Since my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” published by The History Press came out almost a year ago, it has done well enough to actually make it to a third printing. The publisher found me because of this blog and it has gone almost full circle to the point that I was recently asked to be a guest blogger on their History Press Blog. They had made a suggestion or two about which direction I should write this but I decided to go in a slightly different direction. I chose to tell the story of possibly one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my 32 plus years of diner hunting. The link to that blog post is here…… http://www.historypressblog.net/2012/08/28/classic-diners-of-massachusetts-author-recalls-world-famous-apple-tree-diner/
The History Press blog people added an introduction to this version and it was edited slightly. Also, one photo was dropped…. so I decided to post the blog the way I wrote it here in its entirety, blemishes and all………
The World Famous Apple Tree Diner
Last year I authored a book for The History Press entitled Classic Diners of Massachusetts which has become another chapter in my almost 32 year personal research project of documenting American diners with my photographs. Looking back there have been many interesting stories and moments to reflect on. All the people I have met and all the miles I have driven, not to mention the countless friendships that developed on the “diner trail”. I guess that is one of the reasons why I write my blog, Diner Hotline. It is a way to show off my hundreds if not thousands of photographs and tell a few stories and anecdotes as well.
The blog was started on October 31, 2007, but evolved from a long running column I penned for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal magazine. I wrote that column (also called Diner Hotline) for 18 years before retiring it. A good friend, Brian Butko knew I wanted to move on and do something a little different and convinced me to start the blog. Well since that time, I truly feel that Diner Hotline is now the way I think it always should have been and I truly enjoy writing it as well as getting almost instantaneous feedback from a lot of my regular readers!
My interest in diners goes back to my childhood in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Later, I recall having some great times hanging out with my friends at Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car in the years following my graduation from high school in 1971. Situated in the downtown area of Medford, Mass. (my hometown), Carroll’s central location and 24 hour service was a huge draw, especially in the early morning hours after the clubs and bars closed. Between 1978 and 1980, I had been noticing a few newspaper articles and stories about a fairly new trend at that time of diners being moved from long-time business locations. One such example – the Englewood Diner in Dorchester (a section of Boston) was forced to move due to the property under the diner being sold. Another example, the owners of the Kitchenette Diner of nearby Cambridge retired and the diner was closed and subsequently moved, are two of the stories that I recall. There was also a feature story about diners written by Richard J.S. Gutman, then the co-author of the newly published American Diner book (Harper & Rowe). Gutman’s co-author of this book was Elliot Kaufman (and it was written in collaboration with David Slovic). This was the first comprehensive history ever published on the history of diners. There was another news story featuring Alan Bellink and Donald Kaplan talking about their book Diners of the Northeast (The Berkshire Traveller Press), a guide to diners in New York, New Jersey and New England.
Along with these news articles there also was my own sense of recognizing that a lot of the diners I recalled seeing as a youngster in and around the greater Boston area seemed to be swiftly disappearing from the urban and suburban landscape. Around this time I had started a weekly ritual of taking short Sunday morning road trips with my buddy Steve Repucci, which usually started off at a local diner. This expanded into picking a different diner every week to determine which direction to take the morning excursion. I was just getting into 35mm photography and in the back of my mind I thought I might start photographing the diners I visited on these little trips. But I confess I was a little hesitant and self conscious about standing in front of a packed diner and shooting one or two photos. I finally broke the barrier after Steve Repucci moved to Harrisburg, PA. He moved there in Labor Day Weekend of 1980 and a little over two months later on November 29th, I shot one photo of the Bypass Diner (in Harrisburg). Since that date I have photographed over 820 diners.
After Steve moved to Harrisburg, I did not have my regular road trip companion on Sunday mornings anymore, at least for a year and a half. But I did continue to go to diners by myself or with my brother Rick, among other people. One of the diners high on my list to visit was the Apple Tree Diner of Dedham, Massachusetts. As a little background, the diner was built in 1929 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company as car number 641 for William F. Schroeder who operated it as Bill’s Diner. It continued to operate as Bill’s Diner after Schroeder sold it to William Cogan who ran it for 43 years according to Richard Gutman. It has not been determined when the diner acquired the “Apple Tree” name but we know it had it by the early 1970’s or so.
Proclaimed as “The Famous Apple Tree Diner” by 1980, this was printed on their guest checks as well as the T-shirts they were selling at that time. This description was certainly one of the draws for me, how could I not check this place out? I had read about this diner in one or two of the news articles as well as my newly bought copy of Diners of the Northeast. It was early November as I recall, just prior to photographing the above mentioned Bypass Diner in Harrisburg, PA. I had made plans to drive down to Dedham from my home in Medford. I knew that the diner was located at 702 WashingtonSt. which was designated State Route 1A and that it was the continuation of the same Washington St. that started in downtown Boston.
So I basically decided to start my journey in Boston and drove all the way through the neighborhoods of the South End, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale on Washington St. before leaving the City of Boston. I was now in Dedham and knew the diner was south of the downtown area. Anticipation was very high and when I got to the point where Court Street comes into Washington St. from the right, I looked up ahead to the left and saw this bright red monitor-roofed Worcester diner sitting in the middle of a dirt parking lot surrounded by all forms of car and truck!
I was truly excited! Even after patronizing quite a few diners up to this point, this place was a completely unaltered piece of roadside Americana! I could tell already and I had not even stepped foot inside yet! I hurriedly parked my Chevy Van and literally ran from the parking lot and slid open the sliding door. The place was packed! There was one stool open right by the door…. I immediately sat down and soaked in the atmosphere of the bustling lunch car! I recall thinking…. this is the way a diner should be! Unbeknownst to me and probably a lot of other people, the diner would only be serving customers for another eight months or so.
The diner was being operated at that time by Warren Jones and his friend Joanne Dummeling as well as a very capable staff. In fact during that first visit, with all the rushing back and forth by the staff, it almost seemed like there were as many people working behind the counter as there were customers on the other side (there was probably only four people behind the counter). I subsequently ordered a cup of coffee and more than likely pancakes and bacon (my go-to breakfast at that time) and even with the diner being fully packed with customers, I can recall the food came to me fairly quick. The overall feeling of that first visit to the Apple Tree Diner was to me one of the purest diner experiences I can ever remember. In fact it might be safe to say that of the hundreds of diners I have visited since 1979, I have never experienced the same strong feeling that I did walking into the Apple Tree Diner on that Saturday in early November of 1980.
I finally shot my first two photos of the Apple Tree Diner on my second visit in January of 1981. That date and the date of my first visit unfortunately are somewhat lost to obscurity. You see I started my Diner Log book on July 28, 1981. After that date, whenever I documented a diner with photographs from then on, it got listed in the log. This meant first visits only, not subsequent later visits unless a particular diner was moved and reopened. Now I actually photographed over one hundred diners between Nov. 29, 1980 and July 28, 1981 and none of those hundred plus diners are logged properly with a specific date.
Back to the Apple Tree Diner….. It was during this second visit that I made the acquaintance of Warren Jones. Warren was two or three years older than I and we hit it off right from the start. He was very personable and friendly. I told him of my interest in diners and we conversed briefly as he was actually going into the house behind the diner for some supplies he needed, so he had to get back to work. I managed to get back to the diner again soon after that second visit for lunch, possibly the only non-breakfast visit I ever had there. Warren and I spoke a little more about my diner obsession and he mentioned knowing Dick Gutman. I informed Warren that I had come down that afternoon with the hopes of obtaining some contact info for Mr. Gutman and I asked him if he had a phone number so I could get in touch, Warren gladly wrote it out on a guest check for me. Soon thereafter I did phone Dick Gutman and introduced myself as a “Diner Freak” and as I recall he stated “join the club”! So it was on February 28, 1981 during my fourth visit to the Apple Tree Diner that I met Dick & Kellie Gutman for the first time.
I cannot recall how many times I got to the Apple Tree after that visit with Dick Gutman but I do know I was there on July 4th of that year. I had been raving to Steve Repucci about how he needed to check the place out the next time he was back to visit family and friends. So Steve had driven up from Pennsylvania for the long weekend and we went to the diner which was jammed as usual. It was all decked out in red, white & blue bunting with an American Flag hanging over the front door. Seeing the diner being so busy that weekend made it extremely hard to envision that by the end of that month the diner was closed and getting ready to be moved off the site!
You see, like a lot of older diners, the Apple Tree was operating on leased property and that the owner of the property sold the lot for development. The reason the diner got moved was that Warren Jones owned the building. He had put together a plan to sell shares in an attempt to help fund the relocation to another operating site. He found a pad site in a shopping center on Route 140 in Foxboro, Mass. and by the end of July, it was moved to Foxboro.
After the move to Foxboro, Warren then began the process of stripping years of paint from the body of the diner and removing all the roof shingles. He sand blasted the metal panels and primed and repainted it as well as installing a brand new roof covering. This was all in preparation for setting the diner on a new foundation. The next is a series of photos showing the stripping and repainting of the diner while still in Foxboro, photos circa 1981
Another part of his plan was possibly obtaining another old diner to include at the new site for expanded seating. Both diners would be placed at 90 degrees sitting in an “L” shape surrounding a new building with kitchen and restrooms. Unfortunately, the project lingered for a few months and never got close to being completed. Warren had to relinquish his claim to the pad site at the shopping center and soon had the diner moved to a storage site in nearby Mansfield.
Warren was then looking at the possibility of obtaining a new site in Mansfield that was going to be located on a corner of the then new iteration of a re-routed Route 140. That plan also never came to fruition and eventually the Apple Tree Diner was moved to Paul J. Dias’ yard in Hanson, Mass. in 1985. Dias was an auctioneer who was contacted by Warren Jones’ parents (Richard and Ona) who now had control of the diner.
The Jones’ (with help from Dias), eventually sold the diner to Lawrence Shevick of Boston, in May of 1988 to be precise. Mr. Shevick did not keep the diner long as he resold it to Dave Waller also of Boston by November of that same year. Dave Waller had just started on his now long-time hobby of rescuing old neon signs at that point and the reason that he decided to buy the diner when Shevick told him about it was because of his grandfather, Jack Hines. Hines used to own and operate a similar Worcester Lunch Car known as the Flying Yankee Dining Car in Lynn, Mass. So after purchasing the diner, Waller had the structure relocated to some family property up in New Hampshire where he proceeded to have the diner repainted closer to the color scheme of his grandfather’s diner.
By 1992, Dave Waller and his new bride Lynn had purchased a building that would ultimately be their home as well as a home to the Apple Tree Dining Car (the new name given to the place by Waller). It was a unique idea because the building they bought was a former fire station that had been decommissioned. It was sitting unused and deteriorating after being damaged by a fire. The city still owned the property and was debating as to what they would do with the structure. Along came the Wallers with a proposal for the ultimate reuse of the damaged building. This turned out to be a win-win situation as the city got a reasonable purchase price for a property that they (the city) could now collect property tax on.
After the purchase, the Waller’s started to rehabilitate the building. The first thing they did was to rebuild the fire damaged roof and started to clean up the interior. It still was no where close to being ready for habitation, but was basically ready to move in their largest possession, the diner! So on November 10, 1992, Bryant Hill of O.B. Hill Trucking Co. and his capable crew installed the diner into its new home. To get the diner into the building, the “Apparatus” doorway on the left-front elevation of the structure had to be altered temporarily. This was accomplished by removing quite a lot of the brickwork on the left side of the entry enough to allow the diner to be inched in on low-profile rollers. What a sight it was to see! It took at least two or three hours to get the diner inside the building. When this was accomplished, the Waller’s then had to have the brickwork restored. From the outside, one would never know what was just inside the doorway. To this day that is where the Apple Tree Diner lives, ironically within two miles from where I was living in 1980 when I first drove down to Dedham to experience this diner for the first time.
I remained good friends with Warren Jones from 1981 to the late 1980’s when. he and his family moved to North Carolina. I actually never saw him again after that point, but we did remain in touch until his untimely passing away within the last 6 years from cancer. I am glad I got to eat in the diner at least a few times in its final months in actual operation and I am also happy that it remains in good hands. At the very least we know that the diner is well protected, being inside a building and that it will remain so for some time to come.