From the Archives – 3 Diners that don’t exist anymore

It is snowing to beat the band here right now and they are calling it the Blizzard of 2010!  Work was actually called off and that almost never happens! So I decided to scan some photos of 3 diners built by the Worcester Lunch Car Company that I photographed before they ceased to exist. I’ll post them in order of their Car numbers.

Leary’s Auto Sales, Tyngsboro, Mass.
(formerly Al’s Diner of Lowell, Mass. WLC No. 795)

Leary’s Auto Sales/former Al’s Diner photo circa 1980-81 by Larry Cultrera

I passed this diner quite a few times using the Westford Road exit off U.S. Rte. 3 near the Massachusetts / New Hampshire border in Tyngsboro. It was being used for storage as part of Leary’s Auto Sales when I saw it. I am not sure it was ever operated as a diner in this location.

Leary’s Auto Sales/former Al’s Diner photo circa 1980-81 by Larry Cultrera

Originally known as Al’s Diner, I believe it operated on Bridge Street not far from the Paradise Diner (in fact it may have been across the street). This was Worcester Lunch Car No. 795 and had a partitioned-off kitchen down on the right-end of the diner. I recall looking inside through the left-side door and seeing that the interior was basically intact, other than being used for storing old tires and such. It was demolished within the next few years of when I photographed it.

Lucci’s Barbershop, Westminster, Mass.
(formerly the Cape Ann Diner of Gloucester, Mass.
& Westminster, Mass. WLC No. 800)

Lucci’s Barber Shop, April 3, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

This diner was hiding down behind a small strip mall on Route 2A in the small North Central Massachusetts town of Westminster when I found it in April of 1982. It was moved to Westminster in 1948 as a “used” diner after doing a short stint in Gloucester. The original owners in Gloucester were so successful with this diner that they immediately went back to Worcester Lunch Car Co. and ordered a larger one!

The person who bought the diner decided to leave the name as “Cape Ann” mainly because he did not want to spend the money for new porcelain-enameled steel panels. It operated here for many years directly on Main Street at the corner of Eaton St. Main St. was Route 2 before they built the highway north of this point.

Lucci’s Barber Shop, April 3, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

Sometime in the 1970’s (I believe) the diner was moved about 30-40 feet behind where it had been and turned to face Eaton St. The interior was gutted and all the equipment and such was sold off. A partition was placed in the middle (front to back) to create 2 spaces. One side became a Real Estate office while the other side became Lucci’s Barbershop. They also, as my photos show, disguised the barrel roof of the diner with what I call a reverse Mansard. According to my log, this diner was demolished by 1988.

Sea Gull Diner, Kittery, Maine
(WLC No. 840)

Seagull Diner Route 1 Bypass, Kittery, Maine
October 24, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera 

This is the first diner that Worcester Lunch Car Co. built with “rounded” corners, basically copying what the New Jersey competition had been doing for years. It was a large diner, very beautiful inside and out and all original when I photographed it in 1981. Worcester only built 6 diners like this, Nos. 840, 841, 843, 844, 845 & 847.

Of these 6 “Jersey-style” diners, No. 845 was actually built with a vestibule, diner section and kitchen section (the only multi-section diner built by them ….. the Vermont Squire Diner of Brattleboro, VT). Only 2 of these 6 diners are still physically with us. That would be The Breakfast Club Diner in Allston, Mass. (No. 841, originally Fahey’s Diner, it is still operating) and Wesson’s Diner of Burlington, VT (No. 843, currently in storage).

Seagull Diner Route 1 Bypass, Kittery, Maine
October 24, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera 

The Sea Gull may have originally been known as the Pine Tree Diner, at least that is what is written on the Worcester Lunch Car Co. car drawing. I am not sure it actually operated under that name but it was the Sea Gull Diner by the 1970’s. I recall it was a 24 hour diner back in the early to mid 1980’s. It closed by around 1989 and was moved off site just across the street.

It was bought by John Keith who was brokering diners for a couple of years and he sold it to Trevor Gulliver of London, England who had it transported over to Great Britain around 1990 or 91. It was set up in Birmingham, England as one of the Fat Boy’s Diners (a chain Gulliver had for a few years). Unfortunately, it was burned rather mysteriously in a fire a few short months after opening there.

Roadside Wonders blog pays homage to Diner Hotline!

When I reposted my first “diner photo” last month commemorating my 30th anniversary of documenting diners with photographs, I inadvertantly inspired my new friend Wendyvee of the Roadside Wonders blog. This past Friday, Wendy and her friend John paid a visit to the American Dream Diner in Harrisburg, PA (I knew it under its original name of the Bypass Diner). They had  a couple of great meals at this well preserved DeRaffelle built diner and took a few photos. Wendy tried to duplicate the photo I took on November 29, 1980 but was not successful. John took over and actually managed to get it right.

I’m not sure how she did this little trick with the alternating photos but it
did transfer to my blog nicely!

Here is a link to Wendyvee’s Roadside Wonders post and there also is a link in my blogroll as well. Thanks go to Wendyvee for the compliments on Diner Hotline and to John Featherlin as well for paying homage to my first diner photo!

Lawton’s Famous Frankfurters may close by Dec. 31st

Regular readers of this blog may remember the post I made back in June of 2009. I posted about a long-time roadside business in the mill town of Lawrence, Mass., Lawton’s Famous Frankfurters. The place is situated along a sidewalk at the corner of Canal St. and Broadway virtually on top of a wall to the North Canal. At that time in 2009, it was in danger of sliding into the canal due to some nearby utillity work causing a structural problem, see the post …….

Anyway, after about six months or so, the stand was allowed to reopen, unfortunately, business has been affected by an on going project. Namely, the replacing of the Falls Bridge over the Merrimack River. Traffic has been detoured as one side of the bridge gets rebuilt at a time. Now  the stands owners are deciding that business is so bad that they are not going to renew their lease.

Here is the story from the November 27th Lawrence Eagle-Tribune written by Bill Kirk that gives all the info….

Lawton’s could be gone for good Dec. 31

By Bill Kirk

LAWRENCE — After 81 years serving up unique recipes of deep-fried hotdogs and chicken barbecue, it appears that Lawton’s is shutting its side door and turning off the fryolators for good.

Owners Scott and Joanne Curley announced to customers and employees this week that as of Dec. 31, the historically skinny, gastronomic landmark will no longer exist — at least at its current location at the corner of Canal and South Broadway near the Falls Bridge.

“This was a very hard decision but we have considered all factors,” the Curleys said in an email to The Eagle-Tribune. She said a combination of forces drove them to make the call not to renew their lease with property owner Mike Graffeo of New Hampshire.

Since work began on the Falls Bridge, with lane closures and traffic tie-ups, business has slowed by nearly 45 percent, Curley said. “Route 28 bridge work has been detrimental to our business,” she said. “The traffic in the area deters all customers from even attempting to come to this area of town.”

Work is continuing on the bridge, although it is now open in both directions as work on one side of the bridge appears to have been finished. “The Falls Bridge work is killing me,” she said in an interview Wednesday. Further, she said, the Enel Co., which owns the Great Stone Dam and the canals that once fed power to the riverside mills in the city, is planning on doing a major reconstruction project on the canal wall adjacent to Lawton’s.

“The canal wall is not stable,” she said, noting that it was destabilized last year after AT&T did some utility work in the area, which caused erosion of the ground under Lawton’s, forcing the hotdog stand to close for six months until the embankment could be shored up. While that work was completed, the wall itself remains a problem.

“They had engineering companies looking at the job to fix the wall or reinforce it,” she said. “If they take up all that parking space, my customers won’t come in. I’ll be open, but I’ll have no customers.” Enel spokesman Hank Sennott said the company hopes to start work on the canal wall before the end of this year, but the scope of the work hasn’t been finalized yet.

“I’m not sure of the details,” he said. “We haven’t decided what we’re going to do, so making a decision to close may be a bit premature.” Sennott said the company’s engineer Jon Dollard spoke with Joanne Curley last week and told her that the bulk of the work would be done in the canal itself, although occasionally workers may have to take a parking space.

The last straw, Curley said, was when a proposed assisted livingdevelop-ment at the old Nassar Ford site was shot down last month by the city’s planning board in the face of neighborhood opposition. Part of that plan was to create a mini-retail strip mall that would have included a new Lawton’s.

When the plan was nixed, the new location for Lawton’s was lost in the shuffle, she said. “We were going to move to Nassar Ford, but the whole project got shot down,” she said. “We had a verbal OK to move there.” Curley said she and her husband are still looking for an alternate location, keeping in mind customers’ suggestions.

“We will be searching for a perfect location for this 81-year-old business to move to,” she said, noting that feedback has included “more parking, closer to highway, and even a few tables where they can eat their food. We will consider all offers that come our way. Although we are very saddened by this decision we look forward to a grand re-opening in the near future.”

Her customers would be grateful. During the Wednesday lunch rush, a steady crowd of hotdog and barbecue lovers crowded the narrow hallway leading to the counter, where a fire hydrant still stands. “I’ll be very sad,” said Jack Doyle, 74, of Methuen. “It’s convenient, it’s a legend. I used to come here as a kid when I worked at the Broadway movie theater.” He said he and his co-workers would come down for lunch or dinner. “There’s nothing like this,” he said.

Al Lafreniere, 60, of Derry, N.H., agreed. “I come here any chance I get,” he said. “It will be sadly missed.” Some customers said they’d follow the hotdog stand wherever it moves, if, in fact it reopens elsewhere. “I’d still go,” said David Silverwatch, 62, of Methuen, formerly of Lawrence. “I come here every other week, or at least once a week,” he said. “Their hotdogs are unique. You get a different taste.” Plus, he said, it’s cheap.

Lawrence firefighter Eric Zahn, 41, picking up lunch for his comrades waiting in a firetruck outside, said he’d been coming to the stand his whole life, and had passed down the passion for Lawton’s cuisine to his daughter, now 14. “She’ll be upset,” he said. “She loves it. It’s the best. We’re going to be lost without it.”

Graffeo, who owns the property that Lawton’s sits on, said that he is hopeful that something will reopen on the site. “I’d like to see them stay there,” he said. “But I can’t stop people from leaving. If they leave, new opportunities could arise. It’s a very busy corner. If they leave, there’s no shortage of people who’d give that place a go, because of the location.”

Looks like I will be trying to get up to Lawrence this Saturday for a couple of Frankfurters before they close at this location. Hopefully they will reopen in a new location in the near future! Thanks to Bob Higgins who clued me in about this in an email today!

Model building magazine features story on Peterboro Diner

The Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette (a wonderful bi-monthly magazine about scale modelbuilding) features a short but interesting story on the Peterboro Diner of Peterborough, NH. The story was written by Peter Tuttle who lives fairly close to the diner in the nearby town of Dublin and frequents the establishment regularly accompanied by his wife Edith.

Cover of the Nov/Dec issue of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette

Here is a little background I have on the Peterboro Diner from my own archives….. The Peterboro Diner is Worcester Lunch Car No. 827 and was delivered to its one and only operating location at 10 Depot Street on September 20, 1950. The original owners Milton and Barbara Fontaine ran the diner completely unchanged right up until the early 1980’s.

The first time I visited  the Peterboro Diner & photographed it was Aug. 30, 1982, and I found it in completely pristine condition. I knew of its existence from notes I had obtained (probably from Dick Gutman and possibly the Worcester Historical Museum) as well as word of mouth. Making the trek from my hometown of Medford, Mass. up to Peterborough to go looking for the diner, I recall driving in from Route 101 along Grove Street toward the downtown area of this picturesque New Hampshire town.

Not knowing the exact address, I followed Grove St. all the way to Main St. which hooks around to the right. As I took the right I went about 1 block on to the corner of Depot St. I looked down Depot and saw this great little neon sign hanging on a pole by a parking lot. The sign said “DINER” and had a neon arrow pointing across the street. As the diner itself was not visible, being blocked by an adjacent building, this sign situated across from the diner really did its job in directing someone like myself to the place.

“Diner” sign across the street from the Peterboro Diner. August 30, 1982
photo by Larry Cultrera

As I said, the diner was pretty much unchanged at this point,  as the following photos will attest……

Other than the aluminum flashing at the roof’s edge and a replacement front door, the Peterboro was certainly pristine. August 30, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

At that time there were parallel parking spaces perpendicularly placed
in front of the building.  August 30, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

Also, there were no additions to the original structure. It was a self-contained diner!  August 30, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

Well, within a short time of my first visit, the Fontaine family sold the diner and the new owners immediately decided to make some changes. They took out the factory-installed kitchen that was partitioned off from the diner on the right side (the last 2 windows on the right front). They also removed the partition.

They then built a large addition to the rear of the diner that housed a new kitchen, rest rooms and additional dining room. With the new space for more seating, they needed additional booths with tables. I believe they brought in a local craftsman who duplicated the wooden benches and tables very closely matching the ones that Worcester Lunch Car Company had built. I was totally impressed with that detail!

Unfortunately, on a visit a few years later, all those booths/benches were gone! Replaced by a generic newer style of furniture. I was totally disappointed! In fact I have to say that soured my attitude about this diner for quite a few years! It wasn’t until sometime in the late 1990’s that my feelings changed. Maybe I mellowed a little and also the diner’s atmosphere had possibly evolved and settled in those intervening years, giving the place a great small-town flavor that really appealed to me.

A more recent photo showing how the street-scape has changed. Also a small portion of the added-on building behind the diner is visible as well as the picnic tables and fence out front. Note the replacement windows too!

Well anyway, to get back to the Peterboro Diner story in the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette, last week I got an email from David Brown who lives in the United Kingdom. His email mentioned Peter Tuttle’s article on the Peterboro Diner (first I had heard of it). Here is what David said….

Hi Larry,
Having read Peter Tuttle’s article on The Peterboro Diner in the Nov/Dec 2010 issue of Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette, I checked out your Diner Hotline weblog and will have lots of catching up to do now!

I live not far from the UK city of Peterborough and one of our favourite eateries is the US-style OK Diner, just off the A1, north of Stamford. The attached pic shows my 1972 VW Bay camper parked outside the OK Diner. of course, we have our own brand of roadside eateries here, often referred to as ‘greasy spoon’ transport cafes.

Having recently returned from an all too brief trip to California, Arizona and Nevada, I am missing the sort of food served up in American diners – I’m missing the Californian temperatures too!

Best regards,
David Brown

David Brown’s VW Bay Camper parked outside the OK Diner in the UK

After reading David’s email, I responded and asked him if in fact Diner Hotline was mentioned in the story and he answered yes. So I did some investigating and to make a long story short, I obtained a copy of the magazine locally.

I subsequently read the story entitled….  The Peterboro Diner, Booth Heaven by Peter Tuttle, which gave a little synopsis on diner history and had some photos associated with the article including a photo of Worcester Lunch Car No. 549 which preceded the Peterboro Diner (then known as Ryan’s Quick Lunch) and period photos of the Peterboro Diner being delivered as well as Tuttle’s own photos of the Peterboro Diner today.  More importantly a dimensioned drawing drawn by Edith Tuttle was also included, one that a model builder could use if they were interested in making a scale model of the Diner for a model railroad layout.

I looked Peter Tuttle up in the White pages and gave him a phone call. I identified myself (I knew he would know me) and we had a long conversation. I told him how I found out about the magazine article and he informed me we had actually had some contact (thru Diner Hotline) in recent months! Seem’s he is an avid reader and fan of my Weblog!

I asked him to send an email with info on how he came to write the piece for Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette and he sent me this…

Thank you so much for your offer to mention my Peterboro Diner story published by the Narrow Gauge and Short Line Gazette in your Diner Hotline Weblog-  and for your call yesterday evening- it was great talking with you.

You asked how my diner story ended up in the Gazette- well, it’s a magazine for people building models of (mostly) backwoods railroads, buildings and industries.  I was building scale models (they’re kind of a language all their own) before I learned to write or take pictures, and I first published a piece in the Gazette almost thirty years ago, so it seemed like a natural for the Peterboro Diner story.
I’ve spent my life writing, including a translation into contemporary English of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales- the greatest road book in English- for a Barnes and Noble edition, and my own 200-page road poem, Looking for a Sign in the West, about the year and 100,000 miles my wife, Edie, and I spent roaming the American West- from cafe to cafe- and all the people and places we met and saw in between.  Cafes are to the West what diners are to the Northeast- so it was natural, once we moved back east, to be drawn to diners.
In any case, thank you again for your enthusiasm for the Peterboro piece.  Holy Grill!  Larry Cultrera, Renowned Diner Guru, called me!
Peter mentions at the end of the Peterboro story, Richard Gutman’s American Diner Then & Now (as the authoritative book on Diner History) and goes on to say…. You can google Larry Cultrera’s “Diner Hotline Weblog” – a great source of contemporary diner news, diner history, and lore. I want to thank David Brown for letting me know about the magazine story and especially Peter Tuttle for writing it and mentioning Diner Hotline. I also want to acknowledge Bob Brown the editor and publisher of Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette for running the story (and for sending me a magazine)!
You can check out the magazine at

Myles Henry of the Maine Diner dies suddenly

I read with sadness a link that Randy Garbin of Roadside Online posted on Facebook that Myles Henry of the Maine Diner died suddenly while on vacation in Marco Island, FL.

A recent photo posted on the Maine Diner’s Facebook page showing
left to right… Dick Henry & Myles Henry with former First Lady Barbara Bush
& former President George H.W. Bush

Myles, along with his brother Dick run one of the most successful diners anywhere! Although not a factory-built diner, the place has a very down-home kind of feel, just right for its namesake state. I have always said, that most diner owners/operators could take a lesson or two from the Henry’s on how to run a diner!

Here is the copy (and link to the Seacoastonline piece on Myles’ untimely passing, written by Casey Sullivan……

WELLS, Maine — Fifty-four-year-old Myles Henry, co-owner of the Maine Diner, died Friday, Dec. 3, in Marco Island, Fla., after apparently having passed out and hit his head in a restaurant bathroom, according to multiple sources.

While Henry’s official cause of death is yet to be determined by the District 20 Medical Examiner’s Office in Florida, Henry’s wife, Trisha Henry, said the longtime local business owner was born with two heart deformities — a bicuspid aortic valve and Wolf Parkinson White syndrome — which she said could have led to a heart attack.

Henry and his brother, Dick Henry, had purchased what is now the Maine Diner off Route 1 in 1983, and the establishment has been thriving ever since.

“He was loved by so many people,” Trisha Henry said in a phone interview Sunday. “It’s just unbelievable how many friends he had.” She said her husband had been vacationing in Florida with three friends at the time of his death, and was found unconscious in the bathroom of Da Vinci Ristorante Italiano at 599 South Collier Blvd., Marco Island.

“He came in, sat at the bar, had one drink and then went to the bathroom,” Da Vinci owner Louigi Carvelli said of the moments before restaurant staff found Henry on the bathroom floor Friday night and called 911.

Marco Island police declined to comment on the matter Sunday.

Trisha Henry said there had been a moment when emergency medical responders had arrived on scene Friday night, and, upon coming back to consciousness, Henry had said, “Call Trish, call Trish, call Trish.”

Billy Egan, Myles Henry’s lifelong friend who had accompanied him on his vacation in Florida, said Sunday he could not have pictured a more perfect day for the man to have lived before he died.

“He was happy,” Egan said, making note that the group of friends — Egan, Henry, Rick Finks and Rick Sawyer — had played a “good round” of golf earlier that day. “We played 36 holes and then we had a great dinner and watched the Celtics that night.” Henry had later traveled to Da Vinci’s because he was meeting up with another friend he had in the area, Egan added.

Egan became choked up when he said the only thing that could have been better about Henry’s last day was a little better weather, and if he could have spoken to his wife one last time.

The group of friends had vacationed to Florida together biannually for the past 18 years, Egan said.

After news of Henry’s death hit Wells on Sunday, his friends, family and Maine Diner staff reacted in a mixture of shock and sorrow.

“First and foremost, he was a mentor to me,” said Maine Diner manager Jim MacNeill. “He had a zest for people, and life, and having fun. When people pressed him with needs — whether it was for charitable contributions or for friends in need — he was always there for people.”

According to Trisha Henry and Bibber Memorial Chapel staff, arrangements have been made for visiting hours from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, at Bibber Memorial Chapel. A memorial service will follow at noon, Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Coastal House on Route 1.

I personally met Myles at least 3 times, the first being at my one and only appearance on the Phantom Gourmet TV show approx. 10 years ago.  The last time being 5 or 6 years ago when Denise & I stopped at the diner on the way to Old Orchard Beach in Maine. The place was bustling as usual and we had to take a pager and wait a few minutes. We actually were able to get a seat at the counter within a short time and ordered a couple of their fabulous deserts. We went to pay when we were finished only to find out that Myles had got the check for us!

I want to extend my condolences to the Henry family on their loss.