Line-and-Shaft vs. Electric Motors

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Fri Apr 21 08:46:16 EDT 2006

As an aside there has been and may still be operating a line and shaft machine shop in IRONTON, OH. It just a local company that has been around since early 1900s. Always and to this day get my full attention to the detail of such a building with so much activity every second the doors are open for business. Don't have to go to "Greenfield Village" to see real operation history.

As shop as large as Roanoke would have simply "blown me away" just to step inside and feel the presence of such activity on so large of a scale.

Oakie G Ford

P S; Having pricked my interest I imagine that sometime today I'll stop and look in on the IRONTON MACHINE SHOP to see what it looks like these day having not been inside of a number of years. It sits aside the N&W double main on the Scioto Div.

----- Original Message -----
From: nw-mailing-list at
To: N&W Mailing List
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2006 10:13 AM
Subject: Line-and-Shaft vs. Electric Motors

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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