LIMA — For half a century the area along Greenlawn Avenue south of the Erie Railroad was a revolving door of industry.
The 20th century was still young when the John W. Swan Co., maker of engines to pump oil in the Lima field, begat the Lima Gas Engine Co., which gave way to the Power Manufacturing Co., which was replaced by the Chalmers Pump and Manufacturing Co. and so on through another handful of companies, most concerned with turning metal into useful objects.
But with Chicago-based Randall Graphite Bearings’ 1949 purchase of Shook Bronze Corp., which had been manufacturing on the site for several decades, the industrial area had a permanent resident.
“Randall Graphite Bearings Inc. was organized in 1918 by Edward A. Zimmerman, present board chairman, to take over the operation of a California corporation,” the Lima News wrote in January 1961. “From 1918 to 1949, the firm was located in Chicago, Illinois, and employed about 50 workers. With the purchase of the Shook Bronze Corp. in 1949, Randall Graphite moved to Lima.”
Lima’s relationship with its newest industry began with a friendly greeting. “Hi, neighbor,” read a Randall ad in the Lima News from New Year’s Day 1950, “as a newcomer to a great city — Lima, Ohio — we greet its people at the beginning of a wonderful new year.” That same day, as if to emphasize the out-with-the-old-in-with-the new moment, a legal ad in the newspaper announced the Shook Bronze Corp. had elected to “dissolve and wind up its affairs.”
By May, Randall was announcing the first of many expansions. “Construction will begin this week on a new machine shop building at Randall Graphite Bearings, Inc., plant here,” the News reported on May 21, 1950. “Alan S. Dale, assistant to the president, said the structure will house a pillow block department and is scheduled for completion in about five months. Cost is about $45,000.”
A little more than eight months after the company’s cheery greeting to its new hometown, a good-sized chunk of its work force was walking a picket line after about 50 members of the International Association of Machinists accused the company of using “stalling tactics” in contract negotiations.
The strike dragged on until early October with the sides trading newspaper ads defending their positions. Finally, on Oct. 6, 1950, the News reported that “Randall Graphite Bearings Inc., Greenlawn Avenue, strikebound since August 29, will resume production Monday.” The contract was “the initial agreement between Randall and the union here and the first union contract ever signed by the Randall firm,” the News noted.
Strikes would dog the company over the years. Early in 1972, a strike by members of the electricians’ union lasted more than two months.
Despite the rocky start, by the end of 1950, Randall was able to boast about its first year in the city. “Randall is proud to call Lima ‘home’ and home it is to us — a Lima concern, directed and supervised by Lima men — employing 200 Lima people,” the News ad read. “Since Randall became a part of Lima industry, we have added 25,000 square feet of manufacturing space, improved the working conditions …”
Randall’s presence in Lima created an odd sideshow along the Ottawa River in summer 1956. In August of that year, a Toledo firm essentially “panned” for bronze in foundry sand from Randall that had been dumped on the south bank of the river east of Collett Street. Seven employees of the gleaners washed away most of the dirt and then ran what remained over screens to collect the bronze, which was sold to a Chicago smelter for $250 a ton, according to the Aug. 3, 1956, edition of The Lima News.
On Jan. 1, 1961, the Randall’s annual greeting to Lima took note of its progress during its first decade in Lima. “The corporation occupies 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space at Greenlawn and Lake and under normal business conditions employs more than 200 people. Randall Graphite manufactures complete — from raw materials to finished product — bronze sleeve bearings, cored and solid bronze bars, and self-aligning pillow block bearings.”
Fifteen years after Randall bought out Shook Bronze, the News took stock of the company, noting that during 1964 Randall had opened a warehouse and sales office in Cleveland and added a machine shop at the Lima plant. Since the move to Lima in 1949, the News wrote on Oct. 25, 1964, “expansion has been the order of the day since then, with 75,000 square feet of manufacturing space being added during the past 15 years.” The 170 Randall employees, a separate story noted, made products used in earth-moving equipment, furnaces and air conditioners, automotive and agricultural machinery, home appliances, amusement part devices and food processing equipment.
A special supplement in the News on March 3, 1968, marked Randall’s 50th anniversary. “Today, Randall Bearings Inc. — having dropped the word ‘Graphite’ from its name in 1965 — offers to its customers a complete line of bronze bearing products,” the News wrote, adding that sales for the previous year were expected to top $5.5 million.
“Randall remained a strong force in the Bronze Bearing industry throughout the 1970s and continued to grow and prosper,” according to the company website. The 1980 were a different story. “The company shut down its foundry in 1985,” the News wrote on Jan. 1, 1994, “resulting in the loss of about 50 jobs. Another plant in Springfield, Tennessee, closed the following year.”
“Through the 1990s Randall transitioned over to a mainly CNC machining facility, exclusively in Lima, Ohio,” according to the Randall website. “Randall settled into a 90,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center that also housed the corporate offices.”
In 2005, Randall announced plans to expand into Mercer County. ”Randall Bearings, a manufacturer of bronze machined parts for the heavy equipment industry, is looking to begin construction soon on a new 24,000 square foot manufacturing facility. The Coldwater plant will expand the company’s production of brass parts for industrial pumps as well as pneumatic and hydraulic cylinders,” the News reported on April 1, 2005. The new facility opened in 2006 and eventually was expanded to 48,000 square feet.
Randall again expanded its manufacturing capabilities in both Lima and Coldwater in 2012 with investments in advanced machining, according to the webite. “These lathes and mills were designed to expand our proficiency into not only the gas and oil business but also to increase our overall part dimension capabilities while strategically utilizing robotic technology within the production process.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.