LIMA — The discovery of oil in Lima in 1885 helped fuel an industrial boom and served as a catalyst for the creation of many industries, notably the Solar Refinery.
A stone’s throw east of the refinery and founded about the same time was the John W. Swan Co., which, an ad in a 1904 edition of the Lima Times-Democrat noted, made gasoline engines from 5 to 100 horsepower for “all power purposes.” Foremost among the listed purposes was pumping oil wells.
Although the Swan company faltered, the area it occupied became a hub of Lima industry.
“South of the Erie Railroad and west of Greenlawn Avenue is an area which is rich in industrial history. The turnover in manufacturing concerns in this area clearly tells us that founding a company is not a guaranteed road to riches,” L.M. Tomlinson wrote in “The 1976 History of Allen County, Ohio.”
That turnover began in January 1905, when the Swan company was reorganized and became the Lima Gas Engine Company. In a Sept. 1, 1908, story on a Labor Day parade, The Lima Daily News noted that “the Lima Gas Engine Company will display one of their big engines that is ready to be shipped to Wisconsin, and many others too numerous to mention.”
Like its predecessors, the Lima Gas Engine Company would not have a long life. By 1911, it was reorganized, becoming the Power Manufacturing Company. “However,” Tomlinson wrote in the county history, “the gas engine business died out and Chalmers S. Brown, a machine shop owner formed the Chalmers Pump and Manufacturing Company …”
It probably didn’t help the Power Manufacturing Company that its foundry burned down in May 1916. “A strong wind fanned the blaze,” the Times-Democrat reported on May 13, 1916, “and in three-quarters of an hour the building was a mass of ruins.” In businesses where fire was a part of the manufacturing process, unintended blazes became common. Lima’s fire department would answer numerous calls to the Greenlawn Avenue industrial area.
With the end of World War I in November 1918, business was booming for Chalmers. “The inevitable business boom prophesied by manufacturing and industrial leaders of American, to follow the world war, has already struck the Chalmers Manufacturing Company, one of Lima’s plants,” the News wrote on Dec. 26, 1918. “It has recently received an order from Edmonds Motor Company, of Springfield, Ohio, for 5,000 kerosene engines, which will necessitate immediate enlarging of the local plant.”
“FIRE DESTROYS BIG CHALMERS PLANT…,” the seemingly inevitable front page headline of the News screamed on Feb. 22, 1920. The fire, discovered in the early morning hours by a watchman, “totally destroyed the foundry and core room of the Chalmers company plant, Greenlawn and Erie Railroad this morning at an estimated loss of $125,000,” the News reported.
“The plant of the Lima Metal Products company along the east side of the destroyed factory was endangered at all times by the intense heat that issued from the burned building,” the story continued. “A row of houses in the rear of the flaming building separated by a distance of 200 feet were continually menaced by flying sparks and pieces of burning wood.”
Chalmers rebuilt and two years after the fire on Feb. 26, 1922, the News reported that “the Chalmers Pump & Manufacturing Co., has been receiving orders with pleasing regularity. This factory is working on a better basis, perhaps, than any other in the city, it is said. Considerable foreign business is being handled there.”
Despite that optimistic report, by late summer of that year, the company was struggling. On Sept. 9, 1922, the News reported it had filed for receivership. Two years later in November 1924, the company — “once accounted one of Lima’s most promising concerns,” according to the News — was sold.
About 1926, Lima Pump and Supply emerged on Greenlawn Avenue. “Shortly thereafter a Mr. Fundum came to Lima and the Fundum Hoist and Shovel Co. was formed,” Tomlinson wrote in the 1976 history. “Lacking space for the manufacture of the hoist and shovel, the company contracted with the Lima Pump and Supply for the actual production, but as happens so often, new developments in this field made the Fundum hoist obsolete and the business was discontinued. The building stood empty.”
In 1931, fire again played a part in the Greenlawn Avenue industrial area. That year, the foundry of the Gorrell-Carnes Co. on Shawnee Street burned and the operation was moved into the old foundry of the old Chalmers company.
Meanwhile, just south of the old Chalmers plant was the Lima Metal Foundry, owned and operated by Harry Workman since the teens. “After his death in 1929,” Tomlinson wrote, “his widow operated the plant with the aid of Harry G. Shook as president and general manager, and Mrs. Workman as secretary-treasurer. When Mrs. Workman married Bert McPheron, the above arrangement was ended and the plant closed.”
Shook, however, was not done. “There was considerable space in the west end of the Gorrell-Carnes plant and Harry Shook, with the aid of a few friends and suppliers launched the H.G. Shook Co. …, according to Tomlinson.
In 1934, “because of the business ability of Don Shook and the support given him by A.D. MacDonell of the Metropolitan Bank,” Shook’s business grew and he was able to move his operation into the old Lima Metal Foundry building.”
Shook had purchased the foundry building in 1939 along with a machine shop building formerly used by the Lima Pump and Supply Co. to produce the firm’s bronze castings. By 1942, Both Shook and Gorrell-Carnes were involved with producing metal parts for the U.S. war effort. Only Shook would survive the war.
“About 1942 Don Shook and John Carnes bought out Mr. (Joe) Gorrell and shortly thereafter the H.G. Shook Co. took over the Gorrell-Carnes Foundry,” Tomlinson explained. The H.G. Shook Co. eventually became the Shook Bronze Co.
In October 1946, fire destroyed the production foundry. A story in the News pegged the loss at $100,000 and added that the loss was “one of the largest in the city’s industrial history.” Shook rebuilt and completed an expansion and modernization program.
On Sept. 21, 1949, the News announced that negotiations had begun for the sale of the Shook Bronze Co. to Chicago-based Randall Graphite Bearings Inc.
Next week: Randall Bearings
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.