The Mount Emily Shay steam engine, which was kept and cared for in Prineville for nearly 30 years, has a new, permanent home.
The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) and the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) recently announced the permanent transfer of locomotive to ORHF. The need for a new home arose when the City of Prineville Railway opted not to continue its agreement with OHS.
City Railway Manager Matt Wiederholt said the engine has spent more time in storage than it has out in the public in recent years, prompting railway leaders to consider a new home for the historical artifact.
"The steam engine, in the last four or five years, has been mothballed and nobody really gets to see it. It's just been parked in a shed," Wiederholt said. "It just doesn't do it justice just having it parked. It's a wonderful item, an historical artifact just not being utilized."
Since OHS is not equipped to house nor operate a locomotive, the organization sought a new steward. A request for proposals was released in April 2022, and the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation was selected to be the new owner of the Mount Emily Shay on Sept. 1.
The Mount Emily Shay was manufactured at the Lima Locomotive Works in Ohio in the 1920s. Shays are geared steam locomotives, specifically suited for mining and timber industries. While almost 3,000 Shays were manufactured, only around 115 still exist and even fewer are still operational.
The Mount Emily Shay was originally purchased by the Hofus Steel & Equipment Company of Seattle, Washington, then sold to the Independence Logging Company of Independence, Washington. It was eventually sold to, and named after, the Mount Emily Lumber Company, located in La Grande.
The Mount Emily Shay was owned and operated by the company until it was retired in 1957 and donated to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) for use at its facility in Washington Park. When it couldn't safely be transported to Washington Park, ownership was transferred to OHS in 1958.
The Mount Emily Shay went on long-term loan to the state of West Virginia beginning in the 1970s. The borrower restored the engine to working order (twice — it was damaged once due to fire), and the locomotive was operated on the Cass Scenic Railroad.
In the mid-1990s, OHS, with the guidance, expertise and help of train enthusiast Martin E. Hansen, recalled the locomotive from West Virginia to be of service educating and thrilling Oregon constituents. From several choices, the City of Prineville Railway was chosen as the new borrower/caretaker/operator of the Mount Emily Shay. From its return from West Virginia in 1994 to the present, the City of Prineville housed and operated the Mount Emily Shay for excursions and fundraising programs.
Transitioning to a new home
Once physically transferred, the locomotive requires a federally mandated inspection before it can be operated again. ORHF plans to use the Mount Emily Shay to operate holiday and some weekend excursions between their museum location near OMSI to Oaks Amusement Park and back.
"The Oregon Historical Society sincerely appreciates the support of the City of Prineville in stewarding and operating the Mount Emily Shay for decades," OHS Deputy Museum Director Nicole Yasuhara said of the transfer. "We are thrilled that the Mount Emily Shay will have a new, permanent home at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, where it will be on view and used for excursions, balancing preservation and access to this important piece of Oregon history."
"The Mount Emily Shay will allow the Oregon Rail Heritage Center to show the public the important role logging railroads played in the development of the timber industry in Oregon," added Roy Hemmingway, president of ORHF. "Specialty locomotives like the Shay, which could operate on steep and rough track, were able to access timber not available by other means. Shays were key to bringing logs to the mills and developing Oregon's timber economy."
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