Bernie Moening took one look at the name under a photograph in The Lima News and figured there was a good chance he had one of Charles Houtz’s canceled paychecks from Baldwin Lima Hamilton.
He wanted our help in returning it to Houtz, who was featured a week ago in the newspaper’s profile on military veterans.
“It’s just a little memento from a very special time in Lima’s history that I’d like to return to him or his grandchildren,” Moening explained.
We sensed a story and began asking questions.
It turns out Moening has paychecks belonging to a lot of people. They’re in a box he found in 1998 when the erecting shed and heavy Shay shops were torn down and broken up at the old Lima Locomotive Works.
Moening’s dad worked at the facility — more specifically, he worked for BLH’s crane division. Before the wrecking ball made rubble of the place, Bernie took a walk around the grounds in honor of his father and the hundreds of others who once built locomotives, cranes and many different pieces of heavy machinery. That’s when he came upon a building full of many weeks’ worth of canceled checks of former BLH employees.
He took one of the boxes home with him and ever since has been trying to get the checks into the hands of people whose family members were listed on them.
“I’m guessing that there were about 500 in a box and I’m down to about 300 now,” said Moening, now retired at age 62 from the U.S. Postal Service. “Most people are happy to get them.”
The canceled checks are from 1966 and included one for his father, Robert, who worked at the factory for close to 40 years.
“He made $84 a week, which in 1966, was pretty good money,” Moening said.
Over the years, Moening has become Lima’s expert on the steam shovel division of BLH, working with the Allen County Museum on several projects.
“There are only a few people left who know what was built out there. It’s been a hobby of mine to learn all I can,” Moening said. “My dad used to come home and talk about all the problems they had at work that day. I wanted to understand what he was talking about.”
What Moening found was a company that provided the muscle that helped rebuild America’s foundation following World War II. The plant transformed from making locomotives and military vehicles to producing 20 different types of custom-made shovels and cranes. At one time it had an asphalt division and crushed stone while also producing front-end loaders, road-mixers and even a line of fire hydrants before closing in 1981 under the ownership of Clark Equipment.
“There are so many great books written on what happened to the Lima Loco Works. However, the shovel and crane division is always a little footnote. It’s my intention to recognize the shovel and crane division and construction equipment they built there,” Moening said.
People typically don’t think of factory workers as being gifted, but there’s no other way to describe some of the hardest working people ever to call Lima home
“These guys could build anything, big or small,” Moening said. “You give them a project and they’d figure out a way to get it done.”
ROSES AND THORNS: A music man and a salesman spend the first week of spring in the rose garden.
Rose: To the Shawnee school board for its selection of Michael Lamb as its new school superintendent.
Rose: To the man in Spencerville known as “shorty” — 6-foot-9 Bruce McCullough. In 15 years, he’s raised more than $50,000 selling 50-50 tickets for the school’s athletic boosters.
Rose: Allen, Putnam and Van Wert counties each saw improvement in the 2013 statewide health rankings. Putnam went from No. 4 to No. 2; Allen from No. 42 to 35; and Van Wert from 27 to 26.
Rose: To Harold Becket, who has touched many lives over the years with his dynamic and personal devotion to music. He turned 90 on March 13.
Thorn: An animal cruelty case against Dennis Phalen, 68, will never get heard in court because witnesses failed to cooperate with the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, leading to charges being dropped.
Thorn: The city of Lima is spending $1 million on structural repairs just five years after it paid more than $2 million to renovate the Cambridge Building and the old Lima Train Depot.
PARTING SHOT: You know you’re in for a bad day when your auto mechanic tells you, “I couldn’t repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.”