LIMA — Short-line railroad service was on the auction block and time was the auctioneer, a wire service reporter wrote in a wistful 1925 story about a bygone era that soon would be just plain gone.
“The train with the red plush seats, or perhaps they were green; with the blatantly ornate lighting fixtures; with ‘Cap’ somebody or other punching tickets and chucking children under the chin is vanishing,” the reporter wrote in an article, which appeared in The Lima News Oct. 25, 1925. “The auctioneer isn’t quite to the point where he is ready to bring the hammer down, but apparently that time is not far distant.”
In 1925 alone, the reporter noted, 127 miles of “short lines,” railroads which operated over a relatively short distance, had closed, victims of high costs and the rise of the bus as a form of public transportation. Among the victims was a three-mile line connecting Minster and Fort Loramie that closed in 1921.
Lima at the time of the article was still latticed with rails. Railroads and interurbans connected the city to anywhere in the United States, while the street railway carried passengers from here to there in town. Over the next 15 years, the interurbans and city streetcars would follow the short lines into oblivion as Americans increasingly took to the road and abandoned the rails.
In 1928, three years after the article, The Lima News took note of the increasing prominence of bus travel in Lima. “Lima is rapidly becoming an important center for motorbus traffic, according to a survey made public Friday by the Lima Chamber of Commerce,” the News wrote Dec. 21, 1928. “A total of 84 passenger buses stop in Lima every 24 hours, the survey disclosed, and this number will be increased to 96 after Jan. 1.”
Lima residents not only rode the bus, they also produced them, first at the Garford Motor Truck Co. and later at Superior Coach Corp.
An early hint of things to come came in the late fall of 1913. “Lima and the environs are to be served by a new means of street transportation to and from the business district,” Lima’s Republican Gazette revealed Nov. 20, 1913. “Beginning March 1, motorbus lines centering on the Public Square with regular routes and time schedules and a uniform fare will be established reaching north, south, east and west.” Routes would each be about four miles long and cover streets not served by street cars, the newspaper noted.
The buses arrived a little behind schedule. On April 15, 1914, Lima Times-Democrat wrote that “Motor Bus No. 1 of the Lima Motor Transit Co.” made its initial trip at 1 p.m. April 14, 1914, covering the west side of the city in 26 minutes. The 22-passenger bus was crammed with local dignitaries invited along for the ride and a glimpse at the future of local public transportation.
In a story from a trade publication reprinted in the Aug. 17, 1915, an official with Lima’s Garford Motor Truck Co. laid out the blueprint the bus companies would need to follow before “cities would no longer permit their streets in residential sections to be torn up or disfigured by the installation of poles, stringing of wires and laying of track.” Dependable service, improved streets and comfortable vehicles were imperative, the official declared.
Supplanting the interurbans and street railways proved difficult. The lines fought the incursion of buses in court battles that lasted far longer than the Lima Motor Transit Co., which disappeared in a few short years. The unsightly wires and track would remain for another quarter century. The last car of Lima’s venerable street rail system, which began with horse-drawn cars in 1878 and which, in 1887, became the first system west of the Allegheny Mountains to use an electric car, rattled out of the car barn on Grand Avenue on May 13, 1939.
The last interurban car departed the station at 211 E. Market St., now the home to many city offices, on Nov. 19, 1937. By then, the interurban station was sharing space with several intercity bus lines, which had been making inroads for the previous 20 years.
On March 12, 1918, the News reported that John Hanley had purchased an 18-passenger bus with plans to provide service to Delphos, Ottoville and Venedocia because “railroad service is so limited on the Clover Leaf (Toledo, St. Louis & Western Railroad), and has been abandoned altogether on the C.H. & D. running through Ottoville.”
Bus lines sprang up with regularity in the 1920s. Writing in a 1976 county history, John Keller noted, “Because of the number of people who began to work in Lima, who lived in other areas adjacent to the city, motor bus lines were begun which served Ada, Harrod, Lafayette, Alger, Kenton, Marion and that area.”
Lines also evolved to serve college students. “As a special convenience for Lima students attending college at Ohio Northern University, Ada, W.H. Mertz has established a truck bus service between Lima and Kenton and intermediate points making one trip each way each day,” the News wrote Dec. 31, 1922. A Lima-Defiance bus line, replacing a defunct interurban line, opened in April 1928. “The new service is expected to make shopping in Lima much easier for residents of the rural sections of western Putnam County, while students of both Lima schools and colleges and Defiance College will be benefited,” the News wrote April 27, 1928.
National carriers like Greyhound also made stops in Lima. On Oct. 12, 1928, the News reported Greyhound made five stops daily in Lima on the way from Detroit to Cincinnati and five daily on the return run to Detroit. “Other routes carrying passengers to and from Lima include the Lima-Spencerville, Lima-Ada, Lima to Harrod, Lafayette and Alger; Lima to Kenton and Marion; Lima-Defiance, and Lima-Springfield. Continental stages operated from coast to coast also frequently pass thru the city.”
On Dec. 14, 1928, the News announced that Lima had become a regular stop on a bus line between Columbus and Chicago. “The Interstate Transit Co., operating what are known as ‘Colonial Stages,’ has established Lima headquarters in the Allen Hotel (which was located on the northeast corner of Market and Union streets).”
Like the Colonial Stages, many bus lines were headquartered in hotels, particularly the Lima House in the northeast corner of the Public Square and the Barr Hotel on the northeast corner of High and Union streets. That changed with Greyhound’s announcement in 1928 that it was leasing a part of the Barr Hotel for a terminal.
“According to the plans the terminal headquarters and waiting room of the Greyhound Lines will be in the East High Street building which adjoins police headquarters to the west,” the News announced Nov. 18, 1928. “An entrance will be cut through the north side of the waiting station and will lead to a cafeteria in the hotel with a seating capacity of 75.” A garage being constructed at the rear of the Barr Hotel and facing on Central Avenue would be used to service buses, the newspaper added.
Next week: If you can’t beat them …
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.