Lima’s ‘hidden’ museum holds open house

LIMA — “Every time we put on an open house, we still find people who haven’t been here,” said Wayne York, coordinator of open houses and John H. Keller Memorial Sr. advisory board member for the Lincoln Park Railway Exhibit.

After Sunday’s four-hour open house, however, around 450 people found this hidden gem of a museum and explored the locomotive, cars and caboose on display at 199 S. Shawnee St. in Lima, one block northwest of Lima Memorial Hospital near the Lima Fire Museum.

York has been the open house coordinator for roughly the past decade and was affiliated with the organization for the past 20 years. Keller Sr. personally designated York to help look after the museum after Keller passed away.

“I knew John Keller, Sr. personally before he died, since high school. He was the mover and shaker that made it all happen,” York said. “He had remarkable foresight in historic preservation.”

York explained this is because Keller, Sr. worked for the Nickel Plate Railroad and knew in May 1949 that this would be the “Last of the Mohicans,” yet he imagined that “there would come a day when he wanted the City of Lima to acquire it by donation when the railroad retired it.”

The locomotive on display, number 779, is 101 feet long and is the last steam locomotive built at the Lima Locomotive Works in 1949 and was retired in 1958. They built diesel locomotives for two more years, but that venture proved less successful and production ceased.

When steam locomotives were produced, there were no set sizes — standardization into a few basic types would not be implemented until the days of diesel engines. Each steam locomotive was custom designed and built for the railroad’s needs. The preserved locomotive on display contains 99 percent of its original parts but is non-functional. It has not run since 1958. A retired Nickel Plate engineer was on-hand in the cab of the locomotive to explain all the driver’s compartment controls like the steam whistle, throttle, headlight, air brakes and reverse lever.

An Ohio historical marker was erected on the south side of the Lincoln Park Railway Exhibit in front of this locomotive in 2002 by the Ohio Historical Society.

The other part of the train essential to its function is the caboose. John Keller Jr. was present to explain the one on display. He was well versed on the subject because his father had worked in the caboose on trips to Belleview and Frankfort, Indiana.

At approximately noon, passengers on a diesel-powered train called “Lima Limited” exited for a three hour stop in Lima. Passengers were traveling from Springfield on a vacation excursion offered by the Ohio Rail Experience.

They spent about 45 minutes on an historical tour of the Lincoln Park Railway Exhibit. The scheduled open house, which was open for anyone to attend, was centered around this train’s stopover.

York explained that the track between Lincoln Park and Springfield was originally owned by Henry Ford in the 1920s and was used for shipping raw materials to and vehicles from Detroit.

In addition to serving on the Lincoln Park Railway Exhibit, York has been a 50-year intermittent volunteer at the Allen County Museum and Historical Society as a train history consultant. That museum houses a full-sized Shay locomotive built in Lima in 1925.

“Shay-patented geared locomotives are slow but powerful,” and “Lima-built shays are still up and running around the world, including Taiwan; they’re used to haul materials from mines, quarries and logging,” said York. For example, Shay engines were used to haul the stone quarry material taken from both sides of I-75 in Lima to be used as concrete to build roads and buildings.

There are many books on the subject for those interested in more information about Lima Locomotive Works. The Allen County Museum is also working on a film preservation project to transfer old film to electronic format, which may result in a new DVD.

Reach Shannon Bohle at 567-242-0399, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Bohle_LimaNews.

Shannon Bohle covers entertainment at The Lima News. After growing up in Shawnee Township, she earned her BA at Miami University, MLIS from Kent State University, MA from Johns Hopkins University-Baltimore and pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge. Bohle assisted with the publication of nine books and has written for National Geographic, Nature, NASA, Astronomy & Geophysics and Bloomsbury Press. Her public speaking venues included the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, the Smithsonian and UC-Berkeley, and her awards include The National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest and a DoD competition in artificial intelligence. Reach her at [email protected] or 567-242-0399.