Mike Engle locates rare Valentine diner in Gardiner, Maine

A Valentine Double Deluxe model. This image is from an article
published in the Summer 2003 issue of Kansas Heritage entitled
“Nothing Could Be Finer Than A Valentine Diner”.

A while back entrepid diner hunter Mike Engle ( co-author of “Diners of New York”) clued me in to a pdf file of an old newspaper clipping that was found in a search at an online Newspaper Archive. It was from Page 20 of the Kennebec Journal out of Augusta, Maine dated December 3, 1965. It featured a small article about the grand opening of a brand-new Valentine Double Deluxe Diner on the Brunswick road in Gardiner, Maine.

This was a surprise to me as I did not know that any late model Valentine’s made it into New England. These “portable steel sandwich shops” as Valentine Manufacturing Company out of Wichita, Kansas billed their product, looked nothing like the diners built on the east coast. I was aware that at least 2 smaller Valentine’s (Little Chef models) made it to my hometown of Medford, Mass. in 1948 or 1949. The “Double Deluxe” models were much different even from the “Little Chef” models. For one thing, the Double Deluxe models were usually built in at least 2 sections and the facade was made up of large windows and a flat roof that slanted up and overhung the front and sides of the building.

I stored the pdf file in my computer and sort of forgot about it until today when I read on the RoadsideFans Yahoo Group post about Mike’s recent journey to Central Massachusetts and into the State of Maine. He talked about visits to the Kenwood Diner in Spencer, Mass. as well as the Boulevard Diner of Worcester and Tim’s Diner in Leominster.

He then ventured up into Maine to check out the newly reopened Miss Portland Diner. From there he got up to Gardiner to have a meal at the A1 Diner. As he was driving out of town he purposely looked for and found the Valentine diner that was mentioned in the 1965 newspaper article.

I contacted Mike and he reminded me of the newspaper article and I promptly found it in my archives. He also was nice enough to send me 3 photos of the diner now known as Dave’s Diner.  As seen in the photos below, the exterior is unrecognizable as a Valentine but the interior seems to be fairly intact.

exterior of Dave’s Diner, photo courtesy of Mike Engle

interior of Dave’s Diner, photo courtesy of Mike Engle

interior of Dave’s Diner, photo courtesy of Mike Engle

Here is the text of the old article from the Kennebec Journal…..

Modern Pat’s Diner Opens,
Housed In Unique Building

The new Pat’s Diner, replacing a smaller wooden building, will have its grand opening this weekend, beginning today, in the new facilities on the Brunswick road.

Business growth during the eight years that the J. A. H. Miville family have operated the restaurant has led to the move. Miville explained that the building’s design is unique, the first of its type in Maine and only the second in New England.
Of pre-fabricated design, the building is all steel and has special insulation. Basic exterior design is of steel and glass. The interior has baked enamel finish and stainless steel fixtures. The restaurant includes a modern ice making machine, full refrigerator facilities and air conditioning. It is gas heated.
Manufactured in Wichita, Ka., the restaurant was transported in two sections the 2,000 miles to its Gardiner location on trailer trucks. It arrived here about three weeks ago at 9 o’clock in the morning and by 4 that afternoon, Miville said, it was in place on the special foundation which had been installed on the site of the former wooden building. Miville said the restaurant lot has been surfaced providing large parking areas.

Hours are 7 a.m. to midnight Sunday through Wednesday and 7 a.m. to 1 or 1:30 the following morning Thursday through Saturday. Eventually the restaurant may remain open all night. Miville said presently about eight are employed.

The cook is Henry Levesque, Gardiner, who with his wife operated the former Pat’s Diner on a lease basis for the Miville’s for about a year.
 The diner’s name comes from Miville’s wife’s name. She and the sons have general charge of the operation. In addition to his association with the family business, Miville is also employed here.

The page also contained ads congratulating the Miville’s on the opening of the new diner from different companies that provided services, food and equipment for the diner as well as one from the diner itself touting the Grand Opening. In fact at the top of that particular ad, the owners stated… “We Invite You To Visit Our New.. Valentine’s Double Deluxe, The Ultimate In Diners. The Only One Of Its Kind in Maine, Seats 35, Air Conditioned, Modern”. It also had a small menu of Opening Specials that were dirt cheap as far as prices go, but remember, this was 1965.

New scratch-built Diner models

Star Lite Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 817, circa Dec. 1948
Photo courtesy of the Medford Police Department

I have been working off and on in my spare time since April of 2007 on 2 “HO” size scratch-built models. Originally I was just going to make a smaller version of a model I built back in 1995, the former Star Lite Diner of Medford, Mass. The model I built back in the mid-90’s is approximately 30 inches long and has a complete interior.

The new version would be much smaller and would only be the exterior. The other difference was that I was going to include the foundation, stairs and on-site annex building that housed the kitchen and restrooms. As seen in the above photo, (the only photo known to exist) only shows one side wall of the building in the rear.

When I used to frequent the diner back in the mid-1960’s the side entrance was enclosed all the way back so if you were in the diner and wanted to use the restrooms, you did not have to walk outside.

Anyway, this diner was gone by 1967 or 68 and the only remnants on the property were what was left of the old foundations which were eventually overgrown with weeds. Around 1985 the property was developed for a new Burger King restaurant. When they started to clear the land, the contractors uncovered what was left of the foundation of the diner. I took one slide of the uncovered foundation for posterity.

In starting to build the new model I had to know if the back building was similar in size (left to right) to the diner. I referred back to that slide and from what I could tell the 2 foundations were the same length. For the other 3 walls of this kitchen annex I used my imagination, even though I may have seen them when I was young, I do not recall what was there as far as windows and doors.

Front and left elevation of Star Lite Diner model

Front and right side elevation of Star Lite Diner model
with Pepsi sign.

Left and rear elevation of Star Lite Diner model

Right and rear elevation of Star Lite Diner model

When the construction of these models were underway, I realized I did not have the tools to facilitate the fine detail I needed for windows, etc. I knew I was going to use my computer graphics skills to create the porcelain panels with the name of the diner and “Booth Service” panels as well as all the stripes that Worcester used for decoration. When the window details proved too tough I decided to do them on the computer as well.

Portside Diner, Danversport, Mass. Originally the Cape Ann Grill
of Gloucester, Mass.

The second model came about because of the 651 diners built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company, only 2 were built to this size. Number 813 was originally the Cape Ann Grill of Gloucester, Mass. This one was built prior to the Star Lite and was delivered in June of 1948. It stayed in Gloucester until circa 1960 or so and was moved to Danvers, Mass. where it became the Portside Diner.

Ironically when I first started documenting diners back in 1980, I was always looking for a photo of the Star Lite Diner and for years I could never seem to locate one. One day in the mid-to-late 1980’s, I was sitting at the counter in the Portside Diner when I swivelled on my stool and looked around really quick. It suddenly dawned on me that it was pretty much the same as the old Star Lite! Yeah, I know that most Worcesters from that period of time were similar, but these virtually were identical in the configuration of the interior.

As I may have stated in an earlier post, it wasn’t until 1991 when the one and only photo (the one at the top of this post) came to light. This only confirmed what I had already discovered, the 2 diners were almost clones.

On the outside the biggest difference is the Star Lite has two overhangs, one on each end. Usually Worcester had these overhangs as a sort of canopy over a side entrance. In both of these diners there were only side entrances on the right side, the left side was all windows. The left side really did not need the overhang and in fact the Cape Ann Grill did not have one.

I believe when the Star Lite was built, either Worcester Lunch car or the owner Jim Theodore (or both) decided that the building did not look balanced and they designed the diner with an overhang on the left side as well as the right.

The other difference is that the Cape Ann Grill is one of the few Worcester Lunch Cars from this period that does not have “Booth Service” panels.

Front and left elevation of Portside Diner model

Front and right elevation of Portside Diner model

Left and rear elevation of Portside Diner model

Right and rear elevation of Portside Diner model

A Diner Christmas

Back in 1983, my pal Steve Repucci decided to give me a personalized Christmas gift. It was totally a surprise to me. It was a sheet of paper (or maybe two, I did not find the original copy for this post) neatly typed by Steve’s sister-in-law, Linda. It was a poem Steve wrote, basically rewording the famous Christmas poem “A Night Before Christmas”. He titled it  “A Diner Christmas”.

A few years ago, Randy Garbin published it in an issue of Roadside Magazine but I thought I would put it on the blog and get it out there on the web. I also decided to include images from a Christmas Card put out by “American Greetings” in 1984. It was very ironic that the card basically depicted a portion of Steve’s narative for the poem. The card was designed by someone name Kathy Lawrence.


Twas the night before Christmas,
And all through the diner,
Not a creature was stirring,
It couldn’t be finer.

The Victors were stacked
By the coffee urns where
They waited for patrons
Who soon would be there.

The cook was preparing
Tomorrows chipped beef,
And I drinking Bromo
To get some relief.

When out in the parking lot
There arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my seltzer
To see what’s the matter.

Away to the windows
I flew like a flash,
Tore open the blinds
And stared with a gasp.

For what to my wondering
Eyes should appear
But a little red sleigh
And eight fuzzy reindeer.

With a little red driver
More lively than quick
I knew in a moment
It must be St. Nick.

He jumped from his sleigh
And stalked for the door,
He looked pretty bushed,
All tired and sore.

As I pulled from the window
And was turning around,
In through the door Santa Claus came
………….With no sound.

No bundle of toys
Did he have on his back
He stood like a cab driver
Out of his hack.

His eyes were all bloodshot,
His red cap askew,
He paused for a moment
To collect himself…Phew.

But he spoke not a word
As he made for a seat,
He just nodded for coffee,
He looked really beat.

Java and pie
Is all he would need,
With carrots for reindeer,
Instead of some feed.

He started to perk-up,
Then got to his feet,
His eyes were a twinkle
His cheeks red as beets.

He stood there agleam
From his shiny red nose
Down the front of his suit
To the tip of his toes.

And he chuckled and laughed,
A right jolly old fellow,
And his belly was bouncin’
Like Cookies best jello.

Then laying a finger
Aside of his nose,
And taking a sidestep
Stage left, out he goes.

Down the steps to the lot
Then across to his sleigh,
With a laugh, Ho, Ho, Ho,
Once again on his way.

He jumped in the seat
Put his goggles in place,
Threw a scarf round his neck
That half covered his face,

Shouting Dasher, on Dancer,
Now Prancer and Vixen,
Lets go Comet and Cupid
C’mon Donder and Blitzen.

Then they rose from the lot
Flying over the street,
Back up into the night,
Time to finish their beat.

But I heard him exclaim after,
Thanks for the bite,
Merry Christmas to all,
And to all a good night.


Steven T. Repucci
Christmas, 1983

Lowell, Massachusetts’ Four Sister’s Owl Diner gets make-over

The Owl Diner, circa mid-1980’s photo copyright Larry Cultrera

I got an email from Bob Higgins recently. He wanted to let me know that something was happening with the Four Sister’s Owl Diner in Lowell, Mass. He asked if I knew anything about it and that he thought he heard that Richard Gutman had possibly been consulting with the owners of the diner.

Well I informed Bob that I did know what was happening but I was waiting to actually post the news on the Diner Hotline blog. You see Dick Gutman called me about 2 and a half months ago and asked if I wanted to collaborate with him on something. Then he told me of the consulting job he was doing with the Shanahan’s on the Owl Diner.

For some background, the Owl Diner is Worcester Lunch Car No. 759. It was built in 1940 as the Monarch Diner for the DeCola Brothers of Waltham, Mass. and was the flagship in a chain of diners the family had in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. It operated in Waltham until 1950 or 51 when it was replaced by a large stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner.

The original was sold and moved to Lowell, The porcelain panels that said “Monarch” were removed at this time and replaced with panels that said “The Owl”. The original typeface that Worcester used was their “Italicized” font that they developed for these streamlined models. (See Monarch photo below)

Monarch Diner photo courtesy Louis DeCola

Curiously, when Worcester ordered the new panels for the left side of the front door, somehow the new name was done in their more familiar Old English style font, leaving the panels on the left side with the original Italicized font. I suspect that the words “The Owl” fit that side better in the Old English font than if they had used the Italicized one.

Well, to get back to what currently was happening with the diner, Dick told me that he was designing a larger vestibule for the diner that was actually covering more of the front wall. This new vestibule was to be large enough to act as a waiting area for customers. This meant that most of the old porcelain panels were to be removed. Dick’s design called for the new vestibule to have a monitor roof, mimicking the original diner roof.

Photo showing current construction for new vestibule at Owl Diner

Photo showing current construction for new vestibule at Owl Diner

He also needed to design new porcelain for the whole front of the diner including the new vestibule. He had contacted Vicki Corum Helms of Cherokee Porcelain Enamel Corporation down in Knoxville, Tennessee. He had worked with her quite a few times in the past on other diner projects. Vicki gave him new basic quotes for the price per square foot for porcelain covered steel panels and also informed him that the company now was not accepting hand drawn mechanical drawings for the panel artwork. They now utilized vector-based drawings (like from Adobe Illustrator). That is why Dick contacted me. He knew that I was fairly proficient with Adobe Illustrator and asked if I could convert his drawings to ones that Cherokee could use.

Starting from the left front corner of the diner, there will be a new corner panel, a new “Booth Service” panel and a new “blank” panel with a notch for the new steps into the vestibule. From there we will go to the front of the vestibule and the panels on the right side. Below you can see the mock-ups for the main panels that I created.

These panels will be on the new vestibule

 Because the  new vestibule was taking up more space, to fit the new panels that said “Diner”, the “Booth Service” panel ,on the extreme right side was sacrificed.

The panels on the right side beyond the vestibule

I finished the drawings on Thanksgiving weekend and Dick sent jpeg’s to the contractor to verify dimensions. He got back to Dick with one change on Thursday and I implemented the change and sent the final artwork to Cherokee on Friday night. Now that the drawings are sent I could finally let my faithful readers know what I’ve been working on in my spare time. I cannot wait to see the diner with the new panels from artwork created on this very computer! Hopefully these will appear in the next couple of months.

The closing of Norm’s Diner was shortlived (as we had hoped!)


Just last month we posted the news that Groton, Connecticut’s Norm’s Diner was closing. It was mentioned that owner Norm Brochu was looking for someone else to run the place after the previous manager Dan Logan decided not to continue running the diner and concentrate on his other business, Dano’s Pizzeria and Lounge. Well thanks to Bill Waterhouse for sending along the news and link to the article that appeared in yesterdays “TheDay.com” piece on the reopening of this late model Silk City Diner.

After 30 Years Of Waiting Table, She’s New Boss

By Katie Warchut    Published on 12/8/2008


Groton – If you’ve ever gone out for a diner-style meal in the area, Brenda Trask is likely a familiar face. She has waitressed for 30 years at The Shack, Bee Bee Dairy, Rosie’s Diner and more – those popular joints where service is fast and friendly, and the food a reliable comfort.

While she was raising her daughter alone, she would work 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at one place, and 3 to 10 p.m. at another. At one point, she even juggled three jobs at a time. She always fantasized about having her own little place, but it wasn’t until now that she has had the chance.

Her husband of six years, Mark Trask, who owns Bremar Construction, gave her the ultimate Christmas present: Norm’s Diner. ”She deserves it,” he said. It will also be a nice gift for Norm’s regulars, who saw the place shuttered a month ago by former manager Dan Logan, owner of Dano’s Pizzeria & Lounge.

Brenda didn’t even know Norm’s existed until she stopped in one day. After inquiring about a job, she likes to joke that she was hired and fired in one day, over a miscommunication between managers. Fortunately, Rose Phelps, sister of owner Annie Brochu, (wife of the diner’s namesake, Norm Brochu) called her back the next day and offered her the job again.

 Trask left the job in June, but stayed in touch. So while Logan was planning to shut down Norm’s, Phelps asked if Mark and Brenda were interested in taking over. Since Brenda’s father’s name is Norm, all the parties decided it was meant to be.

The diner didn’t have one piece of silverware when the couple first arrived, but in one month they have replaced a 48-year-old stove, put up walls, painted, remodeled bathrooms and cleaned. Customers have stopped by, excited about the reopening, and some even lent a hand, Brenda said. Her daughter, Holly, who works at Paul’s Pasta, has also helped out.

Neat rows of mini-cereal boxes, mustard, ketchup and Hershey’s chocolate syrup were back Friday, as the Trasks prepared to open today. The menu is generally the same, with some additions, including a tribute to Phelps, the Rose Burger, topped with Swiss cheese, bacon and fried onions.

Mark has loftier goals, planning to reopen the country-western bar next to the diner, though it has been closed longer and needs much more work. The lease the couple signed gives them an option to buy the whole Bridge Street building, which greets drivers entering the City of Groton.

Brenda isn’t worried about the poor economy, because she knows the diner has a strong customer base. ”I’m not here to get rich,” she said. “I’m here to work for myself and give other people jobs.”

The diner will still have a 50s-style, though Brenda hopes some day she can replace the aging booths and other items. Phelps, who has been helping the Trasks reopen, remains proud the diner where she worked for 30 years has outlasted its competition. ”There’s young blood,” she said. “This is the future.”

Brenda, meanwhile, thanked her parents for babysitting during all her years of waitressing. She said she has worked hard all her life and plans to bring that attitude into her new, more daunting, job. But she is excited. ”I miss my customers,” she said.

Also here is the link to the article that has some nice comments.


Notes from the Hotline 12/6/08

Tim’s Diner, Leominster, Mass. Photo from early 1980’s
A more recent photo of Tim’s Diner, Leominster, Mass.

Breakfast at Tim’s Diner

Steve Repucci and I got together today for breakfast at Tim’s Diner in Leominster, Massachusetts. Tim’s is probably the smallest Silk City Diner in existence. Usually the Paterson Vehicle Company (manufacturers of Silk City Diners) built a standard model. They all generally looked the same in any given model year with the possible exception of interior color scheme and exterior porcelain stripe in the earlier years (that usually had the name baked right in). The sizes varied according to amount of seating but not by too much. This one came out of the factory in the smallest size they probably ever made.

This is certainly up there in my book as one of my favorites! I always enjoy my breakfast whenever I get out there (which is not often enough). When I first photographed it in the early 1980’s, it was still in original shape. It featured one of those small factory-built vestibules (not much bigger than the phone booth in the earlier shot) and was all stainless steel with a beige porcelain enameled stripe. Unfortunately within a few of years the diner was involved in not one but two accidents. It was struck by automobiles twice and suffered the loss of the vestibule and the wall to the right of the vestibule was pushed in slightly. If you sit in one of the booths on that side you will see the tile wall bulging in from the accident. So now the diner has light colored brickwork under the windows to hide the damage. In fact the brickwork where the wall is damaged was damaged again from the second accident!

Tim looked into getting a grant to get the diner restored but unfortunately nothing much has come from that. Anyway, if you are ever in the area, check out Tim’s Diner, it is located on Water Street one block off Route 12 in downtown Leominster. I highly recommend it!


Tumble Inn Diner, Saugus, Mass.

Under new ownership, Saugus’ Tumble Inn Restaurant becomes the Tumble Inn Diner in nod to history

Within the last month and a half the ownership of the Tumble Inn in my hometown of Saugus has changed, it is now run by Bob Penta. I first realized that something was going on when the panels in the sign hanging over the sidewalk were missing. The next thing I knew there were new panels and the word “Restaurant” was gone and in it’s place it said “Diner”. I was happy to see this and decided to check it out. I had not been there too often in the last few years as I was not impressed by the former owners. When Denise and I first moved to Saugus 8 years ago I became a regular customer when it was run by Jo Ann & Jack Neary. I even designed the logo for there coffee mugs. They sold the restaurant around 2004 and it has been owned by  two other entities until being sold to Bob Penta.

For those of you not familiar with it, the Tumble Inn Restaurant is located in an existing store block in Cliftondale Square on Lincoln Avenue in Saugus. I have been aware of it for at least 35 years. I recall wondering about the name and when I got into documenting diners, I found out it was a fairly common name for a diner. There is a famous late model Worcester Lunch Car in Claremont, NH with the same name. I also knew there had been  Tumble Inn Diners in Lynn, Mass. and Revere, Mass. It wasn’t until Gary Thomas brought out his “Diners of the North Shore” (Images of America series) book when I learned that the Tumble Inns in Revere and Lynn were owned by the Blackburn family. I also learned that there was an on-site built, barrel-roofed Tumble Inn Diner located in Danvers, Mass. for many years.

After I became a regular customer in the early 2000’s I found out that indeed Saugus’ Tumble Inn had started out as a “real” diner. What has been described to me sounds like an early barrel-roofed Worcester Lunch Car with counter service only. It was located down the block until sometime in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when the business was forced to move. Unfortunately no photos of the original diner have been found to date. I hold out hope that someday one might surface. Since Mr. Penta has taken over and I changed my place of employment, Denise and I have become regular customers most weekday mornings before I head north on U.S. Rte. 1 to work. We checked out the “Italian Specialties” (as noted in their new sign) on Friday nights (last night) and highly recommend their dinner menu as well as the breakfast and lunch offerings. I have also updated the design of the coffee mugs for the diner and hopefully in the next few weeks they will be available.