LIMA — Lima workers were ready when a breakthrough came to town.
The July 29, 1927, papers announced Lima’s Garford Motor Truck Co. merged with Relay Motors Inc., of Wabash, Ind. Relay had previously acquired Service Motors Inc., also of Wabash, and Commerce Motor Truck Co., of Ypsilanti, Mich.
The $5 million deal was major news: “This is considered the largest motor truck merger in the history of the industry.”
Relay Motors Co. said it planned an output of 25,000 within the year at the plant at Fourth Street and Dixie Highway. The company announced a need for 500 men for the manufacture of a new heavy-duty axle.
“Industrial Lima is swinging into an area of industrial advancement and prosperity on the basis of developments of the weekend which were of national interest, according to business leaders of the city,” reported a July 31, 1927, newspaper story.
A demonstration of the truck was quickly arranged.
“A truck manufactured by Relay Motors Inc. was driven over railroad ties, coal piles and ruts in the demonstration of the principle which to date has been applied to heavy duty trucks only,” an Aug. 3, 1927, story reported.
The axle was special for a variety of reasons: “It is said to differ in principle from any axle heretofore used, in trucks, buses or passenger cars. Briefly, the principle permits the load to be lifted before the rear wheels move and by applying it at the forward edge of the rear wheels adds to its leverage to the power of the motor. It is claimed for the Relay Axle that on trucks so equipped the rear wheels never leave the ground on the roughest road, with the result that tire life is increased.”
Company engineers and the like were moved here from Indiana, with the company enlisting Lima’s real estate agents to find suitable housing for everyone.
Lima’s first commercial air trip was in November — admen from an agency in Detroit were flown in to discuss Relay plans.
Business boomed. Sales and service schools were held at the Lima plant, and trucks and salesmen were sent out to participate in trade shows and increase orders. A two-reel motion picture of the trucks in action was produced by Visugraphic Pictures in late 1929 to add to displays.
A public demonstration was held for Limaites at the Public Square, and a tour was organized for boys ages 9 to 16 in 1929. That day, 180 boys took part to learn about Lima’s contribution to the economy.
It was a world economy, with many trucks headed to South America. One truck — a passenger bus — was sent to Havana in 1929.
The plant was running at capacity by 1930. There were five new models, a dump truck, six-wheeled truck and bus among them.
“Practically everything but the motor is manufactured at the Lima plant,” according to a June 1, 1930, story. Even the nuts and bolts were made there. The motors were shipped in and installed in Lima. A sandpit and hill out back tested the vehicles before they were shipped out.
The 300A, a six-wheeled truck with two engines, performed a demo haul over the “Ridge Route.” This tough, twisty climb was between Los Angeles and Bakersfield, Calif. The truck shaved an hour off the usual time.
“The two engines may be used in combination or one at a time, a development that will appeal to heavy duty truck operators, it is pointed out. The opportunity for saving on gasoline and oil consumption by cutting off one of the engines when the truck is running empty or with a small load is a considerable factor of economy,” a story from Jan. 1, 1931, reported.
It wasn’t enough.
“The plant has been virtually shut down for many months and very few workers will be affected by the receivership, which has been termed a friendly one,” a Oct. 14, 1932, story reported.
Enter Consolidated Motors Corp. When the news about possible work hit, the company received more than 500 applications. But there was soon trouble about the purchase, and the former president of the company ended up in court for violating a federal banking act. The newspapers show bad loanmaking combined with a good deal of bribery.
On June 14, 1936, some good news: Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Co. bought the Relay building for $100,000.
“Business leaders here were elated, predicting that this city is on the road to the greatest prosperity in its history. They see a real estate boom in South Lima and other sections, new stores springing up and removal of the final traces of depression,” according to a June 30, 1936, story.
Westinghouse cleaned out the old Relay equipment and retrofitted the building for its own uses — making small motors used in refrigeration and air conditioning units. Westinghouse’s first product made here, which happened to be washing machine motors, came off the line Dec. 28, 1937.
A 31-page special section in The Lima News previewed a public open house on July 8, 1937. Every department was examined, from explaining the safety precautions in place at the plant to describing the recreation rooms — built for card games on breaks and employee functions afterhours.
But it was not to last. Westinghouse Electrical Corp. sold the building to Sundstrand in 1992, and Sundstrand was done by 1996. The building currently is home to Allen County Department of Job and Family Services.