Line-and-Shaft vs. Electric Motors

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Thu Apr 20 10:13:47 EDT 2006

Since we are now blessed with "East End Shop" representation on the List, perhaps someone has information on the following topoc.

I've been wondering when Roanoke Machine Works/East End Shops made the transition from "line-and-shaft" power to electric motor power for the operation of its machinery.

By "line-and-shaft" I mean the old system of powering machinery in the days before electric motors. In the line-and-shaft method, power is distributed through a building from a stationary steam engine through a system of rotating rods, gears and flywheels suspended from the roof trusses. Individual machines are connected to this constantly rotating system by a leather belt, which belt may be engaged or disengaged from a flywheel on the line-and-shaft by use of a hand clutch lever. Line-and-shaft systems were maintained by a craft called "millwrights."

Can you imagine trying to bore a large diameter hole or run a milling machine using this old system?

The only line-and-shaft I know of that's still in existence is in the old East Broad Top RR shop at Orbisonia, Pa., but, of course, it hasn't operated in years.

I've always nwondered about when the transition to electric motors for shop machinery took place, as my own great-grandfather was a machinist at Roanoke Machine Works from about 1882 to 1934.

Has anyone seen any documentation on this major change in the way of doing things?

-- abram burnett
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