World War I howitzer restored

LIMA — The Allen County Museum will unveil a newly restored 1918 Howitzer cannon on Saturday.

Workers from Spallinger Millwright in Lima began the restoration of the cannon 18 months ago when the company agreed to help move oversized objects that were part of the museum’s collection and were being stored offsite.

“It’s funny how this whole thing happened,” said Amy Craft, Allen County Museum director, in a news release. “We were not looking to have the howitzer restored when Scott (Spallinger) let us know he was interested in restoring the cannon. It was just perfect to have a local company willing, able and interested in working with the museum to unexpectedly take on such a huge restoration project.”

Spallinger Millwright is a family-owned business that provides custom millwright and welding services and specializes in structural steel fabrication and installation, sheet metal, pressure vessel, machining and Hardox wear plate needs.

The cannon is a 1918 Schneider Model and came to the museum from the Lima Ordnance Depot in 1957. The cannon was the 75th made out of a total of 1,789 howitzers manufactured by the American Brake Shoe and Foundry Company in Erie, Pennsylvania, in December of 1918.

According to the Firelands Military Vehicle Group, all U.S.-built 155 mm howitzers were sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland for assembly. The artillery was then sent to Camp Perry in Port Clinton, Ohio, to the Ordnance Depot for testing and shipping. The carriage weighs 7,600 pounds and the shell weighs in at 95 pounds.

While this gun was test-fired into Lake Erie, none of the pieces of artillery made in the U.S. went overseas before the Armistice was signed.

According to war department records, the forgings were made by Bethlehem Steel, Standard Forgings Company, and Standing Steel Company. The wheels had some damage and deterioration, while the rims and rubber were in fair condition.

With assistance from the museum staff, Spallinger looked for experts who could help restore the wheels. They were restored by Stutzman Buggy Shaft and Wheel Works as part of the project. For the last step, Spallinger contacted Whitney Painting and Sandblasting in St. Marys for the historically accurate paint scheme. Whitney graciously donated its time and work to the project. Whitney’s team included Cameron Aller, Dave Whitney, Mike Whitney, Jason Solomon, Jason Erb, and Harads Williams.

“Spallinger Millwright’s team’s passion for the howitzer’s history and craftsmanship shone through in their work,” said Brittany Venturella, director of curatorial affairs at the museum, in a news release. “They read the manual to learn about the howitzer’s mechanics, fabricated a part of a compartment that was rusted away and even built a custom mount for the entire piece.”

By stripping away the layers of paint they discovered further details.

“Their team discovered details that allowed us to unlock parts of the piece’s history, including manufacturers and brass labels explaining how to operate the howitzer. As we worked together, their team’s excitement was infectious.

The work was a collective effort by the Spallinger team which included Scott Spallinger, Ron Alger, Mike Vonderembse, Kodi Alger, Brian Spallinger, Scott Hall, Keith Cote, and Jerry Lynch. They volunteered hours of their own time to complete the project.

“What is truly incredible about the project is the amount of detail Spallinger put into it. Pieces of the howitzer were disassembled to remove layers of paint, dirt, and grime then reassembled,” Craft noted.

It has been a privilege to work with Spallinger Millwright and we are deeply grateful for enabling us to share the howitzer’s story for the first time in years,” Venturella stated.

The Spallinger team working to assemble the Howitzer. (L-R Mike Vonderembse, Scott Spallinger, Ron Alger and Kodi Alger, kneeling)

Spallinger team members: Kodi Alger (L), Mike Vonderembse (R) and Ron Alger in backgound.

Mike Vonderembse and Kodi Alger work together on the howitzer.

18-month effort by local company, museum

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