EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
Findlay’s Belt Line Railroad of the period starting with the oil and gas boom days and extending into the 20th century linked up the communities industries and helped solve some of their transportation problems.
A history of the belt line and its operations was put together by (the late) Don Smith, of Findlay, from his reading of the old Findlay newspaper files. Mr. Smith made a hobby of examination of these volumes of newspapers of other years and thereby obtained complete running accounts of many happenings in earlier years here. He made available to the writer his story of the Findlay Belt Line Railroad from these sources. In a series of articles starting this week, we shall follow the interesting story of this old railroad line.
The discovery of what was thought to be an inexhaustible supply of natural gas in the 1880s brought many industries to Findlay, especially glass manufacturing concerns for which gas was an ideal source of fuel. They established their plants north of the Blanchard River for the most part. They were situated on both east and west sides.
THE EXISTING RAILROADS could not properly serve their needs. Interchange of freight cars between lines was slow and not satisfactory. So a belt line, such as many large cities possess, hooking up with all railroads, was conceived.
On April 4, 1887, the Findlay Belt Line Railroad was organized, with $100,000 capitalization. Directors were Joseph Ramsey Jr., George W. Fox, Charles H. Rockwell, George W. Saul, E.T. Dunn, John A. Scott and J.L. Davin. Mr. Dunn was a prominent Findlay attorney and Mr. Scott was a Findlay capitalist who was greatly interested in industrial development in addition to the operation of his wholesale liquor business. Mr. Ramsey was chief engineer for one of the railroads entering Findlay.
Plans called for an immediate start on work on the line, which was to run 10 miles in length. Initial surveys were made and right-of-way negotiations begun. But developments were slow and differences of opinion and debate between the railroads on various phases of the project held actual work up. It was to be more than three years before construction work finally got under way.
Findlay was actually witnessing a railroad war. Some of the lines refused to interchange freight cars for some time. This situation held up belt line progress to a considerable extent. The charge was made that the lines were loathe to give up “fancy” charges they were making for their services to the new industries.
THE RAILROAD LATER KNOW as the Baltimore and Ohio, running between Findlay and Deshler, was still not into Findlay. The line was first constructed between Deshler and McComb and did not get into Findlay until late in the 1880s. While the discussion was going on in Findlay with regard to the belt line, and when right-of-way problems developed in some area for the road, there was talk of routing the new McComb-Findlay line directly east from McComb to follow the tracks of the Nickel Plate to Mortimer (North Findlay), and then straight south down to Findlay, making the line’s tracks in northwest Findlay a part of the proposed belt line, to get around right-of-way controversies. But this did not develop and the line from McComb followed a diagonal course into Findlay, arriving before the belt line was finished.
During the more than three years that intervened between the initial organization of the belt line and the start of the work, there was gradual progress. In July, 1889, the line petitioned the Findlay City Council for authority to cross some Findlay streets. But wrangling still continued between the existing lines in the new belt line. At an Aug. 2, 1889, meeting of council which the representatives of the various railroads attended, there was spirited discussion of the whole affair.
Finally, plans all seemed to be worked out and the major controversies appeared resolved. It looked like work would start in the spring of 1890, but it was to be December of that year before the newspapers reported that work was finally under way.
Next Week: More about the Belt Line Railroad.