LIMA — Bluffton historian Fred Steiner recounted a time when riding the rails was commonplace.
Steiner was the keynote speaker for the 113th annual membership meeting of the Allen County Historical Society.
Bluffton’s interurban service included 40 trolleys a day that went through the village in 1907. It provided a quick way to get to Lima and points even beyond that, like Cleveland.
It ran from 1906 until 1932.
“When the interurban came in suddenly you could go to Lima at 55-60 miles an hour straight down to the (town) square,” Steiner said. “It made things a lot simpler. Salespeople from Lima could come and sell fruits and vegetables and in two days the interurban would bring them so it was just a convenience that was unheard of.”
There were five separate interurban companies in Lima. Bluffton had one that went to Lima called the Western Ohio Railway.
“That meant that every time it crossed a track, it had to stop and the motorman had to get out and make sure it was ok to proceed. It was an awkward situation, but it worked,” Steiner said.
The interurban cars themselves ran on overhead electric wires and were painted in distinctive colors.
The Western Ohio Railway cars were green with gold lettering.
The Cleveland Limited from Lima to Cleveland were painted yellow.
The failure of the interurban can be traced to transportation progress and the economy.
“It failed because of the advance of automobiles and the condition of roads and the Great Depression didn’t help at all,” Steiner said.
Remenants of the interurban in Bluffton can still be found, but you have to dig deep to find it.
“They’re embedded in cement inside the village limits and they just can’t dig them out so there they are. They’re six inches under the top (of the street),” Steiner said.
There’s been talk of bringing back passenger rail service to the area but Steiner isn’t so sure it will ever happen.
“The Ohio Department of Transportation’s biennial budget is $4.4 billion. The railroad portion of that is $60 million so it’s just not going to happen,” Steiner said.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.