Notes from the Hotline, 2-9-2010

Worcester Lunch Car #850 now known as Route 104 Diner

Last year the diner located on Route 104 in New Hampton, NH was auctioned after being closed for a short time. The last diner completed by the legendary Worcester Lunch Car Company (WLC #850), had been operating as Bobby’s Girl Diner since it was placed at this site in 1994, was bought at the auction by Alex Ray and is now trading as the Route 104 Diner. 

Reopened October 8, 2009  after some cleaning and updating, the Route 104 Diner is actually being run as a venture between Plain Jane’s Diner of Rumney, NH and Alex Ray’s Common Man family of restaurants based in the Granite State. Besides Plain Jane’s Diner, The Route 104 Diner joins 2 others within this group, The Tilt’n Diner of Tilton, NH and The Airport Diner of Manchester, NH.

I have photos of this diner dating back to the early 1980’s covering almost its entire history. When this diner left the Worcester Lunch car factory in May of 1957, it was delivered to 2760 Hartford Avenue (U.S. Rte. 6) in Johnston, RI and the owner was Lloyd Hopkins (of No. Scituate, RI). It operated as Lloyd’s Diner until it closed in 1988.

Lloyd’s Diner of Johnston, RI circa 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

Lloyd’s Diner ready to leave Johnston, RI, circa 1988 photo
by Larry Cultrera

It then was moved to South Weymouth, Mass. to become part of Sh-Boom’s Dance Club. After a brief time, Sh-Booms closed and it morphed into a different night club and the diner was sort of disguised.

WLC #850 as the front of Sh-Booms Dance Club, Aug. 1989 photo
by Larry Cultrera

This did not last long either and the diner was again moved, this time into storage at O.B Hill’s yard in Natick, Mass. where it awaited possible sale to the Fat Boy’s Diner chain in England. 

WLC #850 in storage at O.B. Hill’s yard, June, 1991 photo
by Larry Cultrera

The deal with Fat Boy’s Diners did not pan out and the diner was actually sold to Alexis Stewart, daughter of Martha Stewart. Ms. Stewart had the diner transported to Bridgehampton, NY on Long Island where she hoped to get approval to set it up as The Delish Diner. Her plans ran into a roadblock when the town fathers basically dragged their feet and eventually nixed the concept. It did not fit into their town apparently. The diner ended up sitting in a field for 2 years.

WLC #850 sitting in Bridgehampton, NY, June 1992 photo
by Larry Cultrera

In 1994 Bob and Gloria Merrill decided to get back into the diner business. Circa 1990, the Merrill’s had successfully moved, set-up and operated the former Bell’s Pond Diner, (long closed in upstate New York) as Glory Jean’s Diner in Rumney, NH (now Plain Jane’s Diner). They sold that diner after a couple of years to operate a different business but within a year or so decided they missed running the diner and started looking for another one.

They finally settled on WLC #850 and purchased it from Alexis Stewart. The diner was moved ironically within walking distance of my wife Denise’s sister and brother-in-law’s home in New Hampton, NH where I photographed it right after it got on site……..

WLC #850, soon to be Bobby’s Girl Diner, circa 1994 photo
by Larry Cultrera

Not long after the diner got on it’s new foundation I stopped in to talk with the Merrills whom I had met a few years before. The attached buildings were being built and they were there with a contractor. They pointed out that the diner was missing 2 stools over on the left end of the counter. I told them when I saw it on Long Island 2 years before, it still had them. Someone had broken into the diner and ripped them right out of the floor!

They asked me if I knew where they could get 2 stools like that. They said that someone had told them that the stools in the diner were not original factory installed stools, and I would almost agree. They were not the typical stools that Worcester used. Ironically I told them that the person who told them that these were not factory installed was basically wrong. They wanted me to explain how I knew and I told them I had 2 just like them that had been removed from WLC #849, the former Georgetown Diner (now operating as Fat Boy’s Diner in London, England). They were being stored at my mother’s home in Medford, Mass. and I immediately told them I was willing to sell them for short money as I had no plans for them. Needless to say they were ecstatic! They were able to complete the diner and open it.

Bobby’s Girl Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera

The Merrills again operated this diner for quite a few years before selling it to new owners who ran it until recently. The diner was closed for a short time before the auction last year.

After learning of the new ownership, I had been planning on checking it out to see what changed. Denise and I went up to her sister’s home in Laconia for a couple of days (this past weekend) and we finally got over to The Route 104 Diner for breakfast on Saturday. The first thing I noticed was that the awnings were removed and they did something else that surprised me, they extended the parapet above the windows! Normally this is something I hate to see but this modification was done very sympathetically.

The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera

The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera

The Route 104 Diner, photo Feb. 6, 2010 by Larry Cultrera

We had a decent breakfast with wonderful service from our waitress, Althea! I went back to the diner mid-morning to shoot these photos and met the General Manager, Mark D. Grotheer. The diner was packed at that point (as the amount of cars in the parking lot can attest). You can check the Route 104 Diner out on the web as well as the other diners and restaurants in The Common Man chain at the website,
I highly recommend this place!

The Airport Diner, another part of the Common Man family

To continue on this theme, I also got a chance to stop by The Airport Diner in Manchester, NH. This as I stated above, is also part of The Common Man chain. Opened since 2005, it is not a factory-built diner like The Route 104 Diner or The Tilt’n Diner. This is built on-site as part of the Holiday Inn on Brown Avenue just off exit 2 of I-293 near the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Unfortunately they were completely packed at noontime on Sunday when we stopped there on the way home. There was a line of customers waiting to get in. So I will have to check it out some other time but at least I got some decent photos!

The Airport Diner, Manchester, NH, Feb. 7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera

The Airport Diner, Manchester, NH, Feb. 7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera

Paugus Diner of Laconia, NH now operating as
The Union Diner

We also got to check out the Union Diner on Union Avenue in Laconia. It had changed hands last year after being operated as the Paugus Diner since arriving from it’s first location in Concord, NH many years ago. This is Worcester Lunch Car # 831 and was originally named the Manus Diner. I had heard from Bob Higgins recently about his recent visit to this diner and as I recall, he was not impressed. I have to say that I did not have any problems with the food or the service but of course, we usually get to these places first thing in the morning and as was the case here, we were the first customers of the day.

The diner still seems to be in great shape and is 95% original. I stopped by a couple of hours later to shoot some photos and the place was mobbed!

Union Diner, Union Ave., Laconia, NH, Feb.7, 2010 photo
by Larry Cultrera

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