"God Bless, and Save America"

Lima, Ohio's Servicemen's Free Canteen,

The longest operating canteen in the United States at 28 years, having served troops in WW II, Korea and Vietnam


The Ohio Historical Marker dedicated at Lima, Ohio, October 18, 2007 in ceremonies at  City of Lima Utility Office  424 N. Central Avenue, (former Pennsylvania Railroad and Amtrak Passenger Station).

Servicemenís Free Canteen

The Lima Chapter of the American Womenís Voluntary Services Organization established a community-based, free canteen during World War II for troops traveling on the Pennsylvania Railroad and adjacent Baltimore & Ohio-Nickel Plate Railroads. Meeting as many as forty trains a day, the ladies served 2.5 million troops between 1942-1945. Food, coffee, and other items were donated to the canteen from a twelve county area. The "AWVS" disbanded in 1945, but succeeding volunteers continued to provide service throughout the Korean Conflict and Viet Nam War. Limaís "Servicemenís Free Canteen" was the longest, continuously operated service canteen in the United States. An estimated four million soldiers, sailors, and marines were served between 1942-1970.


The Ohio Historical Marker dedicated at Lima, Ohio, October 18, 2007.  The speaker is Scott D. Trostel, author of several books on America's WW II canteens. The marker is covered prior to its unveiling.  In the background is a locomotive of the Chicago, Fort Wayne & Eastern Railroad, brought in special for a salute.  Out of the photo is a restore WW II sherman tank.  This is the third canteen marker dedicated by Mr. Trostel.

 The marker can be viewed at the City of Lima Utility Office  424 N. Central Avenue, (former Pennsylvania Railroad and Amtrak Passenger Station).

The volunteer efforts at Lima's track side canteen is a profound and unequaled humanitarian effort. As a spontaneous community effort, volunteers were on the station platform with baskets of food and beverages.  From a small white hut stands the shining record of humanitarianism and generosity of the people of Lima and Northwestern Ohio to the troops. 


Longest operating Community canteen in the United States at 28 years (1942 - 1970)

Largest of 12 Ohio Canteens

Second largest in the United States during WW II

Estimates of military served                                                            4,000,000 

Calendar Days of volunteer service at the station                           10,170 days

Amount of donated food that was served                                       2,500,000  pounds of food 

Beverages served                                                                                      187,500 gallons

Trains met                                                                                                  146,000

Volunteers  who served                                                                             10,000

Lima was on heavy traffic routes of three railroads for eastbound troop traffic heading to ports as the European war unfolded. During 1945, there was a surge of returning veterans.

Volunteers greeted troops with warm welcomes, friendly smiles, baskets of food and other treats. Canteen fare included selections of sandwiches, varied desserts, beverages, magazines, newspapers, and sundry items, all free, donated by residents of twelve counties in north western Ohio. An almost universal food was bologna salad sandwiches Made fresh just before the next train's arrival. . Rationed foods including sugar, butter and coffee were sacrificed in homes, to be used at the canteens. There were over 9,600 homes preparing food for the canteen during WW II, all donated. Another 600 volunteers met trains, in any weather and under sometimes sever conditions. Special holiday food menus were offered. Grateful troops responded with joyful song, an impromptu gesture of appreciation received with tears of joy. They also wrote letters and poetry in repayment for the kindness of strangers.
Canteens networked. On the Pennsylvania Railroadís Pittsburgh - Chicago main line, five existed between Chicago and Pittsburgh. Traffic surges allowed only a fraction of each train to be quickly served. Telegraph messages went to the next canteen to be prepared for arrival of hungry troops. Canteens at Alliance, Crestline and Lima, Ohio, were kept busy.
Volunteers came from every walk of life. Ellouise Larsen, a society lady from Lima founded the canteen. Her partner in this venture was a school teacher. Wives of soldiers volunteered, a few continued even after getting the dreaded telegraph their love one was missing, a POW or killed in action. Gold Star Mothers from Lima came one day a week to greet and served the troops, even though their son was gone.

Modeled after a successful canteen at Bellefontaine, Lima's was a small white hut on the station platform, built and furnished in just 16 days.

Lima's canteen served troops on regular scheduled trains, troop trains, hospital trains and allied troops from foreign countries. When the war in Europe ended this canteen became the collection point for clothing drives to help care for European war refugees. This is a powerful story that clearly reveals the humanitarian fabric of Lima, Ohio, and America.

When the first canteen was closed on November 5, 1945, the hundreds of volunteers refused to stay home. They continued making food in their own kitchens and greeting all the trains as troops returned from Europe and the Pacific en masse. The first canteen had been removed from the railroad site so the ladies used a section house to shield themselves from an awful winter until a sympathetic businessman donated a replacement canteen.

In 1950, the canteen was reorganized to meet the needs of troops moving through during the Korean Conflict. It continued operation on an annual vote of the volunteers taken in January of each year. A third canteen was built in 1952, to stand silent guard at the railroad station.

This canteen operated until September 12, 1970, serving approximately 4,000,000 troops over its span of 28 years of volunteer service. Lima's record for dedicated public service to the American military at a railroad station has never been surpassed. No other canteen achieved that level of volunteer service.

Skim down this page, view photos, read stories

Redirect me to the railroad canteen web site by clicking here


Former Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station at Lima, Ohio, site of the canteen marker.

This view looks east toward the former B & O - NKP crossing.




This map shows the two passenger stations at Lima plus Effie Hunts bordello. It was on the platforms of those two stations that four million troops were honored by the people of Lima and Northwestern Ohio during three wars. It is indeed hallowed ground where a good was rendered that shall never be forgotten.  Effie Hunt was compelled to do her part in support of the canteen during WW II.  As Lima's premier Madam, she charged extra to her customers in the form of sugar ration stamps which were then donated to the canteen to be used in baking cookies.  On Sunday one of the canteen ladies would go to the back door, gather the stamps and on Monday the volunteer cookie bakers would come to the canteen and get their sugar supplies for the week.  Today Effie Hunt's is a public park.



This American Womens Voluntary Service canteen poster hung over the food prep counter in the first AWVS Canteen building at Lima from 1942 to 1945. It is a depiction of the first track side canteen started at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in May 1861, to feed Civil War troops traveling on trains toward the battlefields. - ACHS collection












At Lima, Ohio, over 10,000 volunteers operated the longest operating track side free canteen for the soldiers in the United States, from WWII thru Korea to Vietnam, this was the largest WW II canteen in Ohio. 

Lima, Ohio, was a heavy industrial town in rural northwestern Ohio, It enjoyed three busy railroads crossing immediately east of the canteen.  Trains called at two railroad stations less than 200 feet apart.  At the station platform the girls provided dedicated service. Service men and service women from all parts of America were provided sandwiches, pies, cookies, coffee, magazines and friendly smiles as their trains paused at the Pennsylvania Railroad station and the joint Baltimore & Ohio Railroad - Nickel Plate Road passenger station. The girls met from 35 to 50 trains daily.

A group of the canteen platform volunteers pose for a photo during WWII.  They are standing next to the first canteen.  One of the food carts is visible in the background. -- Allen County (Ohio) Historical Society collection

From the Canteen hut adjacent to the Pennsylvania Railroad, volunteers made up many sandwiches, desserts, and snacks for each train. In three years of operation during WW II they offered refreshment to about 2,500,000 troops. Armed with baskets and carts of food, drinks magazines, and desserts, they served troops on passenger trains, entire troop trains, new recruits, returning veterans and wounded veterans on hospital trains. Every train was served no matter the hour, in summer's heat and some of the worst winter weather in 100 years. It all occurred in less than seven minutes per train stop.

Twelve counties in northwestern Ohio came together in an powerful gesture of support, making sure scarce and rationed food items were always available for use at the canteen.

The banquet held to honor WW II canteen volunteer on November 5, 1945. This is less than one-fourth of the volunteers who served at the canteen.  They refused to go home and the next morning reopened the canteen, operating it for another 25 years. -- Allen County (Ohio) Historical Society collection

The Canteen and Lima's Gold Star Mothers of WW II and Korea

At Lima, one of the gestures of the Gold Star Mothers*, many loyal, capable, and patriotic mothers who while sharing their grief and their pride, channeled their time, to gestures of giving at the track side canteen,  They came weekly and met many troops on trains, offering gifts of the community and a pleasant smile or a kind word in those few minutes.  Their dedication was to the highest level and several continued through WW II and the Korean conflict.  Their appearance at the canteens is seldom known, but at Lima, Ohio, they came and served to the best of their ability, working at times under most trying circumstances.

*WHO ARE THE GOLD STAR MOTHERS From a WW I tradition of displaying s small white flag in the window of homes, a blue star was displayed for each family member in the military service.  A silver star if they were foreign service duty. To signify the death of a family member while in active military service the Gold Star was substituted and superimposed upon the Blue Star in such a manner as to entirely cover it. The idea of the Gold Star was to recognize  the honor and glory accorded the person for his supreme sacrifice in offering for his country, the last full measure of devotion and pride of the family in this sacrifice, rather than the sense of personal loss which would be represented by the mourning symbols.

Realizing that self-contained grief is self-destructive, the mothers of these deceased sons and daughters devoted their time and efforts to extending the hand of friendship to other mothers whose sons had lost their lives in military service. The group consisting solely of these special mothers, Gold Star Mothers, with the purpose of not only comforting each other, but giving loving care to troops far from home. Hence the name GOLD STAR MOTHER.

The sad reality of war was that son's died on the field of battle.  Here are nine of Lima's Gold Star Mothers who made the greatest sacrifice for liberty and then went on to meet those many strangers in uniform and offer them food, drinks and a smile.  One lady only started to come to the canteen upon receiving the dreaded telegram, she brought cookies in memory of her son, and stayed on to help for the duration of the war. A couple of these ladies had sons killed in WW I. The only lady identified is Amanda Jennings, far right, whose son was killed in WW II.  -- Scott D. Trostel collection





Lima's Gold Star Mothers also served at the canteen during the Korean War.  Amanda Jennings is on the far right. They are standing in front of the second canteen building, that served as headquarters between 1946 and 1950. -- Scott D. Trostel collection










When the first canteen was closed on November 5, 1945, the hundreds of volunteers refused to stay home.  They continued making food in their own kitchens and greeting all the trains  as troops returned from Europe and the Pacific en masse.  The first canteen had been removed from the railroad site so the ladies used a section house to shield themselves from an awful winter until a sympathetic businessman donated a replacement canteen.

During the Korean Conflict the canteen activity picked up to near WW II levels.  Two volunteers stand in front of the second canteen.  The joint B & O - NKP station is in the background.  The ladies are standing on the platform for the Pennsylvania Railroad station.  -- Allen County (Ohio) Historical Society collection

In 1950 the canteen was reorganized to meet the needs of troops moving through during the Korean Conflict. It continued operation on an annual vote of the volunteers taken in January of each year.  A third canteen was built in 1952 to stand silent guard at the railroad station. 

In 1952 a new and larger canteen was built on the site of the two prior canteen structures. It served until closed in September 1970.  The canteen was moved to private property. Several of the women in this photo served all 28 years this canteen was in operation.  -- Allen County (Ohio) Historical Society collection

This canteen operated until September 12, 1970, serving approximately 4,000,000 troops over its span of 28 years of volunteer service.  No other canteen achieved that level of volunteer service.

A group of the canteen volunteers greet troops circa 1958.  -- Allen County (Ohio) Historical Society collection

Identified Canteen Volunteer Groups Post-Korean Conflict

Elida E.U.B. Church   Elida, Gold Star Mothers - Lima, Blue Star Mothers - Lima, Allentown WSCS - Lima, St. Marks Church - Lima, Antioch Christian Union - Lima, Women's Christian Fellowship - Lima, Y-Twenties - Elida, First Baptist Church - Wapakoneta, Women's Relief Corps - St. Marys, Ottawa River Church - Columbus Grove, Navy Club Auxiliary - Lima, Willing Workers - Lima, Shawnee Grange  - Lima, S & S Club - Waynesfield, Shawnee Community Club - Lima, Semper Fidelis Class - Cairo, American Grange - Delphos, Have Fun Club - Lima, Wayne Grange - Lima, Auxiliary to Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers - Lima, V.F.W. Auxiliary - Lima, Harrod Cong. Church - Harrod, Logan Grange - Buckland, Mystery Sisters - Lima, Patriotic Club - Lima, Friendly Helpers - Lima, Jollyettes - Lima, 6th Ward Boosters - Lima, B'Nai Birith - Lima, Pangles Employees - Lima, Nifty Nine  - Lima, Market Street Church of God - Lima, Goodwill Club - Lima, Lima Missionary Baptist Church - Lima, Bath G.A.A. - Lima, Eagles Auxiliary - Delphos, Cootiettes - Lima, Ocho Club - Lima, Pilgrim Council - Lima, Pleasant View Church - Columbus Grove, Loyal Ladies Class - Lima, Liberty Chapel WSCS - Lafayette, Blue Star Mothers Bluffton - Bluffton, Algar Busy Bees  - Algar, Glen Side Club - Lima, Union Center Grange - Lima, Gold Star Mothers - Lima

Identified Organizations Supporting the Canteen During WWII
Lima Locomotive Works, West Point Methodist Church, Liberty Chapel, Lafayette Methodist Church, Lafayette Congregational Christian Church, Lafayette Lutheran Missionary Society, Aloa Club  of Lafayette, Lafayette Grange,  Country Benefit Club, Hires News Agency, St. Paul's Church, Wapakoneta, St. Lukes' Lutheran Church,  Pythian Sisters, Mothers Progressive Club, Cooperative Club, Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing - Lima plant,
Sugar Creek Grange, American Legion - Lima, Veterans of Foreign Wars - Lima, Electra Circle Grand Avenue Methodist Church, Girl Scout Troop No. 1, D. A. Church - S. Metcalf Street, Defiance Milk Products Co., Leatherwood Grange, Deisel-Wemmer-Gilbert, Westminster Methodist Church, Dr. Edward B. Pedlow MD,  Cooperative Club,
McDougal Farms, Bernard Church, Vaughnville Union Church, Cremean Meat Market, St. Mathews Lutheran Church, Cridersville Jr. O.U.A.M., B'Nai B'rith, Shawnee Country Club

Identified Towns and Counties Supporting the Canteen During WWII
Ada, Allentown, Bath Township, Beaverdam, Bluffton, Buckland, Cairo, Celina, Coldwater, Columbus Grove, Cridersville, Delphos, Defiance, Eldora, Elida, Findlay, Fort Jennings, Fort Shawnee, Gomer, Harrod, Hume, Jenera, Kenton, Lafayette, Lakeview, Leipsic, Lima, Marysville, Maysville, McComb, Middle Point, New Hampshire, Ottawa, Pandora, Perry Township, Pleasant Hill, Riley Creek, Rousculp, Shawnee Township, Sidney, South Warsaw, Spencerville, Sugar Grove, Troy, Toledo, Uniopolis, Vaughnsville, Wapakoneta,  Waynesfield, Westminster

Allen, Putnam, Auglaize, Mercer, Miami, Hardin, Van Wert, Logan, Union, Defiance, Hancock, Shelby


On this web site you will find more information about the Lima Canteen at the CANTEENS tab and on the HOME page

For additional information buy and read the book, LIMA'S OPERATION KINDNESS

Buy the book NOW!