A Great Ohio Engine: The Story of the Lima Gas Engine

A look at the Lima and Swan gas engines manufactured by the Lima Gas Engine Co.


| December/January 2016



Lima Engine

The Coolspring Power Museum’s circa-1905 25 hp Lima engine.

Photo by Paul Harvey

Lima, Ohio, is a city of 38,000 located in the northwestern part of the state. Although the prosperity of the early 1900s has passed, it still supports two major industries. First is the Ford Motor Company engine plant, recently expanded, that makes all the engines for their F-150 pickup trucks. Second is the Lima Army Tank Plant that builds and maintains all the M1 Abrams tanks and their successors.

The town of Lima was established in 1831, and soon became the county seat of Allen County. It was named in honor of Lima, Peru. Located on the Ottawa River, it soon became the crossroads to five major railroads, which spurred its industrial growth. Probably best known was the Lima Locomotive Works, which soon rose to be the third largest builder of locomotives in the nation. Lima built all of the famous Shay gear drive locomotives, as well as an extensive line of main line locomotives.

Its major contribution was William Woodward’s design of the super-power locomotive. This entailed a huge firebox, suspended over a large rear truck assembly, to provide the heat needed to make steam for very large and fast locomotives. These monsters found use pulling gigantic coal trains easily over the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The largest class was a 2-6-6-6 wheel configuration and weighed 389 tons. They produced 7,900 horsepower! They were the heaviest steam locomotives ever built, and one is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Lima saga

Oil was discovered near Lima in 1885, and for the next decade, the Lima field produced more crude oil than any other location in the world. The demand for locomotive equipment, oil field equipment, and all sorts of supply houses and machine shops certainly painted the picture of the environment we find the Lima gas engine entrenched in. This is the story of the short and hectic tale of that engine.

The Lima Daily News of Jan. 4, 1905, announced that the John Swan Co., builders of Swan engines, had brought suit to have its name changed to the Lima Gas Engine Co. There were new directors and John Swan, whose name adorned the company’s engines, was eliminated from the company.

The January 1905 issue of Gas Engine Magazine informs us that Lima Gas Engine Co. was making engines from 2-1/2 hp to 100 hp in a 4-cycle design with a crosshead. The 1906 edition of History of Allen County Ohio mentions that Lima is still building the Swan engine. It does not give design details; there is no information to tell or explain the slight differences between the Swan and the Lima and when the changes occurred.