News & Reviews Product Reviews MTH Premier Line 3-truck Shay

MTH Premier Line 3-truck Shay

By Rene Schweitzer | February 21, 2024

| Last updated on February 28, 2024

Lots of features are on this new engine

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The Shay dates back to the 1870s, when logger Ephriam Shay was looking for a more efficient way to move timber from the woods to the mill. More than 2,700 units were built by Lima Locomotive Works between 1880 and 1930. The geared locomotives came in many variations in four different classes. To learn more about the Shay, read a review of this book. Read about Kansas City Southern’s Shays in this article.

modl steam locomotive
MTH Premier Line 3-truck Shay. Cody Grivno photo

MTH’s Premier Line model is a Weyerhaeuser Timber No. 2 three-truck Shay (20-38791). From examining drawings, it appears to be an 80-10 Class C version of the engine, but MTH does not specify which engine this model is based on. It appears to be modeled after Weyerhaeuser No. 2, originally built for the Cherry Valley Log Co.

It measures 15¾” long, excluding the couplers but including the tender drawbar space. This scales out to 63’, which is longer than the prototype’s 50’-10¼”. It appears there’s extra length between the cab and the steam dome compared to the drawings I found online.

model tender
Tender lettering is crisp. Rene Schweitzer photo

The model is nicely painted with crisp graphics. All the builder’s plates are legible. Lettering on the tender is great and I found no flaws. The paint is smooth and even overall.

The details on this model are amazing. The handrails, whistle, and bell are metal, as are the tender chains. The tender load is actual coal. There’s an engineer inside of the cab.

Getting ready to run

control panel on model tender
Engine controls are under the top of the tender. You’ll need a small screwdriver to adjust the volume and turn off the smoke unit. (You can also turn off the smoke unit in the app.) Rene Schweitzer photo

Before operation, you should lube the locomotive (instructions inside the box tell you where to add oil) and add smoke fluid, if you plan to have the smoke unit turned on. Controls for operation type, volume, and the smoke unit are under the top of the tender. Grab the edges of the magnetized plate with your fingers. You’ll need a small Phillips screwdriver to adjust the volume and turn off the smoke unit.

top of model steam locomotive
A magnet holds the steam dome in place. Add smoke fluid for the steaming whistle here. Rene Schweitzer photo

There are two places to add smoke fluid; both in the smokestack and under the steam dome (for the steaming whistle). The steam dome has a small magnet to hold it in place—a nice touch. Don’t add too much smoke fluid; 10-15 drops is all you need.

On the track

We first ran the engine using an MTH Z-4000 transformer using conventional AC power. The engine started moving around 13 volts and was a little stiff at first. Once it went around the layout a few times, it evened out and then moved smoothly.

rear of model locomotive
The firebox glow is easily seen when the engine is on. Rene Schweitzer photo

In forward, the engine headlight illuminates. In reverse, the tender headlight turns on instead. There’s a rather bright firebox glow. The sound system is fantastic and the gears looked great in action. The whistle is quillable and has a nice deep sound. The amount of smoke from the smokestack looked good, but we could not get the steaming whistle to emit smoke.

Next, we shifted to operate using MTH’s DCS system using the app. You’ll need a Track Interface Unit (TIU), Wi-Fi module (WIU), and either the smartphone app or a DCS remote control to operate the engine. If using your phone, turn off your building/local Wi-Fi and log onto the MTH Wi-Fi (the password is mthdcswifi). Open the app and choose “run my train.” The app should quickly locate your engine.

When you apply the fixed voltage from the DCS system, the engine’s performance really shines. It will crawl along at just 1 scale mph, and operation is smooth. If you have the basic (free) app, there are several options available to control the engine, like the whistle and bell, plus volume, turning off the smoke unit, and renaming the engine or changing its address. I was initially disappointed that you must upgrade the app ($4.99) to operate the steaming whistle.

front of model steam locomotive; MTH Premier Line 3-truck Shay
The engine on our CT&T layout. Rene Schweitzer photo

I did upgrade the app and was pleased at how many more options became available to use, from four different crew talk options, extended shut down, adjusting the chuff rate, coupler unlock sounds, and much more. The steaming whistle is a fabulous feature and it emitted a nice plume of smoke!

The engine box states that the Shay needs at least O-54 curves to operate. We have O-42 FasTrack curves on our in-house layout and it had no problem navigating those. The engine went through the turnouts, both forward and in reverse, with no troubles. This is a bit of an accomplishment, since one turnout tends to be problematic.

Summary and thank yous

This is a nice looking engine with a lot of details. Several coworkers stopped by to look at the piece on my desk. If you like geared engines or have a logging theme, you need one of these for your layout.

Thanks to coworker Lucas Iverson for his assistance in teaching me the DCS system.

Thanks to Sommerfeld’s Hobby Shop for loaning us this engine to review.

MTH Premier 3-truck Shay (20-38791)


Operates in four modes: DCC, DSC, conventional AC, and conventional DC

O-54 operation

Proto-Sound 3.0 with freight yard Proto-Effects

Operating tender LED back-up light

Operating LED firebox glow

Steaming quillable whistle

Tender truck chains and metal details


Price: $1,349.95

One thought on “MTH Premier Line 3-truck Shay

  1. Please clarify on “O-42 FasTrack” curves as Lionel, the FasTrack proponent, only catalogues O31, O36, O48, O60 and larger diameters but not O-42 nor O-54. Lionel turnouts or “switches” are also only catalogued in same diameters. Perhaps, the O-42 and O-54 mentions refer to MTH RealTrax?

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