The story of how I drove into an old postcard

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!

Interesting article from Denton, Texas

I just read this article from the Denton Record Chronicle out of Denton, TX. It was about the passing of  Jim Smith the former owner/operator of Jim’s Diner of that town. Apparently this was a storefront type establishment, (not a factory-built diner) that was much loved and appreciated for a number of years. The story tells of  Mr. Smith’s commissioning of a wall mural on the side of his establishment. It looks to me that the artist (Shawn Dell Joyce) based her mural on John Baeder’s painting of the Lemoyne Diner once located near Harrisburg, PA.

Jim’s Diner is shown in the 1990s on Fry Street. Jim Smith, owner of
the former restaurant, died Monday at age 75.
(Photo courtesy of  Denton Register Chronicle)

Here is the text of the article ……..

A legacy of taste and art

Jim’s Diner owner dies at age 75

08:20 AM CDT on Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Les Cockrell / Region Editor

The idea surfaced one day in the late 1970s when Jim and Judy Smith were driving through Denton. “He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to have my own restaurant,’” Judy Smith recalled, adding that she encouraged her husband to act on his dream. “Let’s do it,” she told him. “Let’s jump off the bridge.” The result was Jim’s Diner, an iconic eatery that became a fixture on Fry Street and endeared itself to many.

“He opened his diner in ’78 or ’79,” Judy Smith said. “I’m so glad he did. “He got to do his dream, and not many men get to do that.” Jim Smith owned the diner for only about 10 years, his wife said, but the identity he gained from
the business endured until his death early Monday at age 75. “I went to wake him up, and he was dead,” Judy Smith said. “He died in his sleep.”

Born in Newton Falls, N.Y., in 1934, Jim Smith grew up in Wellsville, N.Y., where the couple married. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Smith worked for Bausch & Lomb and then Xerox, his wife said. In 1973, the couple and their four sons moved to Texas as part of a corporate relocation. He was working for Xerox when he decided to open Jim’s Diner, his wife said, and the business at 110 Fry St. soon became a neighborhood fixture. But it was a decision Smith made in 1987 that secured his place in local history.

That was the year Smith commissioned a 22-year-old student at the University of North Texas to paint a mural on the outside wall of his building. After much discussion, and some disagreement, Smith and the artist settled on an idea and work began. “He had a lot of faith in me and my work,” said Shawn Dell Joyce, who now lives in New York, where she owns a studio, art school and gallery. “He was a very generous and giving man.”

The final result — a depiction of a 1930s streamliner dining car — brought a lot of attention to Jim’s Diner and to Denton. It was the characters posed in the windows of the dining car — John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Wally and “Beaver” Cleaver and the Beatles — who really captured the public’s imagination. The artist also worked as a baker at Jim’s Diner, she said. “When Jim commissioned me to do the mural, I would bake biscuits at the diner
in the wee hours of the morning,” Joyce said. “I had a key, and I would go in there and bake for hours.”

The mural painted on the facade of Jim’s Diner is shown in its original glory. (Photo courtesy of  Denton Register Chronicle)

Smith was particular about the mural, Joyce said. “My concept was to put great works of art in each window,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re going to put in Denton greats and John Wayne.’ I was happy to oblige.” Thus, the finished mural featured diner regulars Sheldon Newman and Dennis Swilley, along with the pop culture figures.

“That [mural] was his way of helping me get on with my career,” she said. “I had been working there to put myself through school. “He was probably the best boss I ever had. He ran a pretty tight ship, but I knew that inside the gruff exterior that he really loved me.”

John Baeder’s painting of the Lemoyne Diner (courtesy John Baeder)
I believe Shawn Dell Joyce’s mural for Jim’s Diner was based on this

Jim’s Diner was a favorite hangout for many locals, especially artists and musicians, Joyce said, and many Denton visitors made sure to stop there. “When I was working there, the Talking Heads came through and had breakfast at Jim’s Diner,” she said. “There were many notables who ate there.” Joyce said she has many fond memories of the Smiths. “They were really integral people in my life and helped shape my success,” she said. “They probably kept a good dozen of us from starving.”

Jim usually worked at the diner seven days a week, Judy Smith said, and she was relieved when her husband decided to sell the business. “It would have killed him,” she said. “I don’t think he hardly took a vacation in all those years.” Smith sold the name of the diner along with the business, Judy Smith said, so Jim’s Diner continued to serve customers for a while. “We were happy that someone bought it and kept the name,” she said.

Eventually, the property was sold again and later demolished along with other Fry Street buildings in 2007. Three of the mural panels were salvaged and can be enjoyed today at the Center for the Visual Arts, at 400 E. Hickory St. “It [the mural] became a wonderful, iconic part of Fry Street and, consequently, Denton,” said Margaret Chalfant, executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council. “I think it’s wonderful that someone in the restaurant business had the vision to do something that unique.”

It was important to preserve the mural, Chalfant said. “To be able to preserve that landmark was wonderful for the arts council and for the citizens of Denton,” she said. “We didn’t realize how far-reaching the memories attached to this mural were. “We’re preserving some of our artistic history.”

A memorial service for Jim Smith is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, his wife said. After selling Jim’s Diner, Smith worked for another local restaurant and then became food service manager at UNT’s University Union. “He was pretty ill the last few years,” Judy said.

Judy Smith owns Rose Costumes, located at 5800 N. Interstate 35, Suite 508, but the business once was located next door to her husband’s diner. The costume business grew out of a vintage furniture and clothing store called Secondhand Rose. She and a former partner suggested the name for Jim’s Diner, she said. “We thought it should be something simple,” she recalled.

The couple celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary in June, and Judy Smith said her husband will be remembered as someone who was always ready to help. “He helped me,” she said. “He didn’t like to work at the store, but he was the best sounding board. Our businesses were tied together. We supported each other.

“He had a pretty good life.”

LES COCKRELL can be reached at 940-566-6887. His e-mail address is .

Unique Diner Miniature of Collins’ Diner

Marcie Miller contacted me recently with this comment….
My name is Marcie Miller and I make small scale architectural installations.  I was recently commissioned to make a funky replica of Collins’ Diner in Canaan, CT.  It’s just stunning and the family cried when they saw it.  When you open the door, the song “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke plays.

If anyone is interested in seeing my work and commissioning my services, please email me directly:  MARCIESMILLER@SBCGLOBAL.NET





Marcie’s efforts are certainly unique, not something I have ever seen before. Created from an old Toaster Oven, I would almost classify it as a diorama in miniature.

For those not familiar with this diner Collins’ is a 1942 vintage Jerry O’Mahony Diner in relatively original condition. Although they claim to be on the National Register of Historic Places this is a little misleading. The diner is located in a designated historical district that is on the Register, but it is not an individual listing or part of a multiple listing like Massachusetts has. Below is a photo I shot back in the 1980’s of Collins’ Diner.


Blue Belle Diner one step closer to reopening after 11 years

The freshly re-painted  Blue Belle Diner installed on it’s new
foundation adjacent to Dinky’s Restaurant in Shrewsbury, Mass.

This is a follow-up from 2 posts I did earlier, the first post was dated May 8th, 2009 and mentioned Bruce Trotto of Dinky’s Restaurant and Cafe of Shrewsbury, Mass. buying the former Blue Belle Diner (Worcester Lunch Car # 814) and moving it from its storage location in Princeton, Mass. to his restaurant’s parking area at that time. See it here at

The second post was dated June 7th and featured my photos of the Blue Belle on the flatbed trailer at Dinky’s. See that here…

Yesterday, Steve Repucci and myself had breakfast at Blanchard’s 101 Diner in Worcester (again) and Chris Blanchard told us that the Blue Belle was placed on its new foundation the day before. So on the way back home we stopped to check it out. We were very surprised to see the whole diner had been repainted and looked brand-new.

The freshly re-painted  Blue Belle Diner installed on it’s new
foundation adjacent to Dinky’s Restaurant in Shrewsbury, Mass.

Owner Bruce Trotto came out and we introduced ourselves. We mentioned the new paint job and he explained what came about. If you view my photos from June you can see how the 1948 vintage diner’s old porcelain covered panels were a little worse for the wear. He said he had them sand blasted with a very fine grit to even things out and give the new paint something to adhere to. He then had them powder-coated painted. The colors were close to the original and everything looked nice with just some touch-up left to do.

One interesting thing I noticed right away is that he had the front left side corner panel as well as the corresponding panel on the right side were lettered with “Booth Service”, matching the corner panels on the front. Bruce is very enthusiastic about the addition to his existing business and told me it has been in the planning for the 2 years since he bought the diner.

The new “Booth Service” lettering on the left side corner panel.

Bruce also said even though the diner is on the foundation, the installation is going to be tweaked by raising the diner up a few inches taller so there will be more headroom under the end overhangs. Also, the diner will be moved forward  a couple of  inches as well to accomodate the diner’s newly squared up frame to fit the wall of the rear addition (the diner’s rear wall had been slightly bowed prior to the squaring-up).

Proud owner Bruce Trotto in front of the newly installed diner.

As the photos reveal, it will be a while until the diner is open but it certainly is well on its way. We will keep you posted when the diner is open for business. It is located at 70 Clinton Street (Rte. 70), Shrewsbury, Mass. and it’s website is

A glimpse into my Diner Coffee Mug Collection

During a conversation at the recent get together in Worcester, Denise Bass and I were talking about our respective Coffee Mug collections. Being that I have been collecting for almost 30 years, my collection is fairly good size. In fact, there are even some that I have designed the logos for.

These shelves hold 29 mugs, among the examples here are 3 that I designed, on the top shelf left top corner is the Central Diner mug (Millbury, Mass.) and just underneath that one is the Tumble Inn Restaurant (Saugus, Mass.). On the next shelf down, middle, top is the Rosebud Diner (Somerville, Mass.). Another interesting one is the rare promo mug from the movie “Diner” on the bottom, second from the left.
On the top shelf of my desk are the Lunch Box Diner (Malden, Mass.) and the second version of the Central Diner with “Worcester Lunch Car #673″ added. There are also some other mugs just behind them.

Here is a shot of this table I have. The section of marble counter top
came from Worcester Lunch Car # 805. The pie case came from the old Pullman Diner of Fitchburg, Mass. The pie case has various “Diner” models and memorabilia inside with coffee mugs on top and below.

Here are mugs from the Miss Bellows Falls Diner of Bellows Falls, VT
and Henry’s Diner of Burlington, VT. The Miss Bellows Falls mug was displayed on top of the hood at Buddy’s Diner in Somerville, Mass. for many years and was given to me by Buddy’s former owner John Barrett.

On top of a television set we Have a “blue” version of the Rosebud Diner mug along with one from Chubby’s Diner of Salisbury, Mass.

Here’s one from Kane’s Donuts sitting next to a Kane’s Donuts “clock”
and a “Big Boy” bank.

One from Victoria’s Diner of Boston, Mass. and Blanchard’s 101 Diner
of Worcester, Mass.

A new Dunkin Donuts mug with their original “Dunkie” logo along with one from the Springfield Royal Diner of Springfield, VT.

“Red” versions of the Tumble Inn Diner and Rosebud Diner.

Gibby’s Diner, Quaker Street, NY and Joe’s Diner of Lee, Mass.
Joe’s is famous for being the location for the Norman Rockwell painting “The Runaway”.

Here is an old Ho Jo’s coffee cup with a plastic Ho Jo’s bank.

Worcester, Mass. “get together” this past weekend

Ever since our initial get together at Tex Barry’s Coney Island Diner this past June 20th, Denise Bass, Paula Walsh, Kim Smith and I have been trying to repeat this happening all summer. Well we barely squeaked it out on the last official summer weekend when we all converged in Worcester at Blanchard’s 101 Diner this past Saturday.

In fact there were some added guests to this little diner trip, Gary Thomas (author of the Images of America book “Diners of the North Shore”) showed up along with Mike O’Connor (with his wife and a couple of friends) and special surprise (to me) guest Richard Gutman (who I actually was with the Saturday before).  Dick brought along his miniature dachshund “Fenway” who was a hit with everyone!

Blanchard’s 101 Diner (with Fenway looking on)
(Photo courtesy of Denise J.R. Bass)

We all were there around 10:00 am and the diner was really humming with activity! Gary and the Mike O’Connor contingent were already ensconced in a booth by the entrance. The rest of us ended up at the left front corner booth and last 2 stools on that end of the counter. The food was great as usual and we probably did not leave until after 11:00.

Looks like I was making some point during a conversation with
Dick Gutman (just out of the shot). My wife Denise is to the right.
(Photo courtesy of Denise J.R. Bass)

L-R, Kim Smith, Paula Walsh, Dick Gutman, Denise Bass &
Larry Cultrera
(photo shot by Denise Cultrera, courtesy Denise J.R. Bass)

We were all invited over to Mike O’Connor’s place in North Worcester to see his collection of restored classic cars and auto memorabilia. But more importantly to see one special piece in his collection….
Worcester Lunch Car # 705.

This diner last operated in Rye, NH as Tony’s Diner had been donated by Henry Cibrowski in the mid-1980’s to the Worcester Heritage Historical Society and was used variously as a  Tourist Information booth, Concession stand and changing room for a community theater.

After a short period of disuse, it ended up being burned in a fire caused by vandals. The city was at a loss on what to do with the derelict diner when in stepped O’Connor who said he would take it off the city’s hands and attempt a restoration.

He enlisted Gary Thomas  a furniture restorer by trade who has done an outstanding job of replacing all the burned woodwork and backbar cabinetry in the diner.

Mike O’Connor’s garage with classic cars
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

Tony’s Diner U.S. Rte. 1, Rye, NH – early 1980’s
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

Tony’s Diner U.S. Rte. 1, Rye, NH – early 1980’s
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

Tony’s Diner U.S. Rte. 1, Rye, NH – early 1980’s
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

former Tony’s Diner behind Worcester City Hall – late 1980’s
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

former Tony’s Diner partially restored at Mike O’Connor’s
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

partially restored interior of former Tony’s Diner
(photo by Larry Cultrera)

Larry Cultrera taking a group photo inside the former Tony’s Diner
(photo courtesy of Denise J.R. Bass)

L-R, Paula Walsh, Dick Gutman (with Fenway), Denise Cultrera,
Denise Bass, Gary Thomas and Kim Smith

Hot Dog on the grill!

The weather was perfect that day and we all had a great time. A great way to end the summer!

Cheyenne Diner move rescheduled for this week


I posted in my “Notes from the Hotline, 9-5-09″  (go to this link)… that New York City’s Cheyenne Diner was finally going to be moved around Labor Day but apparently those plans got moved to this week. I received an email with an attached press release from Michael Perlman who spearheaded the preservation effort to save this diner from destruction. The following is the text of this press release…..

For Immediate Release For NY Media Relations:

Michael Perlman, Chairman & Preservationist
Committee To Save The Cheyenne Diner
(917) 446-7775 (On scene: Calling Preferred)


For AL Media Relations:
Patti Miller
(205) 587-5068

Historic Cheyenne Diner to
Begin Long-Awaited Transport
to Alabama on Sept. 14, 2009 and Will Undergo Future Restoration


NEW YORK, NY (Sept 13, 2009) – NYC’s historic Cheyenne Diner (411 9th Ave & 33rd St) will be granted a new lease on life, and begin its long-awaited move to Alabama on the evening of Monday, Sept 14, 2009 (Call Perlman for time info).

Since the Cheyenne’s dimensions are 15 ft x 96 ft (2,000 sq ft), the diner will be transported via flatbed in 2 sections to Alabama, with the expertise of Rigger Mel Brandt of M&M Rigging of PA, who has transported 50 diners countrywide (including a role in NY’s historic Moondance Diner to LaBarge, WY in Aug 2007).

Over the last few weeks, the concrete surrounding the diner was broken & the diner was cut in half. Devoted patrons, Committee members, and passersby will now have a rare opportunity to witness “history in the making” as hydraulic jacks will be installed underneath the Cheyenne Diner’s 2 sections, rolled forward to the curb on i-beams, and hoisted up onto a flatbed (First section will move on evening of Sept 14th and second section to be announced on Sept 15th or 16th).

On Jan 13, 2009, Committee To Save The Cheyenne Diner, Chairman Michael Perlman, 26 of Forest Hills, NY brokered the deal between Joel Owens of Birmingham, AL and property owner George Papas, after convincing Papas to be receptive based upon the diner’s historic reign. The diner was slated for demolition within the next few weeks, if a buyer willing to transport the diner wasn’t located.

Perlman received alternate proposals from potential buyers from Upstate NY, PA, MI, TX, & UT, but it boiled down to first-come, first-serve, and Joel Owens, head of NAIC, an investment group, became the fortunate candidate. On Jan 25, 2009, the iconic Cheyenne Diner neon signs were carefully removed by Paul Signs Inc of Brooklyn, NY. The acquisition of city permits contributed to the 8-month wait since the deal was brokered.

Perlman states: “It is bittersweet that one of the last historic freestanding diners in Manhattan won’t remain close to its roots, but I take pride in knowing that the beloved Cheyenne Diner will not only retire down south for its golden years, but undergo a rebirth thanks to its dedicated owners who think outside of the box, and patrons can reminisce & make new memories in an Art Deco gem. The Committee will be on site to converse with patrons, document the move, & wave adieu to its Manhattan chapter.”

 Joel Owens has announced plans to restore the Cheyenne to its 1940s glory with potential additions including a recreated Jay Dee Bakery (98-92 Queens Blvd, Forest Hills, NY), a Cheyenne Diner museum, classic car museum, rebuilt historic theaters, & a special events center. Owens states “This is a dream come true, especially in a state that has no historic freestanding diners. We ultimately plan on creating a small town with a historic feel, so future generations can have a chance to experience mid-century nostalgia, which is being lost.” Alabama Tourism Director, Lee Sentell, states “This has the potential to be a great Alabama destination.”