Reminisce: Those baseball rail excursions were memorable

With unbridled and, as it turned out, completely unwarranted optimism, the Lima Citizen in June 1961 declared that a late August doubleheader between the then-Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox “should have a big bearing on the American League baseball race.”

It didn’t. The White Sox won both games and went four games up on Cleveland – for fourth place in the American League. Both teams would hold those positions for the remainder of the 1961 season, which ended with the Yankees winning another American League pennant.

June, however, was a time for optimism. Cleveland had not yet begun its annual nosedive in the standings, and, besides, the Citizen had tickets to sell for its first Citizens Baseball Special promotion. For less than $16, fans got a round-trip railroad ticket to Chicago, a grandstand seat at the games and bus transportation from Union Station to Comiskey Park and back. “The train will feature air-conditioning and a refreshment car with food and beverages,” the Citizen wrote.

While the Citizens’ trip was a good deal, a baseball excursion sponsored by the Lima Knights of Columbus to Cincinnati that same long-ago August Sunday was just $9, good for round-trip rail fare and a seat at a doubleheader between the Reds and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds swept the doubleheader to take a 3 ½ game lead over the Dodgers for first place in the National League. That October they lost the World Series to the Yankees 4 games to 1.

Writing in February 2019 about the death of Frank Robinson, one of his childhood baseball heroes, Lima News guest columnist Bob Seggerson recalled a baseball excursion to Cincinnati in 1961 to watch Robinson and the first-place Reds play the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Those baseball excursions were memorable,” Seggerson wrote. “While the fathers fished beers out of large tubs of ice water in the train’s box car, their kids roamed the passenger cars in acts of unbridled enthusiasm, absent any adult supervision. They were the best days of summer.”

Lima, which in the mid-20th century had passenger rail connections in all directions and abounded in fans of the Reds, Indians and Tigers, was a frequent starting point for those “best days of summer.” An excursion on the Nickel Plate in September 1954 for a doubleheader between the Indians, who won the American League pennant but lost the World Series that season, and the Yankees attracted more than 500 local fans who filled 11 coach cars.

The rail excursions had been popular for about as long as there had been railroad passenger service and baseball.

In July 1910, on a page advertising rail excursions to Toledo for $1 via the Ohio Electric Railway and Niagara Falls for $5 on the Lake Erie & Western railroad, is one for a baseball excursion to Cincinnati. For $1.50 fans could travel to Cincinnati on the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton railroad to take in a game between the Reds and Brooklyn. A year later, an ad in the Lima Republican-Gazette touted a baseball excursion to Cincinnati and Newport, Kentucky. For $1.65, fans could take in the Reds game against Brooklyn or cross the Ohio River to see Wapakoneta’s baseball team play a semi-professional team of some repute sponsored by the Wiedemann Brewery.

Excursions were also popular with businesses. An April 1913 excursion to Toledo for a Mud Hens game known as “Willys Outing Day” after Toledo-based Willys Overland Company, which had recently entered a business partnership with Lima’s Gramm-Bernstein Motor Truck Company, was delayed by rain and rained on by Lima politicians, who transformed an offer of free tickets into a political statement.

“Socialist Councilmen (Clarence) Flinchbaugh and (W.S.) Shook are averse to accepting any ‘special privilege’ from the corporation while Mayor (Corbin) Shook and Safety Director (Edwin) Blank are inclined to view the invitation in the same light,” the Lima News reported April 22, 1913.

And then rain washed out the game, leaving the Willys Day sponsors with 700 box lunches intended for the excursion. “Three hundred of the boxes, filled with sandwiches, pie, eggs, fruit and other goodies, were passed out to the Willys-Gramm men,” the Republican-Gazette reported April 27, 1913. “More boxes went to the inmates of the Rescue Home and the Door of Hope” with the remainder going to other needy people as well as “to those in the recent flood district.” Lima, like much of Ohio, had been devastated by flooding in March 1913.

Willys Day 1913 was finally held in early May and the Lima Gramm-Bernstein contingent was introduced to their new partners. “When the Lima section of the parade entered Swayne Field (the Mud Hens ballpark) to witness the baseball game, which was the feature of the day’s entertainment, the 7,000 Willys employees rose and gave such a demonstration of welcome as is seldom seen,” the Republican-Gazette wrote May 6, 1913. “President (John North) Willys gathered the Lima guests about him in his private box and from that time forward they were in the center of the picture.”

Mostly, though, the excursions were more about baseball (and raising money for the sponsors) than business. In a September 1957 article on Lima’s service clubs, the News noted that the clubs often sponsored baseball excursions, “for which the ‘donor’ gets a train ride and a first-hand view of a Major League baseball game.”

Baseball was truly America’s pastime in the middle of the 20th century and the railroad excursions extremely popular. “A large crowd of Lima district fans is expected to join an excursion to Cleveland Sunday to see the Indians in action at Municipal stadium against Chicago,” the Morning Star and Republican-Gazette wrote September 24, 1932. “The excursion over the Nickel Plate railroad is the final of a series which hundreds of Lima fans have joined throughout the season.”

At times Lima residents not only attended the game but were part of the festivities, as in June 1936 when, according to a June 26 front-page story in the News, “Lima’s crack American Legion drum and bugle corps will go to Cincinnati” to compete with bands from other states at Crosley Field. “The event will be one of the main attractions at the night baseball game between the Reds and Chicago Cubs,” the newspaper wrote.

More often, however, the game and the players were the touted attractions. In 1958, the Knights of Columbus sponsored two excursions, one to Detroit and one to Cincinnati. “The Detroit excursion offers baseball fans what might be the last season of Ted Williams as a regular …” the Citizen wrote May 2, 1958. “At Cincinnati fans will get a chance to see Wally Post, St. Henry, in action in his first year with the Phillies.” Williams, who spent his entire Hall of Fame career with the Boston Red Sox, retired in 1960. Post played in the Major Leagues from 1949 through 1964, spending most of that time with the Reds before stints with the Phillies, Twins and Indians.

Although baseball maintained its popularity into the 1960s and beyond, rail passenger service was in trouble. In 1959, although the Baltimore & Ohio, Pennsylvania and Erie Lackawanna railroads continued to offer passenger service to Lima, the Nickel Plate discontinued passenger service between Lima and Cleveland. By 1971 they were all gone, replaced by Amtrak.


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].