Pamplin Media Group – Another locomotive for the Oregon Rail Heritage Center?

The Oregon Historical Society is seeking a new home for the Prineville-based 1920s industrial steam engine.

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center near OMSI is in the running for another historic steam locomotive.

The non-profit working museum currently maintains three steam locomotives owned by the City of Portland. The Oregon Historical Society is now considering becoming the new owner of the Mount Emily Shay, a logging locomotive built in the 1920s that has operated out of Prineville for 30 years. However, Prineville can no longer afford it and has asked OHS to find him a new home.

“The steam engine, for the past four or five years, has been mothballed and no one can really see it. It’s just been parked in a shed. It just doesn’t do it justice to have it parked. It’s a wonderful item, a historical artifact that just isn’t used,” Matt Wiederholt, Prineville’s railroad operations manager.

“We would love to have the Mount Emily Shaw. We have the resources and the volunteers to restore it and make it work. Some of our volunteers have even worked there in the past,” said ORHC Director of Public Affairs Renee Devereux.

PHOTO COURTESY: MARTIN HANSEN/ORHF - The Mount Emily Shay on the slopes outside Prineville.

Two other nonprofit organizations have also applied for the locomotive, but OHS will not reveal who they are without their permission. Whoever is approved would become its new owner. The decision should be made by September 1.

The railway center at the east end of Tilikum Crossing would be an ideal new location. It has a large facility and a team of dedicated volunteers to maintain existing locomotives. These are the Southern Pacific 4449 (1941), the Spokane Portland and Seattle 700 (1938) and the Oregon Rail and Navigation 197 (1905).

Devereux said the Mount Emily Shay will become the centerpiece of a new exhibit on the history of forestry in Portland and Oregon. In fact, the ORHC is on the site of the old Poulsen sawmill in southeast Portland.

“We really enjoyed the town of Prineville and their stewardship of Mount Emily Shay,” said Nicole Yasuhara, deputy director of the historical society museum.

The Mount Emily Shay was designed by Ephraim Shay and manufactured at Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio in the 1920s. Shays are gear-driven steam locomotives, specially adapted for the mining and forestry industries. While nearly 3,000 Shays were made, only around 115 still exist and even fewer are still operational.

PHOTO COURTESY: MARTIN HANSEN/ORHC - The Mount Emily Shay steam locomotive at work outside Prineville.

The Mount Emily Shay was originally purchased by Hofus Steel & Equipment Company of Seattle, Washington and then sold to Independence Logging Company of Independence, Washington. It was eventually sold and named after the Mount Emily Lumber Company, located in the town of La Grande.

The Mount Emily Shay was owned and operated by the company until it was removed in 1957 and donated to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. It was transferred to the historical society in 1958.

The Mount Emily Shay was later on long-term loan to the State of West Virginia beginning in the 1970s. The borrower restored the engine to working order – twice after a fire – and the locomotive was operated on the Cass Scenic Railroad.

When the Prineville Railway took over operation of the Shay in the 1990s, it was used to pull the Crooked River Dinner Train and for a variety of special excursions for school classes. The steam engine was widely displayed to the public each July 4, when hundreds of people lined up to take train rides with the locomotive pulling a passenger car.

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - The Mount Emily Shay steam locomotive in Prineville has been in storage for years.  It belongs to the Oregon Historical Society, which is looking for a new owner.

But, one by one, its uses have diminished. In the midst of a recession, city officials discontinued the Crooked River Dinner Train, and in the years that followed the railroad offered fewer and fewer excursions. And finally, converging circumstances put an end to the July 4 train journeys. The COVID-19 pandemic initially caused train trips to be canceled and the growth of the business left the railroad with no viable place to park and board the train.

Wiederholt stressed that the decision caused no animosity between the railroad and the historical society — they share a similar goal of getting the Shay the exposure they feel he deserves.

The pending transfer was first reported by the Central Oregonian, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group. Their longer story on Mount Emily Shay can be found here. Journalist Jason Chaney contributed to this story.

For more information on the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, visit orhf.org.


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