Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Heisler No. 91 in 1986.

(Roger Puta, courtesy Marty Bernard from U.S.A., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


Heisler logo


The Heisler locomotive is one of the three major types of geared steam locomotives and the last to be patented.

Charles L. Heisler received 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 'V-twin' arrangement. Power then went to a longitudinal drive shaft in the center of the frame 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 'V4' 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.


Ohio Match Company No. 1 Builders Photo, 1923.

(Builders Photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



The first Heislers were built by the Dunkirk Engineering Company of Dunkirk, New York, at the time producer of their own design of geared locomotive (called the Dunkirk), of which the Heisler could be considered an improvement. They did not adopt the Heisler design, but in 1894 the Stearns Manufacturing Company of Erie, Pennsylvania started to produce Heislers, and did so until 1904. Reorganized as the Heisler Locomotive Works in 1907, it produced locomotives of the Heisler design until 1941.

A & G Price of Thames, New Zealand received an order for a Heisler locomotive in 1943 from Ogilvie and Co, sawmillers of Hokitika, who wanted to purchase a Heisler locomotive but were unable to do so as production of Heisler locomotives had ceased in 1941. The resulting locomotive, maker's No. 148 of 1944, was the last Heisler-design steam locomotive to be built, and closely followed Heisler practice but with the addition of a Belpaire firebox and front-mounted water tanks that featured a unique curved leading edge.


Borate & Daggett Railroad in Mule Canyon on way to Borate, pre-1914.

(Unknown photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Heislers were produced mostly in two- and three-truck variants in sizes ranging from 17 to 95 tons (15.2 to 84.8 long tons; 15.4 to 86.2 t). There was one single-truck, narrow gauge Heisler built, Lake Shore Stone Products Co. No. 7 for the Lake Shore Stone Products Co.Lake Shore Stone Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Heisler technical view.

(The original uploader was Leonard G. at English Wikipedia., CC SA 1.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)


Notable survivors

Roughly 625 Heislers were produced, of which some 35 still exist. Approximately eight of these survivors are currently operational.


Works No. Year No. of Trucks Weight Preserved as Location Notes
1930 1929 3 90 tons West Fork Logging Co No. 91 Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Washington. Awaiting boiler work.
1594 1929 2 32 tons White Mountain Central Railroad 4 Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire.
1591 1929 3 90 tons Cass Scenic Railroad 6 Cass Scenic Railroad State Park in Cass, West Virginia. Operational.
1565 1928 3 80 tons 4 El Salto, Mexico, along the Durango-Mazatlan highway.
1502 1924 3 90 tons Potlatch 92 Locomotive Park in Lewiston, Idaho. Unrestored state on static display.
1494 1924 2 24 tons Shantytown, near Greymouth, New Zealand. Statically restored in 2011 for display within the park's environs.
1479 1923 2 55 tons 9 Southeastern Railway Museum in Duluth, Georgia. Static display.
1450 1921 2 26 tons Ferrymead Railway, Christchurch, New Zealand. Stored in the locomotive shed.
1446 1920 2 36 tons Pacific Lumber Co. 9 Scotia, California. Static display.
1401 1899 2 37 tons Roaring Camp & Big Trees Narrow Gauge RR 2 Roaring Camp and Big Trees Narrow Gauge Railroad in Felton, California. Oldest known operational Heisler.
1375 1918 2 53 tons Chicago Mill and Lumber Company 4 Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania Displayed with a Climax and a Shay.
1369 1918 3 75 tons Pickering Lumber Company 2 Travel Town open-air museum in Los Angeles.
1351 1916 2 47 tons Bluestone Mining & Smelting 1. Roots of Motive Power in Willits, California.
1306 1915 2 40 tons W. H. Eccles Lumber Company 3 Sumpter Valley Railway in Baker County, Oregon.
1260 1912 2 36 tons 2 Silver Creek and Stephenson historical railroad in Freeport, Illinois.
1198 1910 2 60 tons Curtiss Lumber Company 2 Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi, Oregon. Awaiting boiler work.
1082 1904 2 20 tons Bush Tramway Club at Pukemiro, New Zealand. Static display.
1917 2 CRAIG MT. LBR. CO. No. 3 (Craig Mountain Lumber Company, Idaho) Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad in Garibaldi, Oregon. Operational.
3 78 tons Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in Elbe, Washington. Static display.
1923 2 Ohio Match Company No. 4 Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, WA Static display. Last operated in 1958.
A & G Price 148 1943 2 Ogilvie and Company "Gladstone" Steam Scene, Christchurch, New Zealand, Last Heisler design locomotive built; in full working order; boiler ticket expired 2022.

Advantages and disadvantages

The Heisler locomotive's gearing was inside the frame and thus protected, unlike that of a Shay locomotive. However, the Heisler's drive shaft, which was located in the center of the frame, limited firebox space. For this reason, when A & G Price built their Heisler, in 1943, they used a Belpaire firebox, to mitigate problems with burning wood and accommodating the drive shaft.


Cass Scenic Railroad's Western Maryland No. 6, July 2013.

(Mark Levisay, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)



Similar to the Climax, some Heislers, especially two-truck ones, were converted to diesel or gasoline power, retaining their gearing and drive shafts, but their steam boiler is replaced by an internal combustion engine.


Heisler Locomotive Works also built this Pennsylvania Power & Light Fireless 0-8-0F in 1940.

It is the largest fireless locomotive ever built, originally for the Hammermill Paper Company.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be too heavy for their tracks.

(Photo by and (c) 2016 Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man), CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)