LIMA — Lima worked around the clock during World War II turning out tanks that helped roll back the German army, molding airplane canopies for the U.S. Army Air Forces and constructing special vehicles for the Navy. Lima area workers made turbine blades and electric motors and controls. In fact, they made so many items for the military that the War Production Board, charged with overseeing such things, had an office in Lima.
In Eli Harlan Mechling’s small factory on McClain Road in Perry Township, three shifts of workers even made something for Air Forces gunners to shoot at, as The Lima News explained in a March 1, 1944, story. “Standard clay pigeons,” the News wrote, “now are important as a military item because the skill normally acquired by trap and skeet shooters is an indispensable adjunct to successful aerial gunning.”
Skeet and trap shooting, it seems, was good practice for hitting fast-flying enemy aircraft. Mechling was a master at making the targets.
“The Mechling machine, in top operating form, is a sizzling, clinking classic of ingenuity,” the News noted. “Few pieces of new material have been used in its construction. Motors, steel beams, shafting, drive chains, springs, valves, compressors, all are veterans of previous use. But the important thing is a seemingly endless row of hot pigeons moving from the machine on a 10-foot conveyor belt.”
On Sept. 7, 1945, shortly after the Japanese surrender ended the war, Mechling was commended by General Brehon Somervell, commander of the department charged with supplying the Army. “Your company has played a very important role in producing the equipment and supplies which have been such a decisive factor in winning the war,” Somervell wrote. “Now that the war is won, I want to express to you the gratitude and appreciation of the Army Service Forces for the magnificent achievements of your organization.”
Mechling, himself a classic of ingenuity, had deep roots in the land on which he would later operate his business.
“As a family, the Mechlings were of German origin and settled in the province of Pennsylvania about 1728,” a 1922 history of Allen County noted. “In 1832, William Mechling had entered 1,162 acres in sections 18 and 13 in Perry Township.” Section 18 in Perry Township is northeast of the intersection of McClain and Breese roads.
In 1946, when Milton Mechling, Eli H. Mechling’s father, died “in the home where he was born,” the News wrote that the “farm and land has been the property of the Mechling family for four generations, being purchased from the government by (Milton) Mechling’s great-great grandfather, William Mechling, in 1832. In 1836, the farm became the property of William’s son, Joshua. His son, Eli, inherited the land in 1893, and, in turn, transferred the property to Milton in 1916.” After purchasing the land, William Mechling donated a portion of it for the “erection of a cemetery near the old St. Paul’s Lutheran church. The lot, formerly known as the St. Paul’s Cemetery, now is Fletcher cemetery.” Fletcher Cemetery straddles St. Johns Road just north of Breese Road. St. Paul church and cemetery stood on the west side of St. Johns Road.
Eli H. Mechling was born Oct. 22, 1898, to Milton and Ollie Hoskins Mechling. He had a brother, Clyde, and a sister, Helen Irene. On Oct. 4, 1926, he married Mary L. Hux.
In March 1927, Mechling, who worked as a tool and die maker at Ohio Steel, just down the road from the family farm, applied for his first patent. The patent, granted to Mechling and John R. Hoskins of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, in January 1932, was for a device designed to “take advantage of the flotation effect of water” to aid in inserting or removing casings from oil wells.
The ever-inventive Mechlng soon turned to making clay pigeons, and making the machines to make clay pigeons — the brittle, saucer-like discs which actually are molded from a mixture of hot coal tar and limestone. Instead of standard clay pigeons, however, Mechling decided to make a miniature version, designed to be broken by shot charges from .22 caliber weapons.
“He built his own automatic machine in the spare time of one year,” the News wrote March 1, 1944. “That was four years ago. His machine was designed to turn out a product that would be a specialty within a specialty field – miniature clay pigeons. With the aid of Mrs. Mechling, he carried on this business in a lean-to attached to the family garage.”
With the outbreak of World War II, Mechling, with help from a neighbor, quickly re-tooled to produce the standard-size target. At its height during the war, the Mechling Target Manufacturing Co. was, according to the News, a “three-shift operation, employing 21 workers, neighbors, men, women” who would “come to that garage behind the side-road cottage to do their daily stint.”
On the morning of April 17, 1945, as a fierce spring storm lashed the area, a fire “indirectly resulting from the high winds” destroyed Mechling’s plant. “Summoned at 7:10 a.m. Tuesday, firemen arrived to find the building engulfed in flames, which because of the high wind, threatened the nearby residence of the manager Eli Mechling …”
Mechling rebuilt. “Eli Mechling, route 6, has just finished turning out 2 million targets of the clay pigeon variety for the government, reportedly for use by the Air Force,” the News wrote July 31, 1949. “That sounds like a big order, but during the war Mechling’s plant … produced a total of 9 million such targets.” Mechling, the News added, “made all his own machinery for the local target plant, which is one of only six in the entire United States.” Remington Arms Manufacturing Co. operated a target plant in Findlay.
In June 1971, Mechling produced an improved machine for, according to the patent application, “handling and coating clay pigeons or targets” at the rate of 6,000 to 8,000 per hour.
Mechling died Oct. 31, 1986. “A patent holder, he designed and built the equipment to manufacture the clay targets,” the News wrote in his obituary. “He continued to do so at the time of his death. He was a pioneer in the field of design.”
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.