Remember toy cap guns? Most youngsters — at least the boys — who grew up years ago do. We occupied many hours playing cowboys and indians with them.

After finding out that Kenton, Ohio produced 6 million Gene Autry repeating cap pistols from 1937 to 1952, I had to take some time to visit the government seat of Hardin County on my way back from Lima on Memorial Day weekend.

Just a block off the square on the side of a building is a beautiful mural showing Gene Autry on a rearing horse with the Kenton Hardware Co.’s red brick plant behind. Autry actually visited the factory in 1938.

The plant still stands on the south side of town and is occupied by a business. It is quite dilapidated, though. Founded in 1890, it was one of the nation’s largest cast iron toy firms. There’s an Ohio historical marker down the street.

Autry became known as the town’s "economic savior" and the pistol as the "toy that saved an entire town," because the cap guns vaulted the town out of economic doldrums. Gene Autry Days took place in Kenton starting in 1994, but it is no longer an annual event.

Autry was a singer of western songs and the star of dozens of western movies and TV shows. He also owned the Los Angeles Angels professional baseball team. He died in 1998.

Kenton is a quaint town, with its downtown district surrounding the Hardin County Courthouse. It was the home of Lt. Jacob Parrot, the first Congressional Medal of Honor winner, and it boasts an old downtown theater showing first-run movies.

Not far from the square is the Hardin County Armory, built in 1893 and one of Ohio’s oldest and most unique. It has a large ballroom for wedding receptions, dinners and meetings.

Adjacent to the fairgrounds is the Hardin Historic Village and Farm, which features a one-room school built in 1893, the Ada railroad building (1879), log cabin (1877), a jail (1861) and barn (1880s) filled with antique farm machinery and other relics.

Although it was not open when I passed through town, Kenton also is home to the Hardin County Sullivan-Johnson Museum, with a large display of Gene Autry cap pistols, info about Jacob Parrot and paintings and prints by a well-known local resident.

 

MORE  ABOUT  LIMA

Many readers of this column are familiar with the White Castle hamburger chain, but most probably don’t known about Kewpee Hamburgers. The fast-food chain was founded in 1923 in Flint, Mich., and its current headquarters is in Lima.

There are only five remaining restaurants — three in Lima, one in Lansing, Mich. and one in Racine, Wis. I drove by the downtown Lima site, which occupies a small porcelain enamel and stainless steel building. The location was opened in 1928.

Kewpee is the second known chain of hamburger fast-food restaurants. It  is named after the Kewpie doll, and was one of the first to institute curbside service, which later morphed into drive-in service, and then into drive-thru service.

The Veterans Memorial Freedom Flag Monument in Lima, erected in 2007, is situated between the Lima Tank Plant and Husky Energy refinery. With five stainless steel vertical panels, it is the largest known permanent flag monument in the U.S.

The Lima Tank Plant actually is called the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center. It is a government-owned, contractor-operated facility currently operated by General Dynamics Land Systems.

In 1942, the plant began producing many vehicles for World War II, including the M5 light tank and the M26 Pershing tank. M1 Abrams tanks were first assembled there in 1980. As of last July, the factory was producing 11 Abrams tanks a month.

During a trip to Ohio this March, President Donald Trump visited the plant.

Husky Energy is a Canada-based company. The plant can process 158,400 barrels of oil a day into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, residual fuels and petrochemical feedstocks.

The refinery accounts for a quarter of the total gasoline consumption in Ohio, and produces nearly 2 billion gallons of refined petroleum every year. Plans are being made to increase the refinery’s capacity. A refinery has operated in Lima since 1886.

 

OTHER   HIGHLIGHTS

I passed through the small town of Harrod east of Lima and visited Veterans Memorial Park, which is an impressive sight. It is adjacent to where the Shay locomotive I wrote about previously is located.

The park features granite blocks devoted to each war the U.S. has been involved in, an M-60 A3 tank, 155 mm Howitzer, USS Texas anchor and a Huey helicopter setting high atop a support pole.

The park was built and is maintained by the Auglaize Township Historical Society. It was a fitting place to visit on Memorial Day.

Many communities honor the memories of war dead and veterans who served or serve in various branches of the military. Locally, Aurora, Twinsburg and Macedonia are among towns with veterans memorial parks.

Aurora’s is in front of Barrington Town Square and has a large granite monument surrounded by flagpoles. Twinsburg’s is beside the VFW Post, and Macedonia is in the process of adding several features to its park on Route 82.

Meanwhile, during my visit to Delphos, I walked by and examined the St. John’s Catholic school facilities. The oldest building at the complex dates to 1913, with several additions made over the years.

St. John’s High School has been a state basketball power over the years, with nearly a dozen trips to the state tournament. I watched the Blue Jays play at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus in the early 2000s.

Delphos is a town of 7,100 residents on the former Miami & Erie Canal. The city's name is derived from the Greek god Delphus.

On my way to Lima, I stayed overnight in Mansfield, where I stopped by one of my favorite craft breweries — Phoenix Brewing Co. There was a nice crowd on hand, with a band playing on the patio.

The brewery is celebrating its fifth anniversary, and is located in the beautifully restored, 103-year old former Schroer Funeral Home and Mortuary building. It’s in the Carousel District downtown.

Other towns previously not mentioned that I passed through on my weekend journey are Upper Sandusky, Bucyrus, Galion, Ontario and Wooster. The trip progressed through nine counties.

I was not far from Ada, home of Northern Ohio University and the Wilson football manufacturing plant, and Bluffton, home of Bluffton University. Former Aurora  Advocate reporter and Hudson Hub-Times editor Bill Hammerstrom graduated from Bluffton.

Reporter Ken Lahmers can be reached at 330-541-9400, ext. 4189 or klahmers@recordpub.com.