August 7, 2013
LIMA — Carl Rhoda had been a blacksmith for 62 years when he talked to The Lima News for a July 1974 story on dying American crafts.
Rhoda was the last blacksmith in Lima. Starting in 1913, he had done nearly everything involving fire and metal at Rhoda Brothers General Repairing and Welding in the 100 block of South Union Street.
“I’ve repaired lawn mowers, clamps for drawing lumber and bicycle frames,” Rhoda said in 1974. “I know a man who works side shows in county fairs and carnivals. Every year he brings me the hammers from the high striker to repair.” Carl Rhoda, president of Rhoda Brothers, was still working several hours a day at the shop when he died in 1979. He was 83 years old.
Carl’s older brother Harry started working at Rhoda brothers as a child. On his 100th birthday in September 1984, Harry Rhoda recalled shoeing while his father Charles Rhoda shoed. Harry Rhoda told The News he chased flies away from the horses for 10 cents a week. Harry Rhoda died at 101 in 1985.
The original Rhoda Brothers, William and Charles, were the sons of Christian and Anna Maria Shook Rothe who came to America from Germany in the mid-1850s. The family name was later changed to Rhoda. They settled in Allen County where Christian pursued the trade of blacksmith. William Rhoda was born in Westminster in 1858 and Charles Rhoda the following year.
The brothers were educated in the public schools in Allen County’s German Township. In the mid-1870s, at 17 years of age, William Rhoda came to Lima to apprentice as a blacksmith, according to a 1921 history of Allen County. Following his apprenticeship, William Rhoda was employed as a journeyman by J.C. Blocher. By 1883, he was a partner in Blocher and Rhoda blacksmith shop in the 100 block of South Union Street.
At 19, Charles Rhoda began dividing his time between working on the family farm and learning a trade, training as a blacksmith at Blocher and Rhoda beginning in 1884, according to the history. By 1890, William Rhoda had bought out Blocher and brought in his brother Charles as a partner.
“Founded in 1883 as a two-anvil shop, it initially specialized in blacksmithing and wagon repair,” a 1971 Allen County Historical Society story noted. “The original shop, a wooden structure, was located on the west side of South Union Street directly across from the present location at 117 S. Union St.”
An ad for Blocher and Rhoda in the 1880s gives some insight into the shop’s early years. “Will furnish you 4 buggy wheels and tire for $10 or with axles for $14, and paint your buggy for $7.50.” Horses were shoed for as little as $1 per horse including the cost of the shoes, and presumably the shoeing.
Prior to 1900, according to the 1971 historical society article, Rhoda Brothers also dabbled in the wholesale side of the business. “The brothers purchased horseshoes and nails in quantity lots. A car load consisted of 50 kegs each containing 100 pounds of horseshoes in assorted sizes … These were sold by the keg to blacksmiths from all the surrounding towns and villages.”
A Lima Times-Democrat article from Aug. 5, 1901, showed one of the unique dangers a blacksmith shop in Lima, at that time in the midst of an oil boom, faced. Rhoda Brothers’ workers were building a fire to heat a heavy tire (the metal band around the outside of a wagon wheel). “The wood that was used included several pieces of an old wagon bed that had recently been removed from a nitroglycerin wagon (nitroglycerin was used to get oil wells flowing.) Some of the pieces had been saturated by the dangerous fluid and when the fire reached them the explosion resulted,” the Times-Democrat reported. No one was injured but several windows were blown out.
An Aug. 22, 1908, Times-Democrat article reported a happier occasion. “Rhoda Brothers, the wagon makers on South Union Street, have just completed and delivered to the Wash Simmons Truck Line the largest wagon in Northwestern Ohio. Mr. Simmons ordered the wagon built for use in moving the heaviest of objects, such as big safes, monuments, etc., and the order read to make one that would haul anything that ever came to Lima. The completed wagon looks as if it could easily do that.”
The completed wagon weighed three tons, the newspaper said, “showing that it will take pretty good horses to pull it without a load.” Indeed, when the wagon was delivered, Simmons’ shed floor “collapsed under the great weight of the vehicle.”
In November 1915, according to the Lima Daily News, the Rhoda Brothers moved their blacksmith and carriage repair business to a new building at 117-119 S. Union St. William Rhoda died in February 1925, and Charles Rhoda in October 1923.
After the deaths of the founders, Charles Rhoda’s son Carl and William Rhoda’s son Otto took over the business.
September 1921 saw the company combine with Frey-Jones Pattern Works. “The company specializes in commercial truck bodies and cabs, winter tops for pleasure cars and wood and metal products of every description,” the Daily News reported. The Allen County Republican Gazette reported May 10, 1923, that the firm was erecting a plant at Jackson and McKibben streets.
In July, 1924, the company unveiled “the latest design in economical motor bus transportation” the “Rhoda-Ford” a “12-passenger sedan coach” built on a Ford chassis, the Republican Gazette reported.
Less than two years later, on April 25, 1926, the Lima News reported the Rhoda Body Manufacturing Co. was in bankruptcy. Rhoda Brothers survived and by the 1940s farm repair and welding were added to its services. In the 1970s, the business moved to 131 S. Union St.
Carl Rhoda’s son-in-law, Burdette Vermillion, told the News in July 1974, that the job had changed a great deal over the years.
“When Lima as the center for fitting wagon wheels in this part of the state, blacksmiths heated metal bands that went around the wheel rim in the forge to get a tight fit,” he said. “Many of them did horse shoeing and jobs now done by welding, such as joining two joints. Now the job encompasses much more. He (Carl Rhoda) makes tools and reshapes and retempers old tools, rehandles shovels, spades and axes, and does work on farm machinery and construction equipment.”
Rhoda Brothers, at the time one of Lima’s oldest businesses, closed in 2001.