Back in the early 1980’s, February of 1982 to be exact, I first had contact with John Baeder. As many people know, John Baeder is considered along with Richard J.S. Gutman one of the founding fathers of this diner appreciation movement that dates to the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. Of course their respective books Diners (Baeder, 1978) and American Diner (Gutman, Kaufman, Slovic, 1979) helped lead the way for the rest of us.
I had already become friendly with Richard Gutman in early 1981 and it was not quite a year later that I finally got up the nerve to contact John. As I recall it was probably within a month or so of my dad’s passing away suddenly at the young age of 59. John & I talked (in that first phone call) for a while and started corresponding as well. He sent postcards of some of his prints as well as black & white xerox copies of some of his diner postcard collection. These copies usually were 8.5″ x 11″ sheets containing at least 6 postcard images.
One of the packages I received had about 3 of these letter size copies stapled together and had an image that depicted a street scene. The scene was entitled… Fort Dix Road, Wrightstown, NJ. In the scene the photographer was standing on the east side of the street looking across the street and back to the left. In the foreground of the shot was the Victory Diner, looking to be a late 1940’s to early 1950’s Master Diner. The diner was situated end-wise to the street with a parking lot in front. To the left of the diner was a business block housing 2 or 3 other establishments and toward the end of the block a neon sign was visible that said “Town Diner”. Beyond these businesses a small stone bridge spanned a waterway and the road sort of swung to the right, out of the photo.
postcard image from John Baeder collection
In reading John’s book (Diners) I recall him mentioning about doing a painting from an old postcard image of a street scene. How he had a fantasy of going into the image and say, walk down the street and maybe go into one of the stores or buildings in the scene. Well I had an experience that came close to what John had fantasized about. I should also mention that both John and I have talked about our shared belief in a sort of sixth sense.
Back in June of 1983, I attended the Society for Commercial Archeology’s meeting at Wildwood, NJ. I started the drive down on Thursday evening June 23, 1983 and got as far as a rest area on I-684, just north of White Plains, NY where I slept in my van for a few hours. The next morning I had breakfast at the Star Diner, a 1950 vintage Silk City diner in White Plains. Another highlight of that morning was visiting the Kullman Diner Company factory, then located in Avenel, NJ before proceeding down to the Wildwood area.
Souvenir booklet from the SCA Wildwood meeting 6-25-83
On the 25th, I visited most of the diners in the Wildwood area and walked a little of the boardwalk before meeting up with the other attendees of the SCA meeting at the Wildwood Diner. When the initial meeting festivities were concluded, I decided to start the drive back, opting not to participate in the scavenger hunt they had planned.
By this time it was probably just past 2:00 pm and I started driving north. I went as far as Atlantic City, where I photographed the Columbus Diner and started to head west on Rte. 30. As I recall, I travelled Rte. 30 as far as Pomona, NJ, where I photographed the South China Restaurant, a stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner. This was on a side road just off Rte. 30. I decided to continue north on this road, I believe it was unmarked (no route number). I should probably mention that I had decided I would rely on my sense of direction and not use any roadmaps for this particular roadtrip thus having a heightened sense of adventure and discovery.
So, I drove for many miles into and through what I realized was the middle of the Pine Barrens. I started to get nervous as this area was sparsely settled with hardly any roadside businesses and I was getting extremely low on gasoline. I started talking to the van saying we could make it to the next town to get gas. I had no idea where I was, and in fact found out as most people do who drive through New Jersey, there are few signs telling you what particular town you are in, at any given time. Well finally I was approaching civilization, more and more houses and such were appearing along the road.
Then something strange happened, I started getting a feeling that I was approaching the town that I remembered from that postcard image that John Baeder had sent me previously. I don’t know why but it popped into my head and the feeling was extremely strong! Wouldn’t you know, the road went around a curve to the left and I crossed a stone bridge into a town. I was amazed! It WAS the same town as in the postcard! I pulled over to the side and looked and there it was, the former Victory Diner now called the Super Diner. It had gained a stucco facade under the windows and the parking lot in front of it was now a lawn. It also appeared to be not in operation.
Super Diner, Wrightstown, NJ
Super Diner, Wrightstown, NJ
This was one of the more interesting things that had ever happened to me on the road, in fact I do not believe any other experience comes close. After taking my photos of the diner I went down the street and got gas for the van. Then I continued on to the Mount Holly area and had dinner at the Crossroads Diner a late model brick Fodero diner with mansard roof. The rest of the trip consisted of staying at a motel adjacent to the Premium Diner on U.S. Rte. 1 in Avenel. I believe the next morning I had breakfast at the Avenel Diner up the road and drove home through New York and Connecticut arriving home in Medford, Mass. in the middle to late afternoon. What a trip!