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    Through its life, the Sumpter Valley Railway owned different types of steam engines to operate trains on its mainline and its logging branches. Most of these engines were bought used, first in 1890 from the Utah & Northern, that was then standard gauging its tracks. The Sumpter Valley used rod steam engines as well as geared engines typical of the logging railroads, such as Shay, Climax or Heisler.

    The Sumpter Valley also had on its roster the most powerful steam engines ever used by a US narrow gauge railroad. Namely, the only two 3-foot gauge articulated locomotives built for a US railroad. These two impressive 2-6-6-2 engines built by Baldwin were bought from the Uintah Railway (Colorado) in 1940 and were used until the closure of the Sumpter Valley in 1947. They were then sold to the International Railway of Central America (Guatemala) where they ended-up their career in the sixties. Unfortunately these two formidable engines were not preserved.

    Today (2002), the Sumpter Valley owns three steam engines, (including two operational): a Heisler and two mikado. (In addition to its steam roster, the Sumpter Valley also has several small industrial diesel switchers.)


Click to enlarge
Heisler #3 on the mainline.

    The most original item in the current locomotive roster of the Sumpter Valley is probably the Heisler type steam locomotive #3. One out of only two narrow gauge locomotives of this type still operational in the USA. This locomotive belongs to a family of engines equipped with a geared transmission, widely used by logging railroads in North America. These engines including, among others, the type Shay, Climax and Heisler were called geared engines in reference to their transmission mechanism and as opposed to the more classical rod steam engines.

    The Heisler type locomotives are characterized by their two cylinders forming a V on each side of the boiler, transmiting momentum by a crankshaft to a longitudinal shaft running under the frame of the locomotive. This transmission shaft is connected to the external axle of each truck of the locomotive by a system of universal joins and conical gears. The traction is then transmitted to the other axle of each truck by rods. Thus every axle of the locomotive is powered. The Heisler generally had two trucks, sometimes three. Several hundred locomotives of this type, patented by Charles Heisler in 1891, were built until 1941, most of them by the Heisler Locomotive Works in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Click to enlarge
Side view of Heisler #3 in Sumpter.

    The Heisler type locomotives (as well as the Shay and the Climax) were primary used by logging railroads because they were simple, provided excellent traction (all axle were powered and the gear ratio of their transmission was low) and could run without derailing on bad tracks and tight curves (owing to their trucks, much more tolerant toward bad tracks than the coupled drives of a conventional rod steam engine). On the other hand, their top speed was very low (only about 6-12 mph) because of the way their transmission mechanism was designed and of the small diameter of their drives, but it wasn't much of a problem for a logging railroad.

    Heisler #3 was bought new in 1915 by the W. H. Eccles Lumber Company (W. H. Eccles was the brother of the Sumpter Valley Railway president), a company running a sawmill on the Sumpter Valley mainline in Austin. Number 3 was used on the Sumpter Valley until the sawmill was transfered in Cascade, Idaho, in the twenties. The sawmill was then bought by the Boise - Cascade Corporation, which continued to use Heisler #3. At the end of its career it was converted to a simple fixed boiler to produce steam for the sawmill. In 1971, the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration Inc. was looking for a steam engine for its project of tourist railroad on the old Sumpter Valley Railway and bought Heisler #3. The locomotive was then overhauled by volunteers and put back into service in 1976. The engine took charge of the excursion trains from that time and until mikado #19 was restored.


Heisler #3 photo gallery
Heisler #3 photo gallery
Heisler #3 specifications
Builder (year) Heisler (1914)
Wheel arrangement 2 two-axle trucks
Cylinders (diameter x stroke) 2 in a V (12" x 14")
Boiler pressure 150 psi (originally 180 psi)
Wheels diameter 36" (all powered)
Total weight 40 t
Maximum speed about 10 mph
Maximum tractive effort 16,000 lbs
Heisler builder's plate



Click to enlarge
Mikado #19 in the McEwen engine house. This engine is operational and was completely overhauled in 2002.

    In addition to Heisler #3, the current Sumpter Valley Steam roster also includes two identical mikado, #19 and #20, the former being operational. These two engines, built by Alco (American Locomotive Company) in 1920, were the only steam engines built new for the Sumpter Valley (actually originally for the Oregon Lumber Company operating a branchline on the Sumpter Valley). They have been used on the railroad until the arrival in 1940 of #250 and #251, the two powerful articulated locomotives bought from the Uintah Railway in Colorado. The no longer used mikado #19 and #20 were sent to the White Pass & Yukon in Alaska in 1940, where they have been heavily used the following years to cope with the huge traffic for the US Army, generated by its military operations in the Pacific during WWII. The two mikado were used on the White Pass & Yukon until 1958.

Click to enlarge
Sumpter Valley mikado #20 in McEwen yard, awaiting a potential restoration. It was built by Alco in 1920.

    In 1977, the Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration Inc. planned to get back the two locomotives stored unused at the White Pass & Yukon in Skagway and organized their repatriation from Alaska back to Oregon. In 1992, #19, the engine in the best conditions of the two, was sent to Portland for a complete rebuilt. And in 1996, #19 came back on the Sumpter Valley to be put back into service. It is used since then to run the excursion trains. The two engines originally wood burners were later converted to burn oil.

#19 and #20 specifications
Builder (year) Alco (1920)
Wheel arrangement 2-8-2 (mikado)
Cylinders (diameter x stroke) 2 external (19" x 20")
Boiler pressure 170 psi
Drivers diameter 44"
Total weight (loaded tender) 101 t (37 t)
Maximum tractive effort 23,700 lbs



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