Many Michiganders may not be familiar with Ephraim Shay, but this man played a vital part in Michigan’s logging and mining boom of the mid-late 1800s.

Shay invented a particular type of geared steam locomotive that was used to great extent in Michigan’s UP and northern Michigan wilderness, hauling ore and timber.

So what’s the big deal about these locomotives? Britannica says they were made smaller than the typical train engines in order to get rail cars - heavily loaded with lumber and ore – over the bumpy, rough landscape. Shay’s locomotives were also used in sugar plantations and other parts of the world, such as Asia, Australia, and South America.

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How could a smaller engine haul heavy loads instead of larger ones? The "Shay Locomotive" was built consisting of flexible two-axle railway trucks with horizontal cylinders which gave the engine more flexibility to make those track curves without slipping. This even helped cut the cost of making the lumber.

Before he came up with his creation, Ephraim Shay was a doctor in Ohio, and later an engineer for the Union in the Civil War. After his discharge from the army, Shay opened and operated his own sawmill in Wexford County, not far from Cadillac. It was in Cadillac where he created his first Shay locomotive around 1877.

Below is a photo gallery of Ephraim Shay’s extravagant house, north of Petoskey around Little Traverse Bay in Harbor Springs.

Shay passed away in 1916 at the age of 76. He is buried in Lakeview Cemetery. Harbor Springs.

Inside the Ephraim Shay House

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