In September 1951, an era ended when the last of more than 7,800 steam locomotives produced in Lima rolled out of the shops of the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp., which occupied a sprawling 67-acre site on South Main Street.
“When the Pennsylvania railroad takes delivery of the last engine,” The Lima News wrote Sept. 9, 1951, “a powerful chapter in the city’s industrial history will close, with a happy ending — an expected ending.
“The death knell of locomotive manufacture sounded here more than a year ago,” the News added. “It wasn’t audible. It was lost in the bustle of a plant that has been revitalized — a plant that has been given a new lease on life through diversification of products — shovels, cranes, draglines, stone crushers, road-building equipment.”
Although B-L-H would struggle — and ultimately fail — to carve out a niche for its diesel-powered locomotives, its construction equipment division, which had thrived while the company became famous for its massive steam locomotives, would roll on for another 30 years.
That diversification had its roots just to the south, at Lima industrialist John E. Galvin’s Ohio Steel Foundry.
“Possibility that Lima will have another large industry that will rival the Lima Locomotive Works in size and importance was seen here Wednesday with the incorporation at Columbus of the Ohio Steam Shovel Company,” the News reported July 9, 1924.” “John E. Galvin and George S. Vail, both of the Ohio Steel Foundry, are named in the telegraphic dispatches as the incorporators of the new company, which will manufacture an improved type of steam shovel.”
The new firm, the newspaper noted, would benefit the Lima Locomotive Works, for which it produced metal castings, as well as the foundry “as the demand for steam shovels and locomotives will probably be at different seasons.”
On Sept. 26, 1925, the News reported that the “first gasoline shovel to be manufactured by the Ohio Steam Shovel Co., a recently organized corporation associated with the Ohio Steel Foundry Co., is now in operation and is being demonstrated daily at the plant south of the city.” The shovel, designed by a prolific inventor named John D. Rauch, had a “number of unusual features,” according to the newspaper, among them “the large amount of steel castings used in the assembly of the shovel” and “an improved caterpillar-type tread” for motive power.
The Ohio Power Shovel Company’s relationship with the Lima Locomotive Works, where the shovels had been assembled for several years, was formalized in January 1928, when it became a subsidiary of the locomotive works.
The machine the Ohio Power Shovel Company produced, the News wrote March 30, 1930, was the “famous” Lima 101. “The trade name, Lima ‘101,’” the newspaper wrote, “explains one of the leading features of the machine. It means that the hoist has a speed of 100 feet a minute, a speed surpassed by no other machine of its kind.” The shovels were capable of moving 1 1/4 yards of earth or other material in one scoop and were convertible to cranes, clamshells, drag lines or drag shovels “to suit all kinds of digging and material handling.”
The “101,” the News added, had been used to rebuild levees in Arkansas and Louisiana, dig subways in New York City, clear the way for highways in Pennsylvania, excavate the site of New York City’s Chrysler building and, at home, a “101” excavated the basement of the Lima post office. The mechanical descendants of the “101” — power shovels cranes, drag lines and other construction equipment — would be used to widen the Panama Canal, mine coal in Wales and clean up the rubble left by World War II in Europe as well as the rubble left by progress closer to home. A Lima-built shovel was used to clean up after the demolition of Lima’s Faurot Opera House in 1953.
On New Year’s Eve of 1934, it was announced the Ohio Power Shovel Co. had been consolidated with its parent company, the Lima Locomotive Works. “This business in the future will be handled directly by the Locomotive Works as its shovel and crane division,” the News wrote. The division, which employed about 600 workers and headed by L.A. Larsen, would do well.
“Executives of the shovel division of the Lima Locomotive Works, Inc., disclosed Saturday that the volume of business handled in the first seven months of this year was far ahead of that of the corresponding period in any other year of the division’s history,” the News wrote Aug. 23, 1936, adding that, unlike earlier in the Great Depression, only a small percentage of the sales were to the government. “This situation was contrasted with the fact that two years ago at least 80 percent of the shovels built in Lima were taken by the government for use on large public construction projects.”
The consolidation came at a time when the market for the Lima Locomotive Work’s signature product was declining as the buying power of railroads declined, the News noted.
As the years went by, the company name and structure went through more changes. In 1947, Lima Locomotive Works merged with General Machinery Corp. of Hamilton to become Lima-Hamilton Corp. Three years later, on December 4, 1950, Lima-Hamilton and Baldwin Locomotive Works consolidated to form Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp.
By 1959, B-L-H was out of the locomotive business entirely but continued to play an important part in Lima’s economy with the manufacture of construction equipment. The News wrote on June 28, 1959, that “B-L-H is continuing to live up to the reputation established during the locomotive days. Once known as the ‘business barometer’ of Lima, it continues to employ 1,500 Limaites, and its monthly payroll still plays a vital part in the economy of Lima.”
More change was coming. In 1965, B-L-H merged with Armour and Company, becoming the Lima Division of Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp, a subsidiary of Armour and Company. A half dozen years later, in 1971, Clark Equipment Company of Buchanan, Michigan, purchased the company. In February of 1974, the News reported Clark Equipment employed an average of 1,575 workers during 1973.
But, like most of Lima’s heavy industry, Clark Equipment was struggling by the end of the 1970s. A reprieve was gained in 1978 when Clark closed a facility near Chicago and transferred some of its operations to Lima.
The Lima plant, however, continued to be a money loser and, in September 1980, the News reported that Clark officials confirmed discussions were under way to sell the plant.
“Earlier this spring,” the newspaper wrote, “local Clark workers went on a shortened Monday-through-Thursday production schedule in an effort to ward off the furlough of about 100 workers.” The plant employed about 500 workers by then.
The inevitable came as 1981 dawned. On Jan. 27, 1981, the News reported that a Clark official confirmed it would “suspend operation of its Lima crane plant around July 1.”
The South Main Street complex, which for a half century had turned out machines to clear rubble, was itself reduced to rubble in the late 1990s.
Reach Greg Hoersten at email@example.com.