What's interesting about the Lima Locomotive Works is that it was originally founded to build farm and general machinery equipment, not steam locomotives for the railroad industry. The company began as the Lima Machine Works and it was Ephraim Shay's venerable geared locomotive design in the 1870s that ultimately led Lima to producing steam locomotives
as its primary product of sale. Lima was never a large locomotive
producer and remained the third largest builder throughout its tenure
but it was on the cutting age of new steam technology and designs.
Aside from its license to build the Shay the company is also famous for
its development of the 2-8-4 "Berkshire." Lima was never as successful
in the diesel locomotive market and after merging with Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1951 the Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton Corporation exited altogether by 1956.
A rare New York Central Lima road-switcher, #6210, works the Englewood yard near Chicago on April 21, 1965. The unit was built in September of 1950 but by this date had already been repowered with an EMD prime mover.
The Lima Machine Works had its start in 1869 setting out to build farm
and sawmill machinery. The company gained its name from where it was
headquartered, Lima, Ohio. However, less than ten years into business
and the company found itself being requested to build a unique type of
steam locomotive designed by Michigan logger, Ephraim Shay. In the late 1870s through Shay's design and Lima's
manufacturing ability the first prototype was turned out and eventually
sold to a Michigan logging operation. Soon after the advantages of the
design sparked mass interest, particularly by logging companies looking
for a locomotive which could pull heavy tonnage over steep grades and
rickety track. The demand for the Shay and license to build it
ultimately led Lima to end machinery production and build steam locomotives full time. By 1892 the company had reorganized itself as the Lima Locomotive & Machine Company.
For more reading regarding Lima's history please click here. Geared steam locomotives function differently in one significant way from their standard rod-driven brethren (the common steam locomotive), they use a vertical or angled geared system as opposed to a standard horizontal driven rod for propulsion. How geared steam locomotives work, according to William E. Warden in his book West Virginia Logging Railroads, is that these cylinders drive a flexible line shaft with universal couplings and slip joints through bevel gears.
This flexibility thus allows each truck to negotiate the track
independently of the other, thus keeping the locomotive on the rails and
allowing it to operate over almost any type of track (which was usually
nothing more than rails laid directly onto a hillside).
In the instance of the Shay steam locomotive design it gained propulsion through three vertical cylinders mounted on the right
side of the boiler, which was then offset to the left to kept the
locomotive properly balanced (also of note, Shays used Stephenson valve
gear). And, because all geared steam locomotives have all of their
trucks powered, they provided excellent adhesion and could climb grades
well over 5% (something all but unthinkable on main line railroads),
although this high adhesion factor limited its speed to under 20 mph. Through the early 20th century the Shay was Lima's primary
However, by 1912 Lima had reorganized itself as
the Lima Locomotive Corporation to focus fully on building main line steam locomotives
that incorporated both speed and power for Class I railroads. It again
changed names in 1916 to Lima Locomotive Works, Inc. when the company
was purchased by Joel Coffin. Into the 1920s and as the Lima Locomotive Works' production
ramped up the company built several conventional steam locomotive
designs such as 4-6-2 Pacifics, 2-8-0 Consolidations,
2-6-2 Prairies, and conventional switch engines (i.e., those with no
front or trailing trucks). However, the builder truly distinguished
itself in the mid-1920s when it developed the 2-8-4 Berkshire by way of
its ingenious engineer, William Woodward.
Pickering Lumber Company three-truck Shay #7 arrives at rural Tramway, California with an excursion on September 4, 1971. Today, she sits on display at the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park in Jamestown.
Working in conjunction with the New York Central railroad Woodward
intended to improve the USRA Mikado design (2-8-2), which lacked
sufficient speed and horsepower. Based initially from a NYC H-7 Mikado
design, what Lima ultimately came up with was a locomotive that included
a larger, 100 square foot firebox that necessitated the need for an
extra trailing axle giving the locomotive (designated a Class A-1) a
2-8-4 wheel arrangement. This new locomotive would get its name, Berkshire,
because of where it was first tested, the Berkshire Hills on the Boston
& Albany Railroad (owned by the NYC) in 1925. After very successful
tests against a Class H-10 Mikado where the Class A-1 easily
outperformed the Mikado (the Class A-1 left Selkirk Yard nearly 50
minutes after the Class H-10 and pulled a train
that was over 600 tons heavier, yet arrived at North Adams Junction ten
minutes ahead of the Mikado!), the B&A quickly ordered 45
In all some nineteen different railroads would purchase the
successful Berks with the Erie Railroad owning the most, 105; in all
over 600 of the locomotives were built from the three largest
manufacturers, Alco, Lima and Baldwin. Of note regarding the Berkshire
was the 90 owned by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway who called them Kanawhas. With the success of the Berk, Lima looked to improved and/or
build other larger designs such as the 2-10-4 Texas Type and 4-8-4
Northern. The builder looked to further its steam locomotive technology
with the development of a 4-8-6 wheel arrangement, which had an even
larger firebox than a Northern but the locomotive was never built. In 1947 the Lima Locomotive Works merged with the General
Machinery Corporation to form the Lima-Hamilton Corporation.
time steam was waning in favor of the diesel-electric and in 1949 Lima
outshopped its final steamer. Between 1949 and 1951 Lima had just
enough time to develop four switcher types, one road-switcher, and a
transfer unit before merging with the Baldwin Locomotive Works to from Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton (BLH). Under Westinghouse control since 1948 Baldwin's purchase of
Lima-Hamilton was to diversify its interests outside of the locomotive
market (LH, of course, was well known for its heavy machinery business).
Interestingly, Westinghouse control came just as Baldwin management was
more focused and interested in strongly competing against Alco and EMD
in the diesel-electric market. However, this was not to be as
Westinghouse did not share a similar philosophy. For further reading about the company please click here.
Lima Locomotive Works Diesel Models
Please note that the below model designations are generic, Lima never cataloged their diesels with a specific name.
Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 #765 pulls an excursion near Ithaca, Michigan on a July morning in 2009. The Berkshire was built by Lima in 1934 among a fleet of 80 the road would roster.
BLH ceased production on diesels by 1955 and a year later had
exited the market altogether focusing on the heavy machinery business
instead. In 1965 BLH was sold to Armour & Company, which itself was
purchased by the Greyhound
Corporation in 1970, which dissolved BLH by 1972. Listed below are the
few diesel-electric models Lima was able to build independently before
merging with Baldwin. Please note that the model numbers included here
were assigned by railfans and historians after the fact to distinguish
the various units, at no time did Lima ever provide such when
manufacturing diesel locomotives.