The Heisler locomotive was the last variant of the three major types of geared steam locomotives, Charles L. Heisler receiving a patent for the design in 1892 following the construction of a prototype in 1891. Somewhat similar to a Climax locomotive, Heisler's design featured two cylinders canted inwards at a 45 degree angle to form a 'vee-twin' arrangement. Power then went to a longitudinal drive shaft that drove the outboard axle on each powered truck through bevel gears in an enclosed gearcase riding on the axle between the truck frames. The inboard axle on each truck was then driven from the outboard one by external side (connecting) rods.
In 1897, Heisler received a patent on a three-truck locomotive. As with Class C Shay locomotives, the tender rode on the third truck. Unlike the Shay, Heisler's design did not have a continuous string of line shafting running the length of the engine. Instead, the tender truck was driven by a line shaft above the shaft driving the main engine trucks, connected to it through spur gears. This patent also covered use of a 4-cylinder 'vee four' cylinder configuration.
The Heisler was the fastest of the geared steam locomotive designs, and yet was still claimed by its manufacturer to have the same low speed hauling ability. Heislers were produced in both two and three truck variants in sizes ranging from 17 tons to 95 tons.
Roughly 625 Heislers were produced, of which some 35 still exist. Approximately eight of these survivors are currently operational.
There was a Heisler operating along the Mendocino Coast at Albion – see picture above.
There are three Heisler locomotives relatively close to where we live in Fort Bragg which are still “alive”.
The first is one is located near Eureka very close to the Samoa Cookhouse. The engine barn of The Timber Heritage Association which is down the hill from the Cookhouse contains a “B-B Diesel converted from 2-truck Heisler”. Originally built as Elk River Mill & Lumber Co. No. 3, it worked only 10 years until the mill shut down for good; a junk dealer scrapped the boiler and sold the rest to Mutual Plywood Corp., a Murphy diesel engine was mounted on the frame and it was used as a mill switcher. In the 1960s it became U.S. Plywood Corp. No. M62; U.S. Plywood was subsequently purchased by Simpson Timber Co.” She still runs.
The second Heisler is located in Felton at Roaring Camp and Big Trees Railway near Felton. Named the "Tuolumne” she was saved from the scrap heap and purchased in 1962 by Roaring Camp & Big Trees for $7,000, the engine was the last operating steam locomotive of the Old West Side Lumber Company. She holds the distinction of being the last steam engine in commercial lumber service at Tuolumne.
There were very few Heislers that ever worked in Nevada. However, one not only survived her days as Bluestone Mining Co. #1, but is still operational today! After her stint in Nevada she went to work for Blake Brothers at Castro Point and today is part of the Roots of Motive Power Collection in Willits. She runs on occasion as can be seen from our photos.
This site is an excellent starting point if you would like to learn more about Heisler Locomotives.