Lima Locomotive Works
One thing that Lima, Ohio was known for at the beginning of the 20th
century was making quality steam locomotives. The Lima Locomotive Works was
part of what made Lima famous. They made more Shay geared locomotives than
anyone else in the world. They were so well known that they captured twenty
percent of the market from the larger firms on the East coast. The Lima Locomotive
Works played a large part in Lima's history and is remembered fondly by many of
The Lima Locomotive Works started as a small planing mill in 1859. Shortly after
it's founding it was taken over by a group of industrialists from Wooster, Ohio
and renamed the Lima Agricultural Works. It was just another typical machine shop
that repaired agricultural equipment for farmers in the area. For the first few
years the company prospered in Lima but in 1866 the shop was closed because of the
death of the local business partner A. R. Chapman.
It was reopened only after members from the town were able to find another group
of investors to put up the money to buy the Agricultural Works. The new owners
named the business Carnes, Harper & Company but operated the plant as the Lima
Machine Works. It was reopened in 1869 and was reorganized in 1870 when Harper
withdrew and renamed the Carnes, Argerter & Company.
At this time the business was still repairing agricultural equipment
and they also began producing new products like the Carnes Oscillating Saw Mill
and other products directed at the lumber industry. This relationship with the
lumber industry would increase and by 1880 was almost the exclusive market for
their equipment . It was a lumberman from Michigan who set the Lima Machine Works
on a course that would change the company and all of Lima.
In 1878 Ephraim Shay contacted the Lima Machine Works to build a new steam
locomotive that he had designed. Instead of using rods like the current locomotives
the Shay was geared to provide more pulling ability for use in the lumber industry.
The first Shay locomotive was built in 1878 and was such a success that many people
in the lumber industry wanted one. To accommodate the new demand for the locomotive
Shay licensed the right to build his locomotive to the Lima Machine Works, which
expanded and began to ship Shay locomotives to lumberman across the frontier. Two
years later locomotives were the main product being produced by the Lima Machine
Works, which would produce over 300 locomotives during the next ten years.
After ten years of success in building the Shay Locomotive the company went
through another reorganization in 1892 to raise more capital for expansion. The
company was sold to the newly incorporated Lima Locomotive & Machine Company,
which was owned by the former owners, but added more area businessmen to the list
of stockholders. As part of this reorganization they bought out the old Lima
Car Works, which added railroad cars to their list of products.
Difficulties arose for the Lima Locomotive Works when the plant at the old Lima
Car Works burned down. After the reorganization plans had been made to move into
the South Lima car works plant. These plans had to be scrapped because of the
fire and a completely new facility had to be built in South Lima the next year
for the car works. A new locomotive shop was not built until 1902 because of financial
difficulties in 1896-1897. The company was bringing in so little money that they could
not afford to fund any outside ventures like the Car Works and a casting company, which
were closed shortly after they began. In 1900 to consolidate the stock situation of the
company a new deal was struck and the six founding families of the machine works bought
up all the shares in the company, each family owning 500 shares. After this took place
construction was begun on a completely new locomotive plant in South Lima.
After the new plant was completed all production was focused there and the old plant
located on East Market Street was sold. These next years were the best for the Lima
Locomotive Works as Shay production soared and profits rose right along with them.
The geared locomotive market was completely dominated by the Lima plant.
By 1910 the company was in completely in the control of three men, A.L. White, Ira
Carnes, and W.T. Argerter, who had outlived the three other partners and bought out
their shares in the company. As profits continued to raise the owners of the company
struck out into different ventures. They started the Ohio Steel Casting Company to
produce castings for the locomotive plant, a vacuum manufacturing company, and the
Gramm Motor Truck Company. All of these ventures were paid for with profits from the
The period of high profits and expansion did not last for the Lima Locomotive Works,
in 1912 when the loco plant was in need of cash for expansion projects many of the side
ventures begun before had to be sold off to help pay for improvements. It was at this
time that the partners decided to enter the Class I locomotive market instead of focusing
on the Shay market. The conventional locomotive market seemed to be going strong and this
seemed like a smart move. To pay for this maneuver the company was reorganized again under
the name of the Lima Locomotive Corporation in 1912 and construction on a new shop was
After completion of the new shop the company proceeded to start producing Class I
railroads and had brought in Merle Middleton to help with the transition from Shays
to conventional locomotives. Middleton kept the orders coming in, but many of the
locomotives were produced at a loss to the company. By 1916 the company could no longer
pay its workers and was forced to sell out to a firm in New York just to keep the
company afloat . This ended any local control of the company, but succeeded in keeping
the jobs in Lima.
As the Lima Locomotive Works entered the 1920's the new owners decided to scale down
production and make the plant as profitable as possible. They did this by bringing back
the Shay locomotive to try and get as much money as they could from the product that
made Lima known for locomotives . The problem was that by this time the market for Shay
locomotives had declined in favor of the conventional locomotives. In the end the Shay
could not be resurrected and was considered obsolete by 1930.
What did bring success back to Lima was the new concept of "superpower" developed by
Lima's mechanical engineer William E. Woodard. By making significant changes to the
boiler system on conventional locomotives he was able to make the locomotives more
powerful, he summed up superpower by defining it as "horsepower at speed." It was named
the A-1 locomotive and after a highly successful series of tests it was sent around
the country to make the idea of superpower known. The superpower locomotive revolutionized
the steam power industry.
As the Great Depression hit the company was relieved of its fortunes, yet survived
better than some other companies because of its strong financial situation. Locomotive
production ceased for almost two years, yet the company continued to look into new innovations
in steam power. The Great Depression did not spell the end for the Lima Locomotive
Works. It would be another twenty-two years before the plant would close, but the
years of huge profits and high market shares was over for the Lima Locomotive Works.
During World War II The Lima Locomotive Works took part in the war effort. This helped
bring employment to its all time high of 4,300. There they produced not only locomotives
for domestic use, but also tanks and special locomotives for military use, of which over
1,100 were produced. To produce the M4 Sherman tank for the Army a 200,000 square-foot
manufacturing facility was built behind the existing shop buildings. But the gains
brought on by the war were not to last, with the conversion of the railroad industry
to diesel-electric engines, The Lima Locomotive Works' days were numbered. The business
in Lima built steam locomotives and could not make the change to diesel.
In 1947 to try and stay competitive Lima Locomotive Works joined with General
Machinery Company of Hamilton, Ohio, a diesel engine builder. The new company called
The Lima-Hamilton Corporation did not have enough time to develop a competitive diesel
locomotive. In 1949 they did introduce a line of switchers, but only 147 were built.
By 1950 The Lima-Hamilton Corporation decided to merge with Baldwin, but the declining
economic health of both companies did not bode well for their merger.
In 1951 locomotive production was suspended at the Lima plant. There was still
production of cranes and road-building machinery, but after a number of mergers
this company was sold to Clark Equipment Company in 1971. The Clark plant closed
in 1981 and the history of the Lima Locomotive Works was over. Over the course of
its life the Lima Locomotive Works produced 7,752 locomotives; 4,787 conventional,
direct connected steam locomotives; 2,761 Shay, geared locomotives; 174 diesel-electric
locomotives; and 30 strait electric locomotives.
Thus ended an era for Lima industry. For 73 years locomotives had been produced in Lima.
Lima had produced high quality locomotives that were still running all across the United
States. With the demise of the Locomotive Works industry in Lima took a major hit and would
have trouble recovering. While locomotives are no longer made in Lima fans of steam locomotives
and those who remember the days when steam power allowed this country to function will remember
the Lima Locomotive Works and what was accomplished there.
Eric Hirsimaki, The Lima Locomotive Works, Locomotive and
Railway Preservation, March-April 1991.
Raymond F. Shuck, A Brief History of The Lima Locomotive Works,
(Lima, OH: The Lima Historical Society Press 1983).