top of page

Shay Locomotives

A. & D. Munro Tramway Locomotives

In 1903, Duncan Munro realised that his horse drawn timber carriages would limit his ability to retrieve and deliver timber from the Perseverance area to his mills and to the Queensland Railways’ branch line station at Hampton.


In order to assess the possibility of running a locomotive, Munro’s requested the District Engineer of the Qld Government Railways (QGR) to inspect the line. The report of the Engineer, Mr C. E. Quinlan, dated 19 March 1903, gives insight into the nature of the line.

Minimum radius of curve used is one and a half chains, of which there are a number, whilst the maximum gradient is 1 in 14 for about one chain, with several others of 1 in 15 for short distances, and still more of 1 in 20 to 1 in 25 on inclines five chains or more in length.…

‘I am of the opinion there should be no difficulty in working a locomotive on this line.’

"With this favourable report, Duncan Munro went for a holiday visit to the United States with a view to purchasing a suitable locomotive.” (Refer Munro’s Hampton Tramway by R. K. Morgan; Light Railways Number 61, July 1978; Published by The Light Railway Research Society of Australia.)

On this visit to America in 1904 Duncan Munro purchased a Shay locomotive from the Lima Locomotive and Machine Company, suitable for the terrain between Hampton and Perseverance for his 2’ 6” (762mm) gauge tramway.

The Lima Locomotive Shop number for this locomotive is No. 906: a typical Class A Shay design, being, two trucks, two cylinders (7” diameter x 12” stroke) and wood fired. It was duly shipped to Australia arriving at Palmtree in crates, and needing to be assembled. There were no engineers available and nobody locally had any experience with steam engines.  Despite this two local men, Ernie Shum and Olaf Olsen volunteered to try to put it together. They were very resourceful men and managed to get the loco assembled and in working order.

With the success of the first Shay locomotive, Duncan Munro ordered and purchased a second Class A Shay locomotive in 1908. This second locomotive, for all intents, was the same specification as the first Munro locomotive.

The Lima Locomotive Shop number for the second locomotive is No. 2097, of identical specifications.

For a much more detailed descriptive history of the two “Munro” Shay locomotives and the operations in the Perseverance area, refer Munro’s Hampton Tramway by R. K. Morgan; Light Railways Number 61, July 1978; published by The Light Railway Research Society of Australia Inc., available from

Why did they choose a Shay Loco

Many of us might be familiar with the typical rod-driven steam locomotives. They have horizontal cylinders and pistons, driving piston rods to connecting rods on each of the driven axles which typically have larger wheels. Such locomotives may also have leading and trailing axles which do not assist propelling the locomotive. However these wheels are able to share the weight of the locomotive on the rails and can assist the locomotive in negotiating curves.

In contrast, Shay locomotives are propelled by having cylinders and pistons mounted almost upright. They drive a crankshaft and square ‘telescopic’ line shafts which in turn drive bevel gears transmitting power to all axles. These axles are combined as two-axled trucks which are able to pivot under the locomotive as it negotiates curves. As a result, all wheels on a Shay locomotive drive the locomotive. Shay locomotives can have a two or three truck configuration which enable them to operate on steeper inclines than most rod-driven locomotives. Due to the relatively short wheelbase length of the trucks a Shay locomotive is able to negotiate smaller radius curves than many rod-driven steam locomotives. Such benefits were often needed in the difficult terrains encountered with pioneer timber-getting of yesteryear.

Note the near vertical mounting of the two cylinders, at side of cab. Crown gears visible on front truck.

Credit: Munro family

Although Shay locomotives did not have the speed of typical main-line steam locomotives, they were able to access constrained terrains and exert significant tractive power onto the rail tracks to haul substantial loads.

Shays also have a unique appearance with their boiler being offset to the left of the locomotive, to allow space for the upright cylinders adjacent to the boiler.

Of course, both types of locomotives use steam from a boiler on the locomotive fired by an on board fuel source, e.g. coal, timber or oil.

As reported in the 15 April 1905 edition of the Queenslander newspaper, referencing the Munro Tramway … “The Shay engine is the only one of its kind in Australia. Its peculiarity is that it works with cogs on the outside of the wheels, a great advantage when anything occurs, as the machinery is always easy of access. The cogs prevent the wheels from slipping, and give power to ascend steep grades. These engines, Mr. Munro found, are very extensively used in the United States and Canada, and similar ones, six times as large, are used to assist freight trains over the mountains on the Canadian - Pacific railway. When empty the "Munro," as it is called, weighs fifteen tons, or eighteen tons loaded. It pulls a load of twenty-five tons up a grade of one in fifteen, the steepest on the line. The curves on the Ipswich-Toowoomba line are never greater than four chains, but the engine easily negotiates curves of one and a-half, two, and two and a-half chains on this line:

Upgrading the line for the Shay

The next challenge was to upgrade the route from Palmtree to Hampton.  The Munro’s purchased steel rails for a two foot six inch gauge system and re-surveyed the route from Palmtree to Hampton. In doing so they had to be aware that the loco when loaded required a grade ideally of no more than 5 degrees and even then could only travel at around 5 miles per hour (8 kph).

The Shay loco made its maiden trip from Palmtree to Hampton in 1905 to the amazement of the local inhabitants, many of whom hitched a ride to savour the experience. Soon afterwards, the Premier of Queensland was a guest on the train along with a large group of dignitaries, who came to celebrate the beginning of the venture.

Bridge 1, April 1905. Official ceremony celebrating conversion to steam loco operation. W.J. Munro at front of engine.

Photo provided by Ravensbourne Escape

Following the success of the first Shay loco, the Munro family purchased a second one and began to extend the rail system towards Ravensbourne in order to access more timber for the mill. This also proved successful but required some significant engineering skills. Perseverance Creek had to be crossed just north of the mill, so a large bridge was required, and subsequently built.

As the relatively local supplies of trees were used up, the rail line was extended right through to Bunkers Hill, which remained the terminus for the life of the line. Bunkers Hill stood above the Deongwar Forest, which held vast quantities of hardwood growing at substantially lower levels than Ravensbourne and Palmtree. As it was too steep a climb for the loco, the logs from Deongwar were hauled up the hill by horse teams and loaded on the wagons at Bunkers Hill. A unique ramp and pulley system was used to load the logs on the wagons using the loco as the source of power.

The History of the Shay Locos 


Shay locomotives were built to the patents of Mr Ephraim Shay, who has been credited with the popularization of the concept of a geared steam locomotive.

Ephraim Shay was an American merchant, entrepreneur and self-taught railroad engineer who worked in the logging and timber milling industry in the state of Michigan.

In the 1860’s Ephraim Shay wished to devise a better way to move logs to the mill than on winter snow sleds.

He built his own tramway in 1875, on 2 ft 2 in (660 mm) gauge track on wooden ties. This made him much more efficient than his competitors because he could log all year round.

In about 1877 he developed the idea of having an engine sit on a flat car with a boiler, gears, and trucks (bogies) that could pivot. The first Shay only had two cylinders and the front truck was mounted normally while the rear truck was fixed to the frame and could not swivel, much the same as normal drivers on a locomotive.

Shay applied for, and was issued, a patent for the basic idea in 1881. He patented an improved geared truck for his engines in 1901.

Shay started working with Lima Machine Works, later Lima Locomotive Works, in Lima, Ohio, licensing them to manufacture this model.

Lima Locomotive Works of Lima, Ohio built Ephraim Shay's prototype engine in 1880. Prior to 1884, all the Shays Lima produced weighed 10 to 15 short tons (8.9 to 13.4 long tons; 9.1 to 13.6 t) each and had just two cylinders. In 1884, they delivered the first 3-cylinder (Class B) Shay, and in 1885, the first 3-truck (Class C) Shay. The success of the Shay led to a major expansion and reorganization of the Lima Company.

In 1903, Lima could claim that it had delivered the "heaviest locomotive on drivers in the world", the first 4-truck (class D) Shay, weighing 140 short tons (120 long tons; 130 t). This was built for the El Paso Rock Island Line from Alamogordo, New Mexico to Cox Canyon, 31 miles (50 km) away over winding curves and grades of up to 6 %. The use of a two-truck tender was necessary because the poor water quality along the line meant that the locomotive had to carry enough water for a round trip.

 Reference: Wikipedia


Types of Shay locomotives


A class system, developed by Lima Locomotive Works for the Shay locomotives, came years after the first Shays were built. Shay locomotives were classed by their number of cylinders (two or three) and their number of driving trucks/bogies (two to four).

Class A – 2 cylinders, 2 trucks


Class B – 3 cylinders, 2 trucks


Class C – 3 cylinders, 3 trucks


Class D – 3 cylinders, 4 trucks


For further comprehensive information about Shay locomotives across the world, refer

Interesting story about the Shay.

In 1918, Mr. Albert Owen began working for Munro’s at the age of seventeen. Mr Owen related the following story.

“One day I drove up to Hampton and found the ‘pig train’, which ran out to Crows Nest to pick up pigs for the Toowoomba sale on Tuesdays, was in. Marty Strohfeldt was the driver of the Government train and Ken Hill was his fireman, and they were out for a bit of fun, and suggested we have a tug-of-war between the two engines, so we said O.K.”

In the Hampton yard the tramway line ran parallel to one of the Government sidings, and the two engines were placed on these adjacent lines and coupled with log chains. At a signal both drivers opened their regulators wide.  Albert commented, “We more than held our own, too!”

He could not tell me what type of engine the QGR one was, but said that the engines then used on the Crows Nest line “were pretty small”. (Refer Letters; Light Railways Number 64, April 1979; Published by The Light Railway Research Society of Australia.)


A scan of an extract from the original construction Index Plan No.834 for Locomotive No. 2097 is below.

Construction Index Plan No. 834 for Locomotive No. 2097.

Credit: California State Railroad Museum.

Front Elevation - Shay 906.

Credit: California State Railroad Museum.

Closing Down

The higher cost of hauling logs up the hill with horses and bullocks from Deongwar to the terminus of the tramway at Bunkers Hill probably contributed to the final closure of the Palmtree Mill which occurred in 1936.

The Queenslander, 22nd Feb, 1934

Credit: National Library of Australia

The Shay locos were abandoned and left in the field near the mill buildings and were often pilfered by locals for steel for another purpose. The weather also played a part in their deterioration so that the components became scattered over a large area.

One of the Shays, abandoned at the sawmill. Photo probably taken in the 1970's.

Plans for Renovating the Shay Locos

In 1974 The Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society, south of Wollongong in N.S.W., took an interest in the remains of the locos and sought permission to collect the pieces with a view to renovation.  After collecting all the components they could find they transported their booty to their facility in N.S.W.

A collection of Shay parts heading off to the Illawarra Light Railway Museum

Credit: David Groves

Their plans were to make one good train out of two.  Some small progress has been made in the ensuing years but the availability of other easier projects and the lack of some parts for the Shay have resulted in the Shay project becoming stalled in the too hard basket.

Much later on at Ravensbourne, Ian A.C. Macrae and his family were developing a resort on land, one corner of which had been crossed by the old train line. Ian took a keen interest in the history of the Shay loco and contacted The Illawarra Light Railway Museum Society to see if he could get one of the locos returned to the original location at Ravensbourne. The request was granted and some of the parts of one loco travelled back home where Ian started some restoration work. 

Shay 906 boiler at the Ravensbourne Mountain Retreat, 2015.

Credit: Ravensbourne Mountain Retreat

With the official formation of the Munro Tramway Historical Group, a request has been made to the current owners of the remaining relics, the Ravensbourne Mountain Resort, to relocate the loco to an area where it can be viewed by the public as part of the tourist attraction that the old Tramway is becoming. This project is still in its infancy and under consideration by all parties involved.

Example of some Shay locomotives in service

Finally, below we've included a link to a Youtube clip, the first section of which features 3 Shay engines in operation. While this clip features Shays much larger than those used by Munro's, it clearly demonstrates the unique drive mechanism common to all geared Shay units.

 Youtube clip - Shays operating at Cass Scenic Railway

bottom of page