I was going thru some 35mm slides recently, and decided to “re-live” a solo road-trip I took from May 20th to 22nd, 1985. This trip was to take in some areas of upstate New York that I had not explored since I started documenting diners in 1980. I am going to break this into a two-part post as I am scanning 98 percent of the slides I shot on that trip.
As I recall, I started out the trip by driving state Route 2 from the Boston area out to Albany, NY. My ultimate destination was to explore out as far as Syracuse before heading back by way of my old stomping grounds of Lake George. After following Rte. 2 into NY state, I crossed the Hudson River from Troy to Watervliet. Just over the river I had always noticed an old barrel-roofed diner being used for an Off-Track Betting parlor (OTB). For those who don’t know, Off-Track Betting was a legal form of betting on horse races that was popular in NY state from 1970 to 2010. So this particular day, I finally decided to stop and take a few shots of this place, although checking out these images I can see that it was probably not the right time of the day to try and document this place. I am figuring also that the slide film I was using then was not as conducive to the varied lighting conditions I encountered during this trip. (I’m thinking I was using Ectachrome instead of Kodachrome or vice versa).
I believe this might be the remnants of a Bixler diner or even a Rochester Grill diner and was never really sure if there were 2 diners grafted together or an addition to the original building that mimicked the roof-line. Anyway, I checked Google street view when I started writing this post and it looks like the place is still there and of course it now has light gray colored siding applied to the exterior which would make it much easier to photograph then when I did in 1985.
After I left the OTB place I drove down Rte. 32 south toward Albany following the river. From what I could tell, I stopped at Jack’s Diner in Albany and grabbed something to eat. I say this because even though I had a slide, it was not logged in for this particular trip and for a good reason, this was not my first visit to this diner as it was already in my log book (October,2, 1982). I know I documented it on that previous trip but I actually went in and ate there for the first time on this one.
Again because of the time of day (the light was not great), I only took one shot of Jack’s this time around as I knew I had decent shots from the last time there and did not have to go wild. So after lunch. I left Albany and started traveling west on Rte. 7 and eventually came upon Gibby’s Diner, a tiny 1950’s Mountain View Diner in the small hamlet of Quaker Street, NY. I recall getting out of my Chevy Van with my camera to start taking photos when a family was coming out of the diner after eating there. The husband looked at me and asked…. are you one of those guys that goes around taking pictures of old diners??? I replied, I take pictures of all diners!!!! Just one of those encounters you always remember.
Gibby’s has the smallest entryway vestibule I have ever seen. I continued west on Rte. 7 until I hit the Unadilla area (You-na-dilla). As I recall, I found a campground nearby to the town and stayed the night. This allowed me to have dinner that evening as well as breakfast the next morning at the Unadilla Diner. This diner was built by the Master Diner Company and was pretty much original inside and out….. with the big exception of the added peaked roof that covered the diner and overhung the front giving the impression of a “front-porch”. This made it very difficult to photograph, especially with that wrought iron railing, so I managed to shoot as many angles as I could to document it.
After breakfast at the Unadilla on May 21, 1985, I believe I continued west on Rte. 7 until I got to Bainbridge, NY where I got onto Rte. 206 and followed it all the way to U.S. Rte. 11. I then proceeded north on Rte. 11 up to Cortland. This brings me to the reason why I decided to post this group of slides from this particular road trip. What actually spurred me on was that Mike Engle recently posted a scan of a news-clipping that showed a diner in the town of Cortland, NY on Facebook. He identified it as quite possibly the only photo of a “General” diner he had found to date.
I recognized it immediately as Frank & Mary’s Diner, one of the diners I came across on that May 1985 trip. General Diner Company (presumably from New York state) was not prolific in their output of small barrel-roofed diners, according to Mike Engle they may have built around a dozen diners. In fact this is possibly the only known example extant. I myself assumed it was an on-site built diner as I had never seen another like it in my travels.
I more than likely had a sandwich or something at this diner before I continued on. Shortly after Frank & Mary’s I located 2 other diners in Cortland. The next one I came across was a Ward & Dickenson built diner called Spiro’s Diner. It looked pretty neat although it had an addition as well as what looked like some sort of siding on the facade under the windows.
My log entry for Spiro’s tells me I did go inside but as I just had eaten at Frank & Mary’s I probably just got a soft drink to go. Heading out of town toward Syracuse on Rte. 11 I came across the third Cortland diner…. a large Sterling Diner operating as Gary’s Riverside Diner. I did not go in but did get a couple of photos of it…….
I finally made it up to Syracuse and immediately found a campground for the coming evening. Now I knew there were diners in the area but had no real idea where they were. Remember, this was before the internet and such, so I did the only thing I could do…. I asked the owners of the campground to borrow their Yellow Pages Phone Book! I went in and started writing down all the diners I found listed and went out to try to locate them, ah the dark ages of diner hunting! The first diner in Syracuse I photographed was “Cameron’s of Syracuse”, a multi-sectioned Bixler located on Wolf Street, a major north-south artery thru town.
After scanning that 3rd slide of Cameron’s, I had to get rid of a “lens flare” in the photo. It took me a couple of tries but I found the secret. I need to perfect the procedure but think it came out good considering. The last diner in this first part was right down the street…. the J.R. Diner. I thought this too was a Bixler diner but it turns out to be an even more rare Rochester Grill diner. The products of these 2 companies were very similar.
I am not sure why there was a sign on this side of the building that said “Allen’s”, maybe a previous name that did not get painted over? I just never found out. Anyway, this is the end of “Part 1” of this post, Part 2 will come along in the next month after I locate and scan the next batch of slides.
4 thoughts on “Part 1, New York state road-trip, May, 1985”
The OTB Diner in Watervliet is on my list of diner mysteries. Prior to being OTB (which did not exist until the 1970s – in the old days you always had to go to the racetrack to legally bet) this was a bar (Alpine Grill?) and at that time had faux log cabin siding. I asked Mom and Dad years ago and they never had any recollection of it operating as a diner although clearly the building is. Oh, if we could go and peel away the layers of siding!
Larry – I’m on the same track as you – recently got some scans back of photos I took, 1988-90+ of diners, drive-ins (no dives) and vintage signs – it’s crazy how many things are gone now! Totally walking down memory lane.
I’m sure there’s a market for an all-color book with a photo of yours of every diner in your collection. Yes, it might cost $80-$100 hardbound, but people- enough people- would buy it.
On our first Syracuse trip in August 1983, JR’s was still operated by the Allen family which explains the sign.