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Geared Steam
November 8, 2008 9:41 AM   Subscribe

On a traditional steam locomotive the pistons drive the wheels directly via cranks. An unusual looking series of variants, the geared locomotives, took a different approach - using gears and driveshafts, giving them an advantage in traction at the cost of speed, making them ideal for steap grades and tight curves of logging railroads. The most common was the Shay Locomotive (video), with it's vertical pistons. Other variant included the Climax (video, seen at the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad) and the Heisler, which had it's pistons in a V-formation (video). Many examples of the geared locomotive can be found at the Northwest Railway Museum.
posted by Artw (19 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember using Shays in Railroad Tycoon. They were great for getting over steep hills.
posted by demiurge at 9:55 AM on November 8, 2008


Quality post. I learned things.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:06 AM on November 8, 2008


Those videos give me a newfound sense of respect for 19th century mechanical engineers. Such beautiful and terrifying creations.
posted by rivenwanderer at 10:08 AM on November 8, 2008


Great stuff - just forwarded this page to my train-nut father...
posted by twsf at 10:24 AM on November 8, 2008


You can ride on trains pulled by a Shay, Heisler or Climax engine at Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz county, California.
posted by jet_silver at 10:29 AM on November 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


When we were kids, our parents took us to see the Mount Washington Cog Railway in action. They couldn't afford tickets, so we just watched the more fortunate children ride up the mountain. Given the ticket prices, I'm guessing that many northern New England kids experienced the ride only vicariously.
posted by Knappster at 10:53 AM on November 8, 2008


The Climax was like a train engine designed by H.R. Geiger.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:15 AM on November 8, 2008


For Victorian engineers, conversion of the rectilinear motion of a piston in a cylinder to the rotational motion of a wheel, or other useful motions, could become a remarkably complex process. One of the earliest Metafilter posts about this issue alluded to the complex underlying mathematics involved.
posted by Tube at 11:40 AM on November 8, 2008


You have some typos there, it's "cost of spead" and "Geered steem", according to the new rules.

Greet post, otherwise.
posted by Laotic at 11:49 AM on November 8, 2008


I've always been sort of morbidly fascinated by the fact that the Shay's design with the drive shaft on the outside made them prone to accidents before or after sharp curves.

A list of all the known surviving Shays.

Surviving Climax engines.


You can ride on trains pulled by a Shay, Heisler or Climax engine at Roaring Camp Railroad in Santa Cruz county, California.


I'm pretty sure only the Shays are operational at the moment...
posted by oneirodynia at 11:54 AM on November 8, 2008


One thing to additionally note is that many of the geared locomotives built were often for narrow gauge railways--using track gauges of three feet or even 30" instead of the four foot (roughly) gauge of the mainline railways.

In addition to more traction, the geared locomotives were much more accomodating of the rough and ready trackwork laid down on logging railroads, which I imagine would give a mainline engineer nightmares.
posted by maxwelton at 12:19 PM on November 8, 2008


Vicariously cog-railin' NE kids represent!
I always wondered why my dad didn't let me ride that thing.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:01 PM on November 8, 2008


kuujjuarapik - it's actually something different from a rack railway, but those are awesome too.
posted by Artw at 1:38 PM on November 8, 2008


Pikes peak has a cog railway as well; we just got back from a trip where the Mt. Washington train was the high point of the whole thing for my daughter, the Thomas fan. I wonder if any of the myriad Thomas characters are geared locomotives.
posted by TedW at 2:17 PM on November 8, 2008


Thanks Artw, I've always liked external combustion from a conceptual standpoint, nevermind the nifty looking engineering, but somehow had never even know about geared steam. Nifty all the way around.
posted by sotonohito at 2:36 PM on November 8, 2008


The memory of the Shay engine and the Italian immigrants who constructed the grades it ran along, is retained in the name of the Sentiero di Shay trail (Path of the Shay) in Tiadaghton State Forest in Central Pennsylvania.

Part of Sentiero di Shay serves as a way around the numerous water crossings on a part of the much longer and more difficult Black Forest Trail in the Spring when water is high. It is also used for cross country skiing and mountain biking.
posted by BlueMetal at 6:30 PM on November 8, 2008


Dammit, man, are you trying to convert us all to Steampunk?



Because this is awfully cool.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:51 PM on November 8, 2008


On a traditional steam locomotive the pistons drive the wheels directly via cranks.

I knew this but I didn't really KNOW it know it. That's crazy!
posted by DU at 8:39 AM on November 9, 2008


I wonder if any of the myriad Thomas characters are geared locomotives.

It's increasingly bugging me that Thomas doesn't seem to have any pistons visible at all. Which would be understandable for a kids character based on a train I guess, but great effort has been made to base the other trains on real life locomotives with piston rods driving the wheels, etc.
posted by Artw at 2:45 PM on November 26, 2008


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