for their shop.  The loco operated not far from me here in No. Idaho, and would have been less than 60 miles from the shops in Spokane.


The following photos of Cass 6 -1591 were taken on August 13, 2004 on the first test run after a broken pinion shaft in the middle truck was replaced.


The next two photos of Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad 91 - s/n 1595 were taken on September 25, 2004.  The first photo was taken early in the morning at the shops where they were installing the right side connecting rod.  

 The next  photo was taken late in the day at Mineral Lake, the midpoint of the scenic ride. The rod was performing well, but the bearing was a bit hot.  Note that the rear truck rod is timed different than the other two rods.  The drive shaft to the third truck has been removed so the drive is only to the front and middle trucks. 

The many photos taken at Cass Scenic Railroad  and at  Mount Rainer Scenic Railroad make it obvious that both are very accommodative of rail fans.  The staff at both are very courteous and try to answer all questions.   Anyone interested in steam locomotives, especially geared locomotives will find a visit to either (or both) very rewarding.  

Getting started:  Accurate drawings will be needed so it was time to bite the bullet and get mechanical CAD software.  Several of the free CAD programs were downloaded and tried.   None seemed very easy to use.  A trial version of TurboCAD Professional was then downloaded.   Wow, what a difference.  I was able to draw a wheel with spokes in an evening  --- I had spent probably 20 hours trying to draw the wheel on the other trial versions with little success.  Unfortunately,  the TurboCAD professional V10 lists for over $500.   They have a cheaper version ----- TurboCAD Deluxe V10 that lists for ~$150 but there are no detailed specifications on the TurboCAD website that explains the differences between the two.  I was able to find a retail website that listed the features of each side by side.  It seems that the Deluxe version has all the features that I want and I don't understand most the features available only in the Professional version.  A CD with TurboCAD Deluxe V10 and a 1" thick reference manual was purchased on line for $99 plus shipping.  The  software loaded with no problem and it ran just like the trial professional version.   

The initial plan was to  model Cass 6 - 1591.  However, after the documentation on 1591 was nearly completed, I became interested in the later piston valve design of the "West Coast Specials"  and began to consider modeling MRSR 91 - 1595.  After examining 1595 I made the decision to model it.  As far as I can tell 1591 and 1595 are identical with the following exceptions

  • 1595 uses piston valves vs. slide valves on 1591.

  • 1595 has a superheater, 1591 doesn't.

  • 1595 has an oil burner whereas 1591 burns coal..

  • 1595 has the later all weather cab.

  • A double set of frame front stiffening plates are used on 1595.

  • Slotted castings are used in place of frame rear stiffening plates on 1595. 

  • A different design  eccentric strap and eccentric rods are used on 1595.

  • Much simpler truck upper cross bars are used on 1595.    

Reference Data:  I  much prefer to refine the data and document it as I go along --- I am unwilling to go back and document something I did months ago --- even if I could remember something from months ago.   So the plan is to present photos, measurements and drawings of Cass 6 first.  This will be an iterative process consisting of taking photos and measurements, documenting with photos, text and drawings and then verifying the accuracy on subsequent visits and revising the data as necessary.     This part is essentially complete.

Next, the specific parts of MRSR 91 that I found different from Cass 6 will be documented.   This step is also essentially complete.  

Model Design:   The next step is the design of the model    The model will be 1.6" per foot scale and 7.5" gauge.  At this time (July 2006) the majority of the main locomotive design is complete.   The current design focus is the cab followed by the tanks and then the brakes.  The sketch below shows the current state of the overall locomotive design.  Both the locomotive and tender are about 2" longer than exact scale.   The longer tender permits a greater water capacity and the longer locomotive permits a larger firebox and a bit more room around the engine (motor). 

Model Construction:  The construction will parallel the completion of the design.  This part is the major focus in the summer of 2006.

The Heisler should be much easier than the Shay (or Climax) to model.  One of the main differences is in the trucks where the side frames are fairly plan and hidden by the wheels.   Also, the engine has less than half the parts.  After a brief review of all the major components it was concluded that  the wheels should be cast and everything else could be made from stock.   Note that Hiraoka builds his entire Heisler from stock.     Another very useful reference is Bob Reedy's series on Building the Three-Truck Climax in Live Steam,  beginning in the the September - October 2001 issue.    Reedy builds his Climax from stock except for the wheels.   He purchased wheel  castings from Ken Schroeder --- they look just like Ken's shay wheel castings.

Shortly after starting this project I was contacted by an investment casting mold maker who was interested in making live steam locomotive castings.  After several discussions we decided to pool resources and make a set of molds for Heisler castings.   Unfortunately, this mold maker's eyesight failed and he was unable to complete the project.   So, I had to start over.  One piece of good news is that I found a pattern maker who is able to use some of the investment casting patterns in patterns for sand casting molds.  

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