CADILLAC — George Ice and his son, Mark, know a lot about famed logger, inventor and entrepreneur Ephraim Shay.
They both can talk endlessly about Shay’s history, particularly as it connects to George’s property on 30 3/4 Road in Wexford County.
George said Shay purchased the property in the late 1800s, when nearby forests were filled with lumberjacks and he was just starting to make a name for himself in the industry.
At the time, Shay owned and operated a general store on the property but did not have much else. From this base of operations, Shay began perfecting his style of transporting logs from deep within the woods using wooden tracks and a new type of locomotive that he designed.
Dubbed the Shay Locomotive, Ice said the design was innovative in that the gears and rotors allowed the vehicle to traverse rails in tight places and over steep inclines where other locomotives couldn’t go.
This design revolutionized the industry, made Shay a rich man and placed him in the upper echelon of regional lumber tycoons including Mitchell, Cummer and Diggins.
In the city of Cadillac, construction crews this month recently finished renovations on a display showcasing one of Shay’s locomotives. The display honors Shay’s contribution to the logging industry and the impact that he had on the city’s development.
Another Michigan city that was impacted by Shay was Harbor Springs, where he lived during the latter part of his life and died in 1916.
On Wednesday, Bob Laakman and Matt Parmenter, representatives of the Harbor Springs Historical Society, traveled to Wexford County to see Shay’s former property on 30, 3/4 Road, still known to many locals as Haring Road.
Parmenter said during the time he lived in Harbor Springs, Shay was very active in the community, helping the city to build its first waterworks infrastructure, among other contributions.
Recently, the historical society acquired their own Shay Locomotive from Steven F. Austin State University in Texas. Decades earlier, Parmenter said the locomotive was used by a logging company in east Texas.
The historical society’s goal is to raise enough money to clean up the locomotive and eventually put it on display somewhere in the city, possibly in the park, where another of Shay’s inventions, the “Aha” yacht, currently sits.
Parmenter said he and Laakman came to Wexford County out of sheer interest, to see where Shay used to live and also to check out the replica Shay Locomotive built by George and Mark.
George said building the replica and a miniature railroad on the property in honor of Shay was something that was always discussed within the family, so when he purchased the property from his mother in the 1980s, he began the first stages of the project, which turned out to be a lot more involved than he initially anticipated.
“If we knew how hard it was going to be, we wouldn’t have done it,” chuckled George, who gradually assembled the locomotive over the course of several years using primarily scrap parts from his junkyard in Manton.
The replica’s distinctive Shay-style gears are authentic, however, and came from an elevator at the old St. John’s Table Company in Cadillac, George said.
Mark said they referenced three pictures to approximate the appearance of the locomotive’s various features — a painstaking process.
They also laid about three-quarters of a mile of rail in the backyard. The track includes a working turntable and various railroad crossing signals. Mark said most of the rail came from old lumber mills in the area, including the Haynes Bros mill.
George, 86, and Mark, 63, used to take the replica to events such as Shay Days in Harbor Springs, which is a celebration of the life of Ephraim Shay. During recent years, however, they’ve “gotten too old” and have had to slow down on these trips, which are a lot of work.
The replica sat for several years until a couple of months ago, when George and Mark decided to fire it back up again.
While they would prefer people didn’t just stop by unannounced, George and Mark said they gladly will give visitors a tour of the property if they call ahead of time.
Those interested in seeing the property and the locomotive can call George at (231) 779-8431.