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Heisler #91: Geared Locomotive


The third major builder of geared logging locomotives was the Heisler Locomotive Works of Erie, PA.  Invented by Charles Heisler in 1892, the Heisler design combined the flexibility of a geared locomotive with increased speed. This was a key advantage over its major competitors, the Shay and the Climax. The Heisler was available in both 2 and 3-truck versions.   It's relatively late introduction into the logging locomotive market attributed to the fact that only about 900 Heislers were built.

When the Willamette locomotive was first introduced in the Northwest logging market in 1922, Heisler was the first victim of this new competitor.  The Coos Bay Lumber Co. of Coos Bay, OR had ordered a new 3-truck Heisler in early 1922 but immediately cancelled that order when Willamette iron & Steel sold them their first geared logging locomotive.   Heisler was furious over this "up-start" competitor.  At first neither Lima (builder of the Shay) nor Heisler took Willamette's competition seriously.  However, as Willamette began stealing orders from both Lima and Heisler something had to be done.  Lima developed their Pacific Coast Shay.  Heisler in turn developed their "West Coast Special" to compete with Willamette.  The West Coast Special was the largest and most advanced Heisler ever built.  They were all 90 tons in size and sported all-weather cabs, superheating, piston valves and many other improvements needed by loggers in the Pacific Northwest.

Our Heisler #91 is one of the "West Coast Special" Heislers.  The Whitney Engineering Co of Tacoma, WA originally ordered her in 1929 as a “stock” locomotive.  Whitney was the West Coast dealer of Heisler locomotives.  In 1930 Whitney sold the big 99-ton Heisler to the Kinzua Pine Mills of Kinzua, Oregon.  She was #102 on the Kinzua operation. 

When Kinzua began using diesel locomotives the Shays were scrapped but the big Heisler #102 was saved to act as back-up to the diesel.  However, by the early 1960's the Heisler had outlived it’s usefulness and was sold and shipped to Vernonia, Oregon and stored on the Vernonia South Park & Sunset tourist railroad.  She was never operated at Vernonia.  She was then sold to Clyde Schurman a machinist who displayed the engine at his machine shop in Woodland, WA.

In the late 1970's she was sold to Tom Murray who donated the locomotive to the Mount Rainier Scenic RR. She became the 2nd engine to be restored to operation at Mineral, WA. She was renumbered to #91 at MRSR in honor of an earlier big 3-truck Heisler that worked out of Mineral, WA for the West Fork Logging Company, an operation founded by the father of Tom Murray.


This 99 ton Geared Locomotive was built by the Heisler Locomotive Works of Erie, PA for the Whitney Engineering Company of Tacoma, WA. Whitney was the Heisler dealer:

  • Construction Number:  1595

  • Date:  December, 1929

  • Cylinder size:  18 ¼  X 16

  • Driver Diameter:  40”

  • Weight:  99 tons

  • Boiler Pressure:  200 lbs.

  • Superheated

  • Tractive Effort:  43,000 lbs.

Ownership History:

  • Whitney Engineering Co. – Tacoma, Washington

  • Kinzua Pine Mills (#102) – Kinzua, Oregon

  • Clyde Schurman (#102) – Woodland, Washington

  • Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad (#91) – Mineral, Washington

Photographs and information courtesy of Martin E. Hansen



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