LIMA — On a Sunday morning in mid-February 1962, hundreds of northeastern Ohio railroad enthusiasts crowded station platforms in Cleveland and Akron and Youngstown and many points in between, lured by a flyer from the Midwest Railway Historical Foundation.
“A repeat of our ‘Mystery Winter Trip’ has been arranged for you,” the flyer from the Cleveland-based group read. “It’s a bigger and better event. There will be a grand tour of a large-size town where you will be escorted via bus to a large manufacturing company for a tour of their plant, a roast beef dinner for all, a tour of one of the finest museums in the nation, and a bus tour to several of the historic spots in the area.”
The mystery destination was Lima, the Lima Citizen revealed on Feb. 16, 1962, two days before the trip. “Several hundred Ohio railroad buffs will be in Lima Sunday — but they don’t know it yet,” the Citizen reported, apparently assuming word wouldn’t get out. “More than 500 persons have signed up for the excursion. Trains will run from Youngstown and Akron on the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad and from Cleveland on the Nickel Plate Road.”
Although a more than three-hour train ride across northern Ohio in the freezing gray of a winter morning to tour Lima might not be everyone’s idea of a Sunday outing, to those who loved railroads it was — and Lima was an enthusiast’s dream.
Since the first steam locomotive — named the Lima — arrived by canal boat from Toledo in 1854 to help build a railroad, the city had been all things rail. In 1906, according to an online history of the city, an average of 143 trains a day passed through the city. Every 24 hours, 49 steam and 28 electric trains dropped off or picked up passengers in Lima. The city was served by five steam railroads and five electric interurban lines as well as a city streetcar system. Steam locomotives and railroad cars rolled out of south Lima factories.
Even as late as 1962, a quarter century after the last interurbans pulled out of town, Lima still was visited by passenger trains on three of the five railroad serving the city — the Baltimore & Ohio, the Pennsylvania and the Erie-Lackawanna, while the Nickel Plate had discontinued passenger service only three years earlier.
“There are two mystery specials today, one from the Cleveland area on the Nickel Plate Road, the other from Youngstown, Akron-Mansfield areas on the Erie-Lackawanna,” tour guides told passengers. “Trains will arrive at their respective depots. The two depots are but 100 yards apart. Upon arrival at our destination, we will be met by all of the buses of the local bus company. … The industrial plant you will tour is adjacent to the depots.”
Several weeks after the tour, the Cleveland Plain Dealer Sunday magazine described the passengers boarding the Nickel Plate train at East Cleveland, Rocky River and Lorain as a combination of dedicated rail fans, identified by “neckties, caps and jackets heavily ornamented with scores of railroad insignia … and a bewildering stockpile of information … all about railroads,” and “daisy pickers,” or more casual fans.
“All were out for a day of fun even though they didn’t know where they were going,” the Plain Dealer magazine wrote March 11, 1962. “But for that matter, neither did the folks in the other train chartered for the occasion by the Foundation. It left Youngstown on the Erie-Lackawanna with pick-up stops at Akron and Mansfield. Both were headed for the same objective.”
The objective, according to the Plain Dealer, was a matter of much speculation as the trains headed west with guesses ranging from Detroit and Fort Wayne to Dayton and Grand Rapids. “There is much guesswork, mostly wrong, although the committee gives each passenger a fact sheet tells them what they’re going to see and … everything, in fact, but where they’re going to do it.”
The destination was made clear at 12:15 p.m. for the Nickel Plate passengers and a half hour later for those on the Erie-Lackawanna, when the excursion trains deposited them in south Lima in sight of Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton company. The sprawling B-L-H complex, where construction equipment was made in 1962, had been the home of the Lima Locomotive Works, which until a little more than a decade earlier had manufactured steam locomotives.
“Two special trains pulled into Lima with a special cargo,” the Citizen wrote Feb. 19, 1962. “Their load: 675 railroad buffs who got a surprise visit here as the prize in the Midwest Railway Historical Foundation’s annual mystery winter trip,” the Citizen wrote.
“Chartered Lima Transit Co. buses picked up the passengers and taxied them to the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corp., Standard Oil Refinery Co., Allen County Museum and Clemans Building for tours and lunch,” the Citizen noted.
“The relatively new Allen County Historical Museum building was one of the highlights,” the Plain Dealer magazine wrote. “Here, among other things they saw early music boxes, an old-time country store, antique autos, a restored Victorian home and a vintage locomotive.”
After a visit to the refinery and lunch, the rail fans were taken to B-L-H, builders of power shovels, road grading machinery and asphalt plants. “The rail fans listened raptly as a company old-timer told of happier days when the factory, then known as the Baldwin Locomotive Company, made only the snorting ‘iron horses’ that are no longer a factor in the nation’s rail systems,” the Plain Dealer magazine wrote.
B-L-H eventually became Clark Equipment Co. before closing permanently. The massive South Main Street site was razed in the early 2000s. The last passenger trains on the Erie-Lackawanna ran in 1970 while the Pennsylvania and B&O suspended passenger service to Lima in 1971. Amtrak then took over passenger service but its last train pulled out of Lima in November 1990.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.