The Shay Locomotive Project
Nelson Riedel,
1/14/2003, last updated

This section describes the construction of my first live steam locomotive, a three truck shay.  I chose 1/8 or 1.5 inch scale meaning that something 1 foot long on the original will be 1.5 inches long on the model.  The weight will scale by 1/8 cubed or 1/512.  The original was 60 tons which would  make the model ~ 250 pounds.  The model in fact will weigh a little over 400 pounds,  be 14 inches wide,  21 inches high,  and about 7 feet long, .  The extra weight is because some of the material is not scaled down exactly.  For example, the boiler on the model is extra thick because the operating pressure is only scaled back about 40% (~250 psi on original, 100 psi on model).   A full load of water (8 gal in tender plus  ~ 1.5 gal in boiler) and fuel (2.5 gal) will bring it up to about 500 pounds.  And then there's the skinny engineer that will be riding on the tender -- that'll add another 120 pounds.   Wow, what a load!.         

The track gauge (distance between rails) is 7.5 inches.    A more  accurate scale gauge would be 7.25" and many modelers are starting to use this more accurate scale gauge.  However, I've decided to stick with the more common 7.5" gauge.  

The model is made from rough iron and bronze castings and steel, bronze, brass, aluminum and copper bar, rod and flat stock.   The castings are sold by Kenneth Schroeder and include a complete set of drawings of each finished piece.  He doesn't provide instructions on how to do the actual machining nor are there drawings of the completed locomotive.  He does provide a series of photos and a set of copies of original Lima Locomotive drawings are also available.  He  is readily accessible via both email and telephone to answer any questions.   Check out his website at

I'd never seen an actual working live steam model locomotive when I started this project. (Part way through the project I met the folks at Mill Creek Central Railroad in nearby Coshocton, Ohio  --- see the MCC link in the links list.   I was told that their track foreman absolutely hates shays --- they scatter oil and other fluids along the track making a big mess.  I'm used to that --- my Triumphs did exactly the same thing.)      I purchased the two books pictured below and read them thoroughly before diving into the project.    The book by Joseph Nelson on the left is general in nature.   The book by Kozo Hiraoka contains very detailed instructions on building a 3/4" scale Class B (2-truck) Shay.    Hiraoka machines each part from stock rather than using castings.   Each dimension of the 3/4" scale Shay is one half the length of each dimension on the 1.5" scale on the Shay I'm constructing.    The volume and weight of the 3/4"is about one eighth the size of the 1.5" scale model.   Both contain many tips on how to do the machining.        

The next step was to purchase and review Kenneth's drawings.  The ~100 pounds of rough castings were purchased after I convinced myself that I could do the job.  The pile of iron was a bit overwhelming.  After some thought I decided to start with the engine since it could be powered with compressed air and was the quickest way to get something moving on the workbench.   The project was started in early October 2002 and the engine first ran on Saturday, January 4, 2003.  That was after staying up most the night watching and celebrating The Ohio State University Buckeye's victory in the Fiesta Bowl. 

The locomotive was more or less completed in the spring of 2004.  The photo below show two of these shays in operation at Mill Creek Central RR on May 20, 2006. That is me in the lead and Dan Staron with the shay he built pushing me.  We were dragging 27 cars.      

The shay was documented as it was constructed.  The links below lead to the documentation.    You can get back to this page using the browser back button.    The Changes and Additions link on the left side of the homepage shows the sequence of the project.  Some pages also show a pdf link which leads to the page in Adobe Acrobat pdf format.  The files in pdf format can be viewed using Adobe Acrobat Reader  that can downloaded at the following link: .  A specific pdf file can be saved using Internet Explorer by right clicking on the pdf link and selecting  "Save Target as ...:" from the drop down menu.   

All the pages are set to 720 pixel width.  Printing is normally at 96 pixels per inch so the printed copy is 7.5  inches wide.  The full pages will print on 8.5 " wide paper but the margins must be set to 0.5" or less.  The default margins are 1" or greater so if the right side is cut off, open Page setup on the file menu (Internet Explorer) and change the margins.  The full width will also print on A4 paper,  you metric folks can figure the correct margin setting.    


Shay Engine Parts & Description   Describes the various parts of the locomotive engine and how everything fits together. pdf 

Shay Engine Machining Operations   Shows how some of the engine parts were fabricated and how some of the castings were machined. pdf

Shay Engine Mount  Describes the engine mount.  pdf

Shay Reversing Gear Shows photos of Cass No 10 reversing gear and the fabrication of a model of that reversing gear.  pdf

Shay Cylinder Cocks Describes the fabrication of the cylinder cocks.  pdf

Shay Engine Modifications Describes use of Teflon seals in the glands and a way to tighten loose rod bearings.  pdf


Shay Trucks  Shows the various parts of the truck and how all the parts go together. pdf

Shay Truck Machining I - RH Journal Boxes Shows how the RH Journal Boxes were machined. pdf

Shay Truck Machining Operations II - Wheels Shows how the wheels were machined. pdf

Shay Truck Machining Operations III - Flat Bars & Assembly  Shows techniques to make the flat bars and also how the trucks were assembled. pdf

Shay Truck Pivots & Rollers  Shows the pivots and rollers that interface the trucks to the frames. pdf


Shay Tender Frame  Discusses tender frame design choices and shows the  completed frame. pdf

Shay Tender Frame Fabrication  Shows additional detail of the tender frame and some of the processes used to fabricate the parts. pdf

Shay Tender Sill Presents photos of sill details and describes how the sill components were fabricated including the poling pockets. pdf


Shay Main Frame  Discusses main frame design choices and shows the  completed frame.  pdf 

Shay Main Frame Fabrication  Shows additional detail of the main frame and some of the processes used to fabricate the parts.  pdf


Shay Truck Brakes  Shows details of the truck brake components and fabrication techniques. pdf 

Shay Steam Brake Cylinder  Shows several different style of brake cylinders and fabrication of the one selected. pdf

Shay Brake Links  Shows the links between the steam cylinder and the the lever on each truck. pdf

Shay Brake Valve Has photos of typical Shay brake valves and explains how to make a working model.  pdf

Another Shay Brake Valve  This shows another brake valve that works the best of all attempted so far. pdf



Shay Transporter and Test Fixture Describes the hydraulic table (transporter) used to move the Shay around the workshop area and a test fixture to permit the Shay to operate on the transporter.  pdf


Shay Line Shaft, Universal & Drive Shaft Describes the drive train from the engine to the axels.  pdf

Shay Line Shaft & Universal Joint Fabrication Shows how some of the parts for the line shaft subsystem were made.   Also describes silver soldering tools. pdf

Shay Drive Shaft & Universal Ring Fabrication Describes how the universal rings and drive shaft slip joints were machined.  pdf

Shay Gear Guards Describes the gear guards which were added two years after the shay was operational.


Shay Tanks Part I Discusses various tank styles, describes construction techniques and shows the steps to construct the basic fuel tank. pdf

Shay Tanks Part II Shows the construction of the basic water tank and the finishing of both the fuel and water tanks. pdf



Shay Plumbing I - General Plan Discusses various aspects of the plumbing such as pipes, fittings and jointing methods. pdf

Shay Plumbing II - Hand Pump  Shows the fabrication of the hand pump. pdf

Shay Plumbing III - Lubricator  Shows the design and fabrication of mechanical lubricator.  pdf

Shay Plumbing IV - Axel Pump  Describes the fabrication of the axel pump. pdf

Shay Plumbing V - Fittings  Shows photos and comparisons of various pluming fittings. pdf

Shay Plumbing VI - Blowdown Valve  Presents  photos of Shay blowdown valves and explains how to make a valve.  pdf



Shay Boiler  This page shows photos of the boiler that was purchased.  pdf

Shay Boiler Backhead Fittings  Shows the water gauge, firebox door and explains the fabrication of the the throttle lever.  pdf

Shay Smoke Box Fittings  Shows how the smokestack, smoke box front and blower were machined. pdf

Shay Throttle  Shows how the throttle is installed in the steam dome.  pdf

Shay Boiler Mounts and Holes Shows the mounts and the various holes required in the Boiler.  pdf 

Shay Boiler Cosmetics - Part 1 Describes making the  smoke box rivet details and spacers for boiler jacket.  pdf

Shay Boiler Cosmetics - Part II Shows how the boiler jacket and bands were fabricated.  pdf

Shay Boiler Cosmetics - Part III Describes finishing the domes.   pdf


Shay Cab Sides & Front :  The cab front and sides were made to help with the plumbing layout.  pdf   

Shay Cab - Shelf and Platform :  Describes the construction of the shelf over the rear cylinder and the platform covering the reversing gear.   pdf

Shay Cab - Floor & Roof  Describes the construction of the cab floor, walkways and roof.   pdf

Finishing the Cab  The widows and painting.  pdf

More Plumbing

Shay Plumbing VII - Steam & Exhaust pipes   Shows the fabrication and installation of the Engine Steam & Exhaust pipes.  pdf

Shay Plumbing VIII - Steam Turret & Associated Plumbing  A challenge to combine appearance with functionality at the backhead.  pdf

Shay Plumbing IX - Feed Water Pipes  Page describes installation of feed water plumbing and hydrostatic tests.  pdf

Shay Plumbing X - Whistle  Describes fabrication of whistle.  pdf

Shay Plumbing XI - Gauges  Describes several inexpensive pressure gauges.  pdf


Shay Fire - Burning Oil Contains background information on firing with oil and describes some tests on an oil nozzle.   pdf

Shay Fire - Burner  Describes burner that is a copied from  Bob Reedy's design in Live Steam.  Also shows atomizer regulator.   pdf

Shay Fire - Blower & Finishing Smoke Box  Shows the completion of the blower plumbing and smoke box fittings. pdf

Shay Fire - First Fire  Short page that describes the first firing of the locomotive ---- it was a success!  pdf

Shay Fire - Burner Tests & Modifications  Describes a number of changes to the burner to make it function better. pdf

Air Compressor/Pump

Air Compressor/Pump Part I - Background Provides data on the Westinghouse 11 inch steam powered air compressor.  pdf

Air Compressor/Pump Part II - Fabricating the Cylinders, Pistons & Water Valve  pdf

Air Compressor/Pump Part III - Making the Steam Valves  pdf

Air Compressor/Pump Part IV - Pilot Valve Stem, Test & Installation  pdf


Painting The Tender Discussion of some of the techniques used to paint the tender.   pdf

Painting The Trucks & Frames Shows how the trucks and frames were powder coated.   pdf   

Painting & Assembling The Boiler  Shows installation of cork lagging in addition to  the painting.   pdf

Painting Miscellaneous Small Parts  This page shows how to make a black oxide finish and how to powder coat the plumbing parts.   pdf 

Painting Engine.   pdf 


Shay Electrical Part I  This page shows the battery pack and the burner igniter.  pdf

Shay Electrical Part II- Headlamp   pdf

Shay Electrical Part III - Headlamp Con't  pdf

Shay Electrical Part IV - Cab and Tender Lamps pdf

Finishing Details

Finishing the back of the Tender Shows how the ladder and the sanders were made.  pdf

Finishing the top of the Boiler Shows the bell and handrails.   pdf


Fluids, Lubricants & Capacities  pdf

Transporting Describes a possible way to transport the shay in a small SUV.   pdf

First Run  Describes the first run at a track - a success with a list of things to improve.  pdf

Improvements & Fixes  Yes, there were several fixes required and a few improvements.  pdf

Operation  Data on lighting and adjusting burner and operating check list.  pdf

More Improvements:  Water Line Quick Connects and a much improved Fire Pan. 

Tractive Force & Power:  Calculation and measurement of starting tractive force and some thoughts on power generation.  Many photos of the Shay in operation

New Burner   The new burner has a mixing chamber to improve burner efficiency.

More Power  Describes changes to petticoat, exhaust nozzle and fire pan that significantly increases the ability to generate steam. 


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