LIMA — Two months after World War II formally ended on the decks of the USS Missouri, Lima residents lined up to get a look at a piece of the long-awaited post-war future.
Under the headline “Lima Goes Air Minded,” The Lima News on Oct. 28, 1945, ran a photo of a long line of curious people waiting to inspect the “Mainliner,” a passenger plane that had set down at the airport on Baty Road.
Just to the left of that photo was a small item on a piece of Lima’s recent past that seemed far removed from air travel. Longtime Lima blacksmith Francis X. Ebner, the News noted, was donating the anvil he used to shoe horses in his shop at 121 E. Kibby St. Six weeks earlier, on Sept. 12, 1945, Ebner put new shoes on King, a “dapple-gray horse” used by Vernon Lauck to cart junk. It was Ebner’s last job.
“Spry and wide awake, 83-year-old Ebner jockeyed the horse into position, then waited as his son, Edgar, removed King’s four road-worn shoes. With Edgar pumping the bellows, sending sparks high into the air, Ebner slammed the new shoes into shape on the battered anvil and put them on the ‘customer’ with eight nails for each,” the News wrote.
“The job done, King was led out of the shop and Francis X. Ebner, who has been shoeing horses here for 63 years, went home. Work already has begun in razing the landmark after it was condemned as a fire trap by state inspectors.”
With Ebner on his last day in the shop were friends, customers and some of his many children — he had 10 surviving in 1945, including nine sons — who had grown up helping their father in the blacksmith shop. Some of those children would go on to operate companies of their own, including Claude “Cy” Ebner, who, along with brothers Edgar and Francis Jr., was with his father that last day in the blacksmith shop.
Claude Ebner operated Lima’s popular Fairview Coal Co. at a time when many residents depended on coal to heat their homes. Claude Ebner bought the former Kenny Coal Co. at 909 Florence Ave. on Lima’s south side in 1946, the year after his father closed the blacksmith shop. He changed the name to Fairview for Fairview Avenue which intersects Florence. The Kenny Coal Co. had been in business on Florence Avenue hard by the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad tracks since the 1920s.
In an April 8, 1962, article in the News, Claude Ebner traced his roots in the coal business to his blacksmith father. “The older Ebner began the family’s coal business heritage in 1914 and was joined by his oldest son, the late Francis Jr. (who died in October 1952), a year later. The oldest son was a lawyer. The business was dissolved in 1916 but began anew in 1921 at a location near the old Halleran Hotel on (South) Main Street.
“The pastor of St. John’s where we went to church told my dad, ‘Put those boys to work, Frank,’ when dad complained that we were always getting into mischief around the house (the family home at 536 S. Scott St.),” Claude Ebner told the News.
Claude Ebner “had nine brothers and a sister,” the News noted in the 1962 article. “Six of the boys are still living, with the youngest brother, Paul, also in the coal business. He owns the present day Ebner Coal Co. (which was at 250 E. McKibben St.).”
By the late 1920s, Francis Ebner’s business holdings had expanded. “Probably no other local gasoline company in Lima has had more experience in dealing with the motoring public than Ebner Coal and Oil Co., South Main Street,” the News wrote on June 8, 1929. “This firm is known as the original ‘low-price gas company.’ The Ebner Coal and Oil Co. operates two filling stations, one at 949 S. Main St., and the other at Jackson and McKibben streets … . One of the features of this organization is that Ebner has his seven sons helping him.”
The family partnership did not survive the 1930s. On Sept. 13, 1938, a petition was filed in Allen County Common Pleas Court for dissolution of a partnership “which has existed for more than 10 years” by F.X. Ebner Sr., Edgar J., Rupert A., Theodore E., Paul M., William F. and Claude B. Ebner,” according to the News. “The partnership is in the Consumer Fuel and Building Supply Co., the Ebner Coal Co., and the F.X. Ebner Coal Co.”
Claude Ebner in 1946 purchased the Kenny Coal Co. and renamed it the Fairview Coal Co. Francis Ebner Sr., who was born in 1863, died in July of that same year. By 1950 Claude Eber had moved the Fairview Coal Co. to 162 E. Vine St., the site of the former Consumer Fuel and Building Supply Co. Paul Ebner, meanwhile, was operating the former Ebner Coal Co. on East McKibben Street as the Ebco Coal Co.
In 1952, the year Francis Ebner Jr. died, gas and electricity were becoming more popular for heating, and Claude Ebner began running ads putting a more modern face on an old fuel. A March 9, 1952, ad in the News touts “Lima’s first completely automatic coal-fire furnace,” adding that “Claude B. Ebner, of the Fairview Coal Co., introduced the automatic coal system to Lima.”
In the mid-1950s, Fairview branched out. “The Fairview Coal Co., E. Vine St. and B&O Railroad, soon will be making briquettes from coke screenings which are piling up at the Lima Refiner, Standard Oil Co., of Ohio,” the News reported July 31, 1955. “Claude B. Ebner, owner and operator of the coal company, said he is installing a special plant to make the briquettes at the rate of 110 tons every 24 hours. The powdered coke will be mixed with flammable asphalt to produce the egg-shaped briquettes.
“Principal demand for the briquettes is in the silicon and steel industries, which use them as an oxygen reducing agent, Ebner said. They also can be used to fire coal burning stoves, picnic grills and other heating units.”
In 1961, the Fairview Coal Co. moved to 700 N. Union St., the former site of the Palmer-Donavin Manufacturing Co. “The building in which Palmer-Donavin was located burned in a $500,000 fire in July. The property is owned by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad,” the Lima Citizen reported Feb. 9, 1961. “(Claude) Ebner said a 2,000-square-foot office and storage building will be built on the site for the Fairview operation.”
A business page story in the Sept. 28, 1963, edition of the News heaped praise on Fairview. “The huge yard on North Union Street stocks 25 varieties of coal in many sizes of egg, lump and stoker coal. … Everything is modernized at Fairview. Even your sinker coal is ‘piped in’ to your home and there is no mess or grime whatsoever.”
Claude Ebner gained more business in 1970 when his brother, Paul, turned over the accounts of the Ebner Coal Co. to him. Paul Ebner told the News that after 54 years in the coal business he planned “to do some traveling but first wants to ‘watch one snowstorm and one cold wave from the inside with my feet in the fire.’”
Claude Ebner, too, retired from the coal business in the mid -1970s, selling the firm to Russell C. Laman. Laman operated Fairview until 2005.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.