THE SEBEWA RECOLLECTOR Bulletin of the
OCTOBER 1998, Volume 34, Number 2. Sebewa Township, Ionia County, MI.
Submitted with written permission of Grayden D. SLOWINS, Editor:
SURNAMES: SLOWINS, SHAY, PROBASCO, CARR, GUNN, HENDERSON, ROE, MERRILL.
RIDING BEHIND EPHRAIM SHAY’S LOCOMOTIVE by Grayden SLOWINS:
On our trip to Denver we rode behind the SHAY Locomotive. But I am getting way
ahead of my story. We left home in early morning on Wednesday, June 24, 1998,
after township board meeting the night before.
Thursday, June 25, our 44th wedding anniversary, we traveled across Missouri &
Saturday, July 4, was the Supreme Day, when we traveled to Silver PLUME
(Colorado?) and rode the Georgetown Loop Railway to Georgetown and back. The
engines #8, #9, #12 & #14 used on this tourist line – once called the
Georgetown, Breckenridge & Leadville Railroad – are Shay locomotives, invented
by EPHRAIM SHAY of Sebewa Center, Shaytown, Haring & Harbor Springs, MI.
EPHRAIM SHAY was born in Ohio in 1839, and died in Harbor Springs, MI, in 1916.
His mother, Phoebe PROBASCO SHAY’S farm was the 40 acres surrounding the Sebewa
Center School, and his grandmother, Mary PROBASCO, and uncles Ephraim PROBASCO &
Benjamin PROBASCO Sr., came to Sebewa in 1855. His father, James SHAY, was
buried at Muir, near an uncle Henry PROBASCO. Mary, Phoebe, Benjamin and others
of the family are buried in East Sebewa Cemetery. Phoebe (1818-1873) & James
(1814-1861) SHAY’S children were:
1. Loretta SHAY born 1837, died 1853
2. Ephraim SHAY born 1839, died 1916, buried at Harbor Springs
3. Uzel SHAY born 1841, died 1849
4. Priscilla SHAY born 1843
5. Theodore SHAY born 1845, died 1883, buried in Sebewa
6. Victoria SHAY born 1847, died 1847
7. Chauncy SHAY born 1848, died 1853
8. Susanne SHAY born 1852, died 1856
9. Mary Ann Velma SHAY born 1856, died 1889, married George SHIPMAN
10. Arthur SHAY born 1858, died 1925, buried in Louisiana
11. Florence SHAY born 1861, died 1861.
EPHRAIM went back to Ohio and joined a Civil War Army unit with his buddies from
there, as a Medic. He came home from the war and worked in GUNN Bros. Sawmill in
Sebewa Township, owned what is now Ilene CARR’S 80 acres at NW ¼ NW ¼ Sec. 21 &
SW ¼ SW ¼ Sec. 16, and was Township Clerk in 1867. He then went out on his own
with a sawmill, general store and farm at the town he founded south of Sunfield
and named SHAYTOWN. In the 1880 census, some 35 families got their mail at his
Then he moved his sawmill to just north of Cadillac and founded another town
called HARING, in Haring Township. He again was postmaster and also served one
term as Wexford County Treasurer. He built several on his locomotives for use on
logging lines in Northern Michigan, then leased his patents to LIMA Locomotive
Corporation of Lima, OH, who built thousands of them for use in logging & mining
operations all over the world.
His patent was based on a direct drive-shaft from the crank-shaft of the three
steam-powered, side-mounted, cylinders. Beveled or helical gears were used to
transfer the power to the drive-wheels, without the jolting motion of the
eccentric pitman drive used on standard engines. All wheels were drive-wheels,
even under the tender. This gave less speed, but terrific pulling power for the
size of the little engines and allowed them to run on uneven temporary trackage,
sometimes even built with wood rails. Ephraim used wood-fired steam, while later
models used oil-fired steam, like the RUMELY Oil-Pull farm tractors. He used 3
ft narrow-gauge track, instead of the standard 4 ft 8 ½ inch spacing of the
rails. One of his engines is in a logging display in a park at Cadillac.
Then he moved his logging & lumber business to Harbor Springs. He built a
six-sided steel home & office. The office on the top floor had a commanding view
of his enterprise. His logging and his engine patents made him a millionaire. As
logging played out, he did repair work in his machine shop for lake freighters
that stopped in the harbor, and he began to give tourist rides on his 30-mile
narrow-gage railroad. He continued to invent and to make toys for the
neighborhood kids. He is buried in the cemetery nearby with his wife, Jane
HENDERSON, and his son Lette & wife, Katherine ROE, and Lette & Katherine’s
daughter & husband, Katherine & Donald MORRILL.
We rode behind the $14 SHAY locomotive and saw the other three engines. The ride
is called the GEORGETOWN Loop, because the track has to loop over itself on
ever-higher bridges to achieve the 600 ft. change in elevation over a distance
of 4 ½ miles, although the two towns are only 2 miles apart as the crow flies.
The highest bridge is 100 ft. high and was an engineering marvel for its day. It
cost $250,000 to build in 1884, was sold for scrap for $450 in 1939, and rebuilt
in 1984 for $1,000,000. Cut stone retainer walls that had been laid up without
mortar more than 100 years ago to hold the embankments thru cuts, still serve
well with very little maintenance.
After riding the GEORGETOWN Loop Railroad, we watched the Fourth of July parade