Line-and-Shaft vs. Electric Motors

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Thu Apr 20 16:02:29 EDT 2006

I believe that a lot of line shaft systems survived by having their
steam engines replaced by large electric motors.

pete groom

On Apr 20, 2006, at 7:13 AM, nw-mailing-list at wrote:

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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