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 http://www.ngslgazette.com/issue.htm

Diners of Lowell, Mass., circa early 1980’s

Back when I started documenting diners in the greater Boston area with my photographs in the early 1980’s, I discovered an interesting fact. The older mill towns still had the greatest concentration of diners still in existence. This fact holds true to a certain degree today only with diminished numbers. Attleboro, Lawrence, Lynn, Worcester and Lowell, Mass. stood out at that time.

Attleboro had four factory-built diners downtown (although one of these was closed) as well as one being used for other purposes on U.S. Rte. 1. Also, the Service Diner was still on U.S. Rte. 1 in Attleboro operating as Eddie & Myles’ Diner at that time.

Lawrence also had at least four spread out along Route 28 (again one was closed).

Lynn had four diners and all were still fairly original (and in operation).

Worcseter had the most with sixteen diners (not surprisingly) and all of them were open for food service (with the exception of  three), one being used as a real estate office and another sitting in a large garage unfinished while still another was being used as a residence.

This post will be dedicated to all the diners that were in Lowell at the beginning of the 1980’s. By my count there were at least seven factory-built diners (actually one was home-made, but this fact only came to light in recent years).

Owl Diner, 244 Appleton Street

The Owl Diner is Worcester Lunch Car No. 759 that dates to 1940 and originally operated in Waltham, Mass. as the flagship of the Monarch Diners (a chain of diners owned by the Decola brothers). It moved to Appleton Street in 1950 when it was replaced in Waltham with a large new stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner.


Owl Diner before the Shanahan’s owned it.
circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the early 1980’s it was being run by the Zouikis family and looked like the photos above and below. Take note that the wonderful neon sign mounted on the street pole was working at that time!


Owl Diner before the Shanahan’s owned it.
circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

A couple of years later the Shanahan family took over the reigns of the Owl after running the Peerless Diner on Chelmsford Street for a number of years. They were only leasing the Peerless and were able to purchase the Owl Diner. They renamed it the Four Sister’s Owl Diner and by all accounts it has been a huge success. They recently added a new large vestibule to the front of the diner (see photo below).


Four Sister’s Owl Diner today. 2010 photo by Larry Cultrera

Club Diner, 145 Dutton Street

The Club Diner is a 1933 vintage Worcester Lunch Car (No. 703) that was remodelled in the 1960’s. It has retained its basic shape but has an added-on diningroom which facilitated the exterior changes, making the whole building look more unified. The interior was updated a little as well but the footprint remains the same with the counter and stools on the right-hand end of the diner. There are also deuce booths (tables for 2) along the windows in front of the counter section and four large booths on the left end of the original building which is complimented by the add-on diningroom beyond and behind. It was originally owned by Arthur Turcotte but has been owned and operated by the LeVasseur family since 1938.


Club Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Club Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Club Diner (more) recent photo by Larry Cultrera

Arthur’s Paradise Diner, 112 Bridge Street

Arthur’s Paradise Diner is a 1937 vintage Worcester Lunch car (No. 727) and one of at least 3 diners with the Paradise name. Originally owned by John Decola and John Korsak, it has gone through countless different owners/operators since it was brand-new.


Arthur’s Paradise Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Arthur’s Paradise Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Arthur’s Paradise Diner (more) recent photo by Larry Cultrera

Gorham Street Diner, 984 Gorham Street

This diner was actually not built by a diner manufacturer but it certainly fooled the “diner experts” and “aficionados” for many years. It was not until Gary Thomas was researching for his “Images of America” book “Diners of the North Shore”, that the unique history of this diner came to light.

Thomas found out that this diner was constructed off and on during roughly a  five-year period between 1945 and the early 50’s in Salisbury, Mass. by Donald Evans. Evans was the brother of Jimmy Evans who ran first the Strand Diner in Salisbury and then two versions of Ann’s Diner in the same town.


Gorham Street Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

In fact it was his brother Jimmy who actually paid Donald to complete the construction. It was located for a couple of years on Broadway in Salisbury where it traded as Evans’ Streamliner before being sold and moved to Gorham Street in Lowell in 1956 by Edward G. Bryer who operated the diner as Bryer’s Streamliner. According to Gary Thomas, the stainless steel covered front door you see in my photos came from the 2nd Ann’s Diner (WLC No. 824). He also said the diner had equipment and material that were purchased from the Worcester factory including stools and the hood with bill of fare menu boards that confused later “diner experts’ prompting them to think this was in fact built by Worcester.


Gorham Street Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I unfortunately never got to go inside this diner when it was operating. In the last few years of its life as a regular diner it went through a few operators and names. In John Baeder’s painting of it, it was called the Chateau Diner and as can be seen in my photos, the Gorham Street Diner. Shortly after I took the first photos as seen here, I made a return trip to find it undergoing a complete remodelling! (see below)


Gorham Street Diner in process of remodelling to become
Trolley Pizzaria, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

They had stripped the exterior completely eliminating the slanted end walls and building new “rounded” end walls as well as adding the raised “trolley-like” clerestory making it look like a trolley car. They also relocated the entrance from the middle to both ends of the front facade and gutted the interior. The diner building itself is now just used as a dining area for the Trolley Pizzaria.


Trolley Pizzaria, 2010 photo by Larry Cultrera

Cupples Square Diner, corner of Westford Street
& Osgood Street

The Cupples Square Diner was a barrell-roofed Worcester car that was actually installed under the overhang of a store block. It probably dates to the 1930’s but I am not sure of its production number. It was an economy model without a lot of frills. I did manage to eat there a few times in the 1980’s but it was gone by the 1990’s. I assume it was dismantled as there is a regular storefront now where the diner used to be.


Cupples Square Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Cupples Square Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Ray and Paulette’s Diner, Gorham Street

Ray and Paulette’s Diner was located just a couple of doors down the block from Dana’s Luncheonette which sits at the corner of Appleton Street. It may have been a Worcester Lunch Car but I am also thinking it is roughly the same size as a diner pictured in Richard Gutman’s “American Diner Then & Now” book on page 79 (see below). This photo shows a diner (named Bob’s Diner) built by Pollard & Co. Dining Car Builders of Lowell being moved by truck. I am using a gut feeling and going out on a limb to say that these two diners are one and the same!

Ray and Paulette’s has certainly gone thru some changes (windows and exterior covering) so it is entirely possible. I was in this diner once although I never had a meal (kicking myself) but it seemed fairly intact on the inside. I do recall the tile wall on the front had a good-sized crack running through it. This diner was gone by the mid-1980’s.


Ray and Paulette’s Diner, photo circa 1981 by Larry Cultrera


Ray and Paulette’s Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Bob’s Diner built by Pollard & Company of Lowell, photo that appears on page 79 of American Diner Then & Now. Courtesy of Richard Gutman (photo by George of Lowell)

Peerless Diner, Chelmsford Street

The Peerless Diner was originally located at 190 South Union Street in Lawrence prior to it being moved to Lowell. Worcester Lunch Car No. 764 dates to 1940. In the early 1980’s it was operated by the Shanahan family (see Owl Diner above). They only leased the building and when the Owl Diner became available they bought that and moved their business there. The Peerless was operated by someone else until it was moved to Worcester. It was bought by the late Ralph Moberly who also owned Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner.

He stored it briefly next to the Chadwick Square Diner and made plans to move it to Key West, Florida. To facilitate this, he had to cut the diner length-wise so it could be transported over the bridges to Key West. It ended up being stored down there and unfortunately got picked apart by souvenir hunters and was eventually destroyed.


Peerless Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Peerless Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Peerless Diner next to Chadwick Square Diner in Worcester
circa late 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

Just to let you know there was in fact another diner in Lowell in the early 1980’s (photo not included here) but I never photographed it until the 1990’s. The Cameo Diner (which is still very much alive) has been around for many, many years although the current building is not factory-built. The story is it actually evolved from an old lunch wagon that was on its site. Maybe I’ll do another post that will include a “Cameo” appearance in the future!

Looking for a good read? Here’s a recommendation…

Check out A1 Diner, Real Food, Recipes, & Recollections
by Sarah Rolph

I have recently been in contact with Sarah Rolph. I knew about her through various people including Dick Gutman (author of American Diner Then & Now and The Worcester Lunch Car Company) who contributed archival photos as well as a  promo blurb on the back cover, and Ron Dylewski of “The American Roadside” website (http://www.theamericanroadside.com/) . In fact it was Ron who first put me in touch with her just over a year ago. Anyway Sarah wrote a book that came out in 2006 that I finally added to my Diner/Roadside library and it is a really great read!

This book captures the essence of the A1 Diner in Gardiner, Maine. This is Worcester Lunch Car # 790, a lovingly maintained circa 1946 vintage semi-streamlined model installed in a unique location. Originally known as Heald’s Diner (the name is still emblazoned on the porcelain panels) the diner is actually mounted on a steel frame 20 feet above ground to place the building adjacent to the bridge that crosses the Cobbossee Stream. The Diner’s front and side doors are entered from the bridge. You can also walk down stairs on the left side of the diner to the street below and actually view the underside of the diner.

I first knew about this diner through the book Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Their book was a state by state guide to diners from Maine to New Jersey published in 1980 by The Berkshire Traveller Press. Of the diners in Maine they reviewed, the A1 (then still known as Wakefield’s Diner) seemed to be one of the highlights of their research.

Sarah Rolph’s book  features reminisces and stories from original owner Eddie Heald’s daughter Marguerite Gagne to second owner Maurice Wakefield to third owner Albert Giberson leading to current owners Mike Giberson and Neil Andersen. Along the way there are also stories from waitresses and other workers through the years, most notably Bob Newell who worked for every owner until retiring within the last 2 or 3 months.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

Customers old and new chime in as well and the sense of history and nostalgia, not to mention sense of place and community come shinning through, making one want to take the long ride up to Gardiner to experience this place again (or even for the first time if you’ve never been). Interspersed throughout are recipes for meals from the respective different owners/cooks and time periods down the years.

I asked Sarah how she came about writing this book and she answered…..

I learned about the diner from my friend Karen Molvig. (She is no longer living.)  I met Karen when we both lived in Manhattan, in the late 1970s.  I was in my early twenties (I’m 54 now).  I moved to Boston in 1980.  Several years later, Karen moved to Maine—the Great Escape from the city.  She bought a place in Gardiner and eventually found A1 Diner.  Knowing I would enjoy the place, she took me there for supper on one of my visits.  She and her partner Jean had started to become friends with Mike and Neil, so that made it easy to meet them.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 I am originally from California, and had never been in an authentic diner.  I was fascinated by the small size, the fine materials, and the charm of the place.  I also loved the food.  As I got to know Mike, who was the main chef during the time I visited—late 1990s—he told me stories about the history of the diner.  It was clear he was very proud of his role in keeping the place alive and making it better, and it seemed like a really interesting story to me, the way the diner’s ups and downs reflected the changes of the town. 

When Mike and Neil purchased the diner, in the late 1980s, it was a difficult time in Gardiner.  I loved the small-business success story, the way Mike and Neil patiently worked to make the diner a success according to their longstanding vision.  They had to move very slowly, to keep from alienating their small cadre of regular customers and to keep from signaling to the town that this new version of the diner would be for yuppies only.  They really wanted to stay true to the diner’s heritage as a center of a community, and they succeeded in doing that while also upgrading it.  Now, as you know, you can still get a good old-fashioned hamburger, but you can also get Asian noodles.


Underneath the Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 When I met them, Mike and Neil had largely achieved this vision, but they told me stories about the way it had been when they started, and it was clear that it had been a long and difficult road.  I really admired their ability to achieve their dream through sheer hard work and imagination.  It seemed like that alone was a great story, the small-business challenges that had finally paid off. 

Ruth Reichl’s first memoir, Tender at the Bone, had come out around that time, and Mike and I both enjoyed it very much.  It reminded me of Mike, too.  Ruth learned to cook when she was a little kid, and so did Mike—he told me he would cook when nobody was home, and if the dish didn’t work out he would hide the evidence.  That book included recipes, which has since become a bit of a trend.  We thought it would be fun to do a history of the diner with recipes from every era.  I wanted to use the same approach Reichl did, having each recipe fit with one of the stories.  (In the end, I had to cheat a little bit to make it work out so that there were recipes in every chapter.  We didn’t have any recipes from the Eddie Heald era, but we used a modern soufflé recipe since we served soufflé to Marguerite Gagne when I interviewed her at the diner.  (Sadly, she is no longer living.)

 Tilbury House, Publishers, is located in Gardiner, Maine, so it was an easy sell.  In fact the publisher had been hoping someone would write a book about the diner and asked Neil—he told her someone was working on something, so she wasn’t even surprised to hear from me!

 Once I had the contract with Tilbury I did more research, spent a lot of time with Mike and Neil, interviewed Cindy and Bob, and interviewed Maurice Wakefield over the phone.  He was living in Florida at the time (he, too, has since died).  His mind was still very sharp, although his hearing was starting to go.  He had a special phone that increased the volume.  His daughter would make the appointments with me and take the call and then tell Maurice to get on his phone. 

He was great to interview, remembered a lot of stories, and wanted to tell me exactly how things were.  He was so pleased that people still remembered him and still cared.  It had been about thirty years, so he thought people would have forgotten him, but they had not.  Not only did the diner people I interviewed have stories about Maurice, but people in town remembered him, too. 

When I went to the State Library to look for old clippings, the gal who showed me how to use the microfiche machine, when I said I was writing about the diner, said “Oh!  Wakefield’s?!”  It was still Wakefield’s to her.  I was pleased to tell Maurice that.  I did two long phone interviews with him, and then I decided I really wanted to meet him, so Mike and I traveled to Florida and spent an afternoon with him.  It was really fun, the two of them talked about every little thing about the diner, the small details they both still enjoyed.  It was quite fun to hear them comparing notes about the place, and of course about the people—Cindy and Bob both worked for both Maurice and Mike. 

I  thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and give it a Diner Hotline “Approved” rating! It is available at Amazon….
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0884482774?ie=UTF8&tag=theamericanroadside-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0884482774