On a seasonably cool June morning I received a call from Mike Thompson asking if I was doing anything special to which I replied that there wasn't too much going on. He said that he was getting ready to light the fire for the first time in his 2 1/2" scale Mich-Cal Shay. I said I'd be over in a while. When I arrived on the Harley he was tending to his new baby like a proud papa. She was popping off and just simmering away on the engine stand. The drive shafts were removed from the engine so she would just run and not climb off the end of the stand, the engine had run many, many hours on air and even ran on air at Joshua Tree earlier in the year; but this was special she had a fire in her and was under steam, alive!
Mike has been working on the Shay project since 1993, he showed me the first pieces he fabricated, the frame perches for the tank and cab. We have all watched it's progress over the years, sometimes a seemingly large amount of progress is noted, like the boiler attached, and sometimes it would be just the cab details that one would notice. It all needs to be done to get the end result and today was the day. Sixteen years in the making and June 20, 2009 was the day.
Mike finished his cars first. They've been tagging along behind someone else's trains for years. His Westside short Caboose is rapidly shrinking as his two kids barely fit inside when the roof is off. Also in the mix is a Westside 24' flat car and his Westside tank car that holds both water and a propane tank for the engine. All his cars have link and pin coupling as when he started this project he was a 'lone wolf' as some of us started too, and didn't even fathom somebody else would be building something in this scale.
Having spent years around the hobby and slowly in between ten plus years of marriage, two great kids with activities that they enjoy, a demanding job with a commute and a new house a few years back, Mike had never ran a steam engine till I put him on the Heisler at a meet in Chula Vista a few years back, if he could run that, he could tackle anything. The next year at Chula Vista it became known that C&S #13, a beautiful Mogul in 2 1/2" scale; built by Kevin Doe and at the time belonged to the late Rudy Van Wigen was available. It didn't take long for Mike and his dad, Bruce, to be the new owners. As when you have more then one of anything, some thing has to go to the back of the shed for a while, not so with the Shay project. There was always something new being put together on her, even when the Mogul consumed the bench a few times to get bushings or a crosshead reworked.
Congratulations Mike, you deserve it, many happy years of steaming around whichever track that the runday is at. Look for it at Bittercreek in August.