Trains, Trolleys, and Diners: The real story

Hi Colorado Hirailer,

Hope you enjoyed your time in the Smokies -- such a beautiful part of America.  Some late night googling confirmed your post today that it's Mel's Classic Diner at 119 Wears Valley Road, Pigeon Forge, TN.

To me it looks like it may have been built onsite and would be easy to model, except for the neon :-).  The website says that it was built in 1993, which would explain why the classic book "American Diners: Then and Now" makes no mention of it nor any TN diners.  (It was published in the same year.)

If you were heading due north, Sevierville looks like the next town over, and it is home to Mells (different spelling) Diner, now known as The Diner.  This one looks like it was built by one of the newer diner building manufacturers.  With the big boxy look, stainless steel X shapes, they've gotten completely away from the rail dining car proportions, not to mention the 50's automobile-friendly diners they seek to evoke.  The Diner, Sevierville, TN  Notice the heavier use of glass blocks seen in the cowcatcher and challenger posts.  It's been taken to new extreames in the newer buildings.

It cracks me up when somebody with a video camera posting on You Tube goes on and on about the old "railroad car" that they're filming. Not! 

Great trolley find:

In tracking down these two restaurants, I stumbled on Brown's Diner in Hillsboro Village, Nashville, TN.  In 1929, Charlie Brown [yup] set up a mule-drawn trolley as a bar and restaurant at this location.  He built a foundation around the wheels to avoid taxes, a common occurence in those days.  So, the trolley wheels are still there.  You can see the curved interior roof in one black and white shot on their website. And there are several exterior photos on the web.  A news post about a prior fire says there are two cars but it's impossible to tell from photos/aerial views.  John Bader, the painter mentioned in an earlier post about the Trolley Stop in Lowell, also painted this real trolley-turned-diner.

Tennessee Diner in a Mule-Drawn Nashville Trolley

Thanks for sharing.

Tomlinson Run Railroad

P.S. - Forumites, do you have a Mel's Diner or Drive-in on your layout? Show us your pics.  One food reviewer thought the popularity of the name was due to the TV show "Alice" set in Mel's Diner. 

Original American diner buildings have been shipped to Canada, Britain, and parts of Europe where restauranteurs have tried to cash in on their appeal and unique-American association.   By comparison, it turns out that converting retired trolley and rail cars into diner-like restaurants isn't unique to the United States.  Here are a few samples -- in this case, featuring another American dining experience.  Yes, it's another photo-laden post about the ever ubiqitous McDonald's!  In how many languages can you say "Do you want fries with that?" while standing inside a former rail/trolley car? 

There could be more. I just happened to stumble upon these while doing my U.S. research.

Tomlinson Run Railroad


Trams inside restaurant (gone)

German example (look for English link that says it goes to the page you are looking for)

Or try this link (note pantograph still attached):

http://www.drehscheibe-online..../read.php?17,5562609   Scroll down a short way to McDrive and the German trolley photo.

Rumania (note pantograph);iact=c&ictx=1  (scroll down a little past halfway)

New Zealand

Not a train but entertaining none-the-less

P.S. -- All of a sudden I feel hungry.


While I was pondering  the differences and similarities between diner architecture and railroad design, it occurred to me that one area of difference is found in the locations of the kitchens. 

First the similarities: In both diner buildings and kitchen rail cars, the kitchen equipment was in a tightly enclosed space that was designed for economy.   Both dealt with early and evolving forms of heating the cooking surface (trains: wood, coal; diners: coal? gas), and both kitchens used ice-filled refrigerators to keep the provisions cold.  It was obviously important to separate the hot from the cold sections in such small kitchens; you can see how this was attempted via floor plans.  The resulting space was so tight that both diner cooks and dining car chefs and their waitstaff developed a special type of shuffle for getting around the tight spaces.  Popular legend says that fellow works can identify one another on the street by their distinctive walk.

That said, one big difference was that the train kitchen was a separate car, or it was built at one end of the car, separated from the dining section.  Railroads were trying to create the experience of a hotel on wheels for their patrons.  When you read ad copy for modern dinner trains, they continue to stress the importance of enjoying the ever-changing view while you dine on fine food.

In diner buildings, the kitchen was traditionally located along a back bar, parallel to the counter and booths (although many later added a real kitchen at the rear or in a basement to provide greater working space).  Part of the fun of eating in a diner is watching the cook prepare the food.

And in both settings it can be a treat sitting with people who you don't know and making them your new best friends for a few moments over food.  Both dining cars and diners have similar, large windows -- something that the contemporary diner buildings have held on to while they've moved further away from the railcar/moderne engine look.

Summation: On a rail car, patrons were entertained as they watched the changing scenery out the window while eating world class food.  In a diner, patrons ate comfort food and were entertained as they watched the chef and waitstaff work, or the foot traffic outside the window.  Both models work for me!  Here is a cartoon (also posted elsewhere today) that makes it clear how important a window with a rolling view was. So much better than those ubiquitous individual drop-down movie screens on buses and airplanes now-a-days:

And now for some actual photos ... Speaking of comfort food, I don't have any converted rail or trolley car photos to share as I am back to school and so no road trips, but I do have these two.  I've written about how the recent surge in food trucks put more converted "bus trolley" restaurants on the road.  These two are smaller stationary versions that are towed behind a vehicle and then left on site --  just like the original diners.  The first photo was taken in New Hampshire for me by a friend many years ago. This "trolley" sold Italian comfort food:

This next "trolley" is Ed's Weenies located at a farm stand in "metro-west" Massachusetts.  Ed's recently won the number three slot in the Boston Globe's Cheap Eats contest.  The proud kitchen helper noted that it was great but odd because the hot dog vendor is no where near Boston.  The owner's a stellar neighbor who always gives back to the town, so I'm not surprised. 

Apparently, when Ed had his kitchen custom built he specifically had it designed to look like a trolley.  He's not been around to ask why he wanted this look, but his helper pointed out the popular red and yellow colors -- or, as she said: "Catsup and mustard! " Doh!  It never occurred to me. Check out the earlier photos/links I posted on the many McD's conversions and my photos of the latest incarnation of the Trolley Stop in Lowell, MA ... Yup, you guessed it, they're catsup and mustard:

Tomlinson Run Railroad



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TRRR- Love your posts on the trolleys, diners, etc. I have always been fascinated by dining cars and the military dining cars they built during WW II.  I got a good look at one, I think it was at Spencer, NC. Worked for awhile in my frat kitchen and  there was a diner in "downtown" State College, Pa. where we would and sit and watch the cook behind the counter.  I wonder if they teach that at culinary school  ??

Hey Jim!

Thanks!  Sometimes I feel like I'm talking to myself or boring you guys to tears :-).  And I wish I had more photos.

You know, it's an interesting thing about those military kitchen cars.  How neat you got to see one up close.  Just poking around following my general interests per this post has turned up what seems to be several ex-military kitchens that have survived.  The 1950 "Colonial Hearth" at Connecticut's Valley RR is one that comes immediately to mind, but there have been others.  Perhaps their practical application as a kitchen car meant that some lasted longer than other types of rail cars?  

James Porterfield's excellent book _Dining by Rail_ devotes considerable text to the increased demand on the kitchen crew and no doubt provisions stocking efforts during the WWII years when service personnel had to be transported AND fed by the nations and services' railroads.

What didn't seem to happen (as far as I can tell) is that wanna be restaurant owners were NOT buying old kitchen cars -- military or otherwise -- as a way to get a ready made kitchen for a diner or restaurant.  Diner buildings on the other hand, came well equiped with both the kitchen and dining area.  If you bought a retired trolley or rail car, you were free to mimic a diner's interior visible kitchen, build your kitchen out from the side of the car, or design whatever you wanted.  I'd guess those rail car kitchens would be pretty beat or out-dated.  

There's an example of a converted trolley in Shafter, California whose owner mimicked a diner building by taking up space with the kitchen bar inside the trolley car body. It was a 1910s? Pacific Electric #466, formerly a Fresno Traction Car and Peninsula RR (?). It became a diner in 1943 and the Red Wagon Cafe is still going strong. I'll add a link to pictures when I have time later. 

I dunno about teaching budding chefs "performance" art like how to entertain patrons while cooking (=grin=) but the ability to work under pressure AND be observed certainly sets the diner cook apart from the dining car chef.  It's a great idea. 

Johnson and Wales Culinary School has a culinary arts museum and they have sponsored diner events and at least one exhibit in the past.  Diner fans are a lot like railfans!  The school takes pride in Providence, Rhode Island's history as the birthplace of the first horse drawn diner.  I wonder whether they have any railroad cookbooks, dining car artifacts, and the like in their collection?

The closest I came to your frat experience was during my first year of college. I got a summer job as a short order cook (no height jokes, please) at the Officer's PX Snack Bar at Fort Devens, MA.  It was set up very much like a diner range out in the open for cooking burgers, chicken, fries, onion rings, pizza, and etc. But I think the long bar area parallel to the grill was only for the servicemen to order and then line up to pay at the cash register; there was a separate area for table seating.  Fort Devens was decomissioned years ago and the PX and snack bar long gone, but the large train yard on the base is now a busy Norfolk Southern intermodal yard with connections to Pan AM and commuter train tracks.

Thanks for your encouragement and stories.

Tomlinson Run Railroad




Please don't stop !!  Not boring. I wish I had saved all your posts and photos, it would make a great book. I imagine the RR cooks were like the diner short order cooks-poetry in motion. The crack the eggs and have them on the grill, toast in toaster, bacon frying,  smear butter on without missing a beat.  State College  had a diner where we went that was famous for their buttered fried sticky buns.  We would sit there and watch the cook( a collegiate wrestler) at work. He was the bouncer too. Some wise guy kept touching the waitress where he shouldn't have, he was politely asked to stop but didn't so he was hauled outside and body slammed.  That ended that and the cook went back to the grill. I don't think the dining car kitchens fit a commercial  need too well.

I'll bet Jim's PA college diner was the late-1950s Silk City-built "Baby's (eat and get out) Diner". Right?  Diner website  At Baby's it's all about the red and white colors (and apparently sticky buns).  Here's a Google Image search for more pictures: Lots of photos ...  

Recently in this post we've investigated mustard and catsup colors on converted cars and food trailers, but the 50's red and white look is popular, too.  As described in the 20 October 2016 post, the Newport & Narragansett Bay RR created a 50s-style diner inside of a rail car.  For your viewing pleasure, here are some more examples of rail car/trolley "diners" -- also featuring the classic red and white Coca Cola look.  Most embedded photos are from places like Yelp followed by pointers to more official sources and copyrighted photos.

The Diner Car, Doolittle's Restaurant, DuBois, PA

Not far from State College, PA is a converted 1944 PRR Pullman car "diner". This local attraction also has a gorgeous 1913 Milwaukee Road parlor car-turned dining room:

Now, if I were an art historian, I might call this a "transitional" piece because, while the seats, tables, and walls are in 50's red and white, and the floor is a typical checkerboard, it is a catsup red and yellow mustard checkerboard.  Clearly, the designers took some stylistic license.  Here are more links.  The railroad station is new but was built from B&O plans:

DuBois Area Historical Society Article (nice)

TV News Video and Story and the Official Website

Rock and Roll Diner, Oceana, CA

This "diner" was created from two streamlined passenger cars placed end-to-end. One is smooth-sided, the other is a fluted Budd observation car.  Wow-Za!

 Lots of photos (Google image search) , Official website, and Short video of the exterior.

Angels' Diner, Palatka, FL

Back on the east coast is a steel-sided rail car of some type (?). Can anyone hazard a guess? The restaurant dates from 1932.  The interior design isn't too heavy on the 50s-look but the plates do sport black and white checkerboards:

Angel's doesn't seem to have a website but they are on Angel's Diner FB Page and some More photos.  To be continued ...

Tomlinson Run Railroad


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Here are two more examples of a trolley and rail car turned into diners that feature red and white/50s design. I didn't see any "safe" pix to snag, so sadly you'll have to click for the visuals.

Dudie's Diner, Tupelo, MS

This diner was built from a 1923 St. Louis lightweight car that saw service as Memphis Street Railway #630.  Depending on the source, it was converted to a restaurant in 1945 or 47; and is the focal point for a hamburger festival at the museum where it now resides:

Dudie's Diner earlier more prototypical lookBlog pix, Google image hits (lots of pix), and the Oren Dunn City of Tupelo Museum website (caution: this link wasn't up before).

50s Train Diner, Murdo, South Dakota

Self-consciously called the "50s Train Diner" and sometimes the "Sante Fe Train Diner", this attraction in 1880 Town, SD is built around a 1950s Sante Fe train that ran between Chicago and California.  It was moved to this site in 1982.  The fifties memorabilia and red and white Coca-Cola sign leave little to the imagination regarding where the design inspiration came from.  The website says the restrooms are in the Milwaukee station next door:

Nice pix and Coca-Cola sign and Official 1880 Town website

Valentine Diners, Kansas

In addition to the association with Coca-Cola and checkered picnic table cloths, the red and white color motif was found inside real manufactured diner buildings like Baby's Diner in State College, PA that kicked off this post.  Who knows which came first?  In the 1940s, one actual diner manufacturer created small restaurant buildings whose exteriors were painted in bright red and white.  Valentine Diners competed with big diner manufacturers like Worcester in MA and Silk City in NJ.  In their spiffy paint, these buildings bucked the east coast tradition -- Valentine Diners was based in Kansas and many of their buildings were found in the west and mid-west.  These are really awesome buildings and would look great on a layout.  They, however, look like buildings not rail cars or moderne engines. Google Image search (lots of pix)

This post desperately needs some photos, so here they are.  Following is a tip from TRRR on converting your layout space into a 50s diner, complete with repurposed rail car:

Next is a fun cookbook that includes recipes and CDs to play while you cook or dine.  In spite of its name, it is not related to the California streamliner diner in the previous post.  It does however, showcase the black and white checkerboard shown on dinner plates and train sides in the prior post:

And lastly, in keeping with the season (seasonings?), here is Donder's Diner featured in who-knows-what-scale:

Speaking of red and white, Santa used to sit on the left-most stool but he fell behind the counter, and being ... er ... somewhat corpulent got wedged back there.  He does, however, send his warmest "Ho, ho, ho" and hopes to free himself in time for the Big Day of train riding with Donder and friends:

Tomlinson Run Railroad (on vacation!)


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OK TR RR, my diner in State College is now the "Ye Olde College Diner".  The other is newer.  In my day, if you had $5 you had a real date- movie in town and a stop at another diner on the walk back to the  frat. We would get cheeseburgers and a milk shake. Big times. Very few had cars-we walked  Ch.13 WQED in Pgh. made a show on diners, Pa. diners, I think. I will pick one up if I can find it. Eat N Park, a western Pa, restaurant chain tried a retro diner on Rt.30 near Jeanette, Pa. but it bombed.  Just curious, TR RR, is your handle related in any way to a stream in beautiful  West(By-Gawd) Virginia  ??

Ah, I conflated the two State College, PA diners.  So forget the red and white ... From web photos, your diner has superb brown and tan tile work flooring and an Art Deco exterior. Clearly, it is earlier than Baby's and to my eye much more attractive.  Very nice and great memories!

Eat N Park sounds familiar; I'll have to investigate my sources.

Yes, "Tomlinson Run" is a play on words partially based on the WVA park and my name.  I've never been there; sadly they don't have a railroad, but happily I do :-).

Tomlinson Run Railroad

There was a diner in downtown Aberdeen, MD that I'm not sure was a RR car, but it looked like one. The pace was a 50s-60s time capsule, and I loved eating there when I was still stationed at the Proving Ground.

There was a neat restaurant at Vancouver, WA just inside the insanely-busy wye where the old SP&S met the old NP. They had several RR passenger cars and a hack connected to the building. Sadly, it was out of business the first time I ever saw the place and the cars were scrapped a couple of years later. The hack, I heard, got saved by someone. The other cars are on the other side and the tracks are to the right. It would have been an amazing place to eat and watch trains but I heard it was pricey and the food wasn't very good.

My all-time favorite, though, would have to be another long-closed-before-I-got-there one, the Tweetsie Diner in Newland, NC. Sadly, this burned to the ground in a fire a few years after this photo was taken with my in it, I think circa 1982:

Sadly, this was former ET&WNC coach 23, the last surviving coach from the old Tweetsie...

TR RR- there are RR tracks south of the park in Weirton. Get your crew to run a branch north along the Ohio River plus the NS is across the Ohio River. Artistic license.   Eat N Park started in the South Hills area of Pgh and we would go to the first one where the waitresses brought your tray of food to the car. Can't be more retro than that.  they have expanded but not sure if they have gone out of state. They are home of the "Smiley"  cookie. Also, at first, they featured the  "Big Boy' hamburger but that was copyrighted and eventually they dropped that name but not the sandwich. Still a great place to eat.

p51 posted:

There was a diner in downtown Aberdeen, MD that I'm not sure was a RR car, but it looked like one. The pace was a 50s-60s time capsule, and I loved eating there when I was still stationed at the Proving Ground.

>> p51/Lee,

>> Thanks for your excellent post and sharing your photos.  This is great.  The New Ideal Diner was an actual diner building with a train-car feel built in 1952 by the Jerry O'Mahoney Co. of NJ.  Looks like it is gone but here are some interesting links: 




There was a neat restaurant at Vancouver, WA just inside the insanely-busy wye where the old SP&S met the old NP.


>> You may be in luck here.  Washington state has a high number of railcars used as restaurants.  I'll see what I have and post more later.  Nice picture, by the way.

My all-time favorite, though, would have to be another long-closed-before-I-got-there one, the Tweetsie Diner in Newland, NC.

>> Gosh, I can see why it would be your all-time favorite.  This RR was new to me.  I'm a fan of narrow gauge and can't imagine how a narrow gauge car was converted to a restaurant.  But if the original diners were horse-drawn wagons, clearly it's possible.

>> What a great photo of you and a fantastic car-turned- building.  The unusual clapboard treatment reminds me of some of the "updating/modernizing" that gets done to authentic diner buildings.  There's one that is so bad, that it has an award for bad taste named after it.  I'll scan and post a pix of the Lou-Roc shortly.

>> For those like me who are curious to learn more, here are links to the current Tweetsie Railroad, including a nice interactive history timeline: 



>> Thanks again for your contribution, Lee.

See my inline comments in p51's note above, prefaced with >>.  (On my iPad and in a rush.)


jim pastorius posted:

TR RR- there are RR tracks south of the park in Weirton. Get your crew to run a branch north along the Ohio River plus the NS is across the Ohio River. Artistic license. 

Eat N Park started in the South Hills area of Pgh


Also, at first, they featured the  "Big Boy' hamburger but that was copyrighted and eventually they dropped that name but not the sandwich. Still a great place to eat.

Ha!  I'd have to enlarge my living room for that branch. The TRRR is in Massachusetts -- inspite of the investment in PRR rolling stock.

My memories of road trips centered around holiday drives from Pittsburgh to visit relatives in Harrisburg.  (As a kid, my lucky mother used to do the same trip by train, courtesy of my grandfather's job at the PRR.)  I loved it when we stopped at a Big Boy Restaurant.  Big Boy hamburgers remain my favorite.  They tasted great and the "Big Boy" character was so iconic.  These days, when I want to eat something I probably shouldn't, I have to make do with a Big Mac.  Too far to drive for the real thing.


jim pastorius posted:

No ! No!  You create a holding company like W&P with a common paint scheme but not connected. You never heard of the Tweetsie ??  A great RR.

Needless to say, I'm flabbergasted that someone hasn't heard of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina RR, which the 'flatland tourists' called 'the Tweetsie' by the late 30s (though it was never a popular name among the locals).

That said, I have to face facts that when it comes to narrow gauge lines, it's "all Colorado/New Mexico, all the time" for most train fans. There were some amazing narrow gauge lines all over the country but many just think of the old D&RGW/D&S/RGS lines and nothing else... The ET&WNC had a line through the Doe River Gorge outside of Hampton, TN that rivaled anything the Rio Grande ever had. Thankfully, rails were re-laid in the early 60s as part of an ill-fated tourist operation that is now owned by a Christian camp that has maintained the line and allowed train buffs to come check it out.

Aerogipsy posted:

"Spaghetti Warehouse is an Italian restaurant geared towards families with 13 locations in 6 U.S. states. Each restaurant has a trolley car in the dining room and patrons are able to sit in the car." 
We visit the Columbus OH location regularly. The food is awesome, by the way!


The very first one was in Portland, Oregon but sadly it was moved a few years back. They have a very impressive location down by the river there, but sort of out of the way. There are newer ones in the region, but they all have a newly-build trolley-looking structure in the middle. Only the Tacoma one (which moved a few blocks, last year) has an original trolley still inside it.

The Seattle one (the red brick building in the below photo) is in the process of closing right now, which is really sad as it was right next to the BNSF/NP/Amtrak main line:

Though it's one of her favorite restaurants, my wife never liked eating in the trolley in the Tacoma location, as it rocked on its suspension and trucks back then. When it was moved, it was apparently given a far more sturdy position in it's new location.


Don't get too upset that I haven't heard of the Tweetsie; I'm fairly new to the hobby (1:1 and O); and let's just say that I don't get out much and leave it at that :-).  The Doe River Gorge link that you posted looks like a beautiful mountain route for sure -- and I see your point about the western narrow gauge routes being more familiar to most. 

When it comes to east coast narrow gauge, I'm closer to and therefore somewhat familiar with lines in Maine. They seem to be having quite the renaissance at the present.  There are three restorations that I'm aware of.  In case you didn't see it, here is a post with some pictures from my October visit to one of them.  It certainly doesn't have any route to speak of, but they have a nice collection of cars and a museum that I still hope to explore: Forum topic in Narrow Gauge RR, Potland, Maine.

Thanks for the pix and info on the Old Spaghetti Factory.  For those interested, my notes (taken from, say that the SEATTLE restaurant's trolley is a 1917 St. Louis Car Co., Birney Safety model, part of order #1117.  My notes are sloppy, but it looks like it was #360 Puget Sound Traction Light & Power.  And then PPS in 1938?  A related link said that it was a Bellingham Birney.  With the restaurant's pending closure, I wonder what will happen to it?  Enjoyed your story about your wife and the trolley suspension at the Tacoma location. Definitely not the place to order Jello for dessert .

Tomlinson Run Railroad

Scale Rail, your Fog City photos are really inviting! It looks like a really fun place.  This diner is what diner fans call an "on-site" diner because it wasn't built by one of the typical diner manufacturers and then shipped to the location.  As far as diner buildings go, it's a young'un having been built in 1985.   There are a few diners serving nouvelle cuisine, which can be surprising to those who just want eggs sunny-side up any time of the day :-)

From your photos, it almost looks like it has two "looks": the funky neon lettering with the 50s-style checkerboard walls and a patio versus what looks like a more restrained side, more in the classic dining car style of maybe the forties and the switch to block lettering for the name. The placement of the side lights nearer to the sidewalk instead of the more typical location in between the windows is an interesting touch.  Someday I hope to add a post comparing external and internal lighting on these rail and trolley conversions with diner buildings.  The external placement of side lights makes the buildings -- converted cars or otherwise -- look like a railcar turned inside out.

Then there's that vertical work on the roof-line.  I see the addition of vertical lines as one of the big design departures from the railcar look.  It's more down-to-earth than the sense of horizontal movement you see on a railcar.  But that's enough of my blathering about architecture; thanks for the nice photos.


I am saddened to report that the Diner Grill in Chicago suffered a fire on Christmas Eve. The 80 year old owner says that the 70 year old diner will reopen. The diner opened before WWII, and the structure was formed of two Evanston, IL streetcars. I don't know how much of the internal structure has been damaged . 





jay jay posted:

I am saddened to report that the Diner Grill in Chicago suffered a fire on Christmas Eve. The 80 year old owner says that the 70 year old diner will reopen. The diner opened before WWII, and the structure was formed of two Evanston, IL streetcars.  =snip=

John/Jay Jay,

Thanks for the update.  That is sad and truly unfortunate timing.  How ironic that it happened the one night that they are closed.  I really appreciate the owner's attitude - all the more amazing at 80. It sounds like the Diner Grill has a very loyal following.

The Hicks Car Works blog (of which you are no doubt familar) reported that over the years not much of the original trolley cars remained in the structure.  Regardless, I wish them a speedy rebuild and recovery.

Tomlinson Run RR

Food for Thought: I was going to post this on the "What did you do on your layout today?" thread -- that is, until I looked at the truly inspiring and fine work that so many of you are posting there.  So, I figure this thread is a much safer spot for savoring this little comedic piece.  Bon appetite!  TRRR

= = =

Today I created a new "carpet" layout -- whoever said "Don't play with your food" doesn't know what they're talking about!

Early this AM I was awakened by a phone call that my elderly mother in Maine was without power and heat after a Nor'easter.  While the care manager and I discussed what to do in this critical situation, I noticed that 1.  My 26-year old kitchen rug is really disgusting looking and needs immediate replacing and 2.  To the "trained" eye, it looks just like a combination 2- and 3-rail track surrounding an orchard -- an instant carpet layout!  Yes, when the going gets tough, the tough think of trains. As a recent forum post advised, "Keep Calm and Play with Trains".

While the caregiver agency sprang into action, the Tomlinson Run Railroad staff did the same. First, the ever intrepid Jed measured the radius to see whether this new carpet layout could support the TRRR's motive power and rolling stock ...

Jed says,"Lookin' good!" A cautious test run with the TRRR's Atlas RS-1 confirms that the awkward overhang on tight curves is no worse than on the line's usual 31" MTH track. The transition from 2-rail to 3-rail was seamless!

With the morning drama, Management hadn't eaten yet.  So the railroad suspended its multipurpose track testing and asked the dining car's Chef Chuck Wagon to step up to the plate and try his hand at 1:1 scale.  The Board of Health will probably "ding" Chef for this next photo (!)  Here he leads a consist containing the ingredients for a 1:1 scale omelette.  The train is headed for the railroad's commissary.  (Hey, look, is that a coveted Oscar Mayer car?!)

Prior to shipping, Chef unloads the ingredients and supervises their careful preparation in the railroad's commissary.  The TRRR's new reefer won't be delivered by Charles Ro until later in 2017, so Chef Wagon had to work fast to ensure that only the freshest ingredients are shipped! 

Delighted, Chef notes that, compared to 1:48, working in 1:1 is much easier than he expected.

The ingredients are bound for the West Virginia Pan Handle -- the area from where the TRRR takes its name.

Roxy the roller skating waitress really delivers.  In a flash (note the lack of focus), she ships the ingredients to the Pan Handle where they are "warmly" received.

After finding an unused wooden flat bed (and flat bread), Chef seriously contemplates how closely his creation resembles the star of the film "The Blob" [see photo in prior diner post].  However, Management was fully satisfied and ordered the crew to send the rolling stock back to the living room layout -- thus, ending all hope of a fully realized kitchen layout.

I hope you enjoyed my new carpet layout as much as I did.  And, yes, my mother has power and heat again!  Yeah!

Tomlinson Run Railroad, the "Short Line with a Short Order Cook" Railroad
P.S. -- Is that Chef Chuck Wagon giving you all a microwave?


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In my 12/22/2016 reply to p51/Lee, I mentioned the "Lou-Roc" award.  The publisher of a now defunct diner newspaper called "Roadside" created and awarded it to diner owners who needlessly modified their buildings in a way that defaced the original structure.  "Mediterranean" or "Colonial" touches and worse were haphazardly nailed onto railcar-style diners to "modernize" them.  While converting a rail car or trolley into a restaurant can sometimes save it for future preservation (like the Veteran's Diner that started this post), it's not always the case with diner building conversions.  I hope to create some more photo posts about other lucky rail cars and trolleys that have found their way into museums and even back on the rails (!) because they were once turned into "diners".

In the meantime, here's the real Lou-Roc Diner, Worcester, MA, which I photographed in 1992.  Under all the brick is a rare New England-based Silk City (NJ) diner. It's rare because it is ironically situated in the home town of one of America's earliest and most prolific diner building manufacturers.  Check out those Colonial Revival brick columns! 


Fortunately for the Lou Roc's owners, it has won numerous food awards as well.  So many that perhaps they had to encase the bizarre brick porch to create an additional seating area, as shown in the following more recent photo and accompanying student blog.  Wonderfully, the new neon sign now sports the railroad-trolley-diner-clock wings motif explored in a previous post:

Facebook: Lou-Rocs-Diner

College Student's Blog

Today I stumbled on this bonus Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy beauty (!) while researching some of the rail and trolley diners that made it into museums.  Its fate is unknown.

  The Burlington Diner, 4183 SO. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL.  (Circa 1940s. Photo courtesy of Illinois Digital Archives).  This rail car diner was, as its name suggests, part of the Burlington Route and was located opposite the stock yards.  It opened in 1939 and closed in the 1970s.  The rail car was placed on land previously owned by the Mrs. O'Leary's boy, "Big Jim", a Chicago gambler.  But look closely ... The owner encased the rail car in red and yellow - BRICKS!  Sort of a Lou-Roc before there was a Lou-Roc.  From a 2009 blog post:

'The lot stood empty for a decade, then was occupied by the Burlington Diner ..., built inside an old train car, which was decorated inside in the "pop art" style, with every window a different color. The Burlington advertised "The best coffee in town. We never close." But in the early 1970s, with big demographic changes affecting the old "Back of the Yards" neighborhood, the Burlington did close. The site is now again an empty lot, ...' 

The Burlington also advertised that it was for "Ladies and Gentlemen".  This information was diner code to indicate that not only were ladies welcome, but they wouldn't be expected to straddle a stool at the counter.  Instead, the car probably had table seating.

Coming up next!  A Lou-Roc'd trolley in California.

Tomlinson Run Railroad


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Rule292 posted:

There's a Birney car that is part of a restaurant in Skippack, PA.

On the old diner front we ate at the Cloister Restaurant in Ephrata PA whose modern exterior hides a classic stainless diner from somewhere in the 30's to the 50's.  They were closing so I couldn't see if there was any manufacturing information or "tag" as the diner site on the web calls them.

It even has opening windows reminiscent of a passenger car or school bus window. 

Here's a post card shot from thebay:


And now that we know what the Lou-Roc Award means, I'm sorry to report that the streamlined subject of Rule292's post was a victim of the trend, apparently in the 1980s.  That must be what you meant by your comment about what the "modern exterior hides" :

But, today's Loc-Rocking can lead to buried treasure for future archaeologists and preservationists.  Believe it or not, there may still be a trolley car buried inside this Chinese AutoMec Sales & Service business at 8685 Garvey Blvd, Rosemead, CA.  It seems awfully wide but the overall proportions work.  This example was once the Taqueria Su Amigo El Michaucano diner (circa 1979/93 per "American Diner: Then and Now").  I can't find any web photos of its Mexican restaurant phase -- let alone guess its prior transportation history:

Tomlinson Run Railroad


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Here is a photo of the restaurant at the ex-New York Central's Valhalla station, now called Valhalla Crossing Restaurant in Westchester County, NY (just north of White Plains). It is located off the Taconic Parkway by the Kensico Reservoir along the Harlem Division of Metro-North Railroad. My friend was involved in the original construction of the restaurant and was able to salvage some vintage sleeping car woodwork and used it to create a Pullman-like bedroom for himself.

While I grew up in Westchester County , I never found time to visit, so far.




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Yesterday I drove to W. Springfield to attend the Amherst Railway Society Hobby and Train Show. My plan was to eat lunch at a restaurant with a train car attached in Chicopee (to add photos to this post); attend the show; and then on the way home stop in Palmer at the Steaming Tender.  Well, as the Meatloaf song goes: "Two outta three ain't bad."  It was too dark to take any photos of the Steaming Tender.  Because the train station restaurant is just a few blocks from a real diner, it made sense to return another time when the sun was out to best explore the area and take photographs.

The amazing thing is that the "restaurant" with the rail car that I did get to turned out to be attached to a real diner!   The diner has escaped the many diner fan lists out there.  So, here are some photos of my visit.  For anyone visiting the hobby show in the future, this great find is only 9 miles away.  Following are a series of posts highlighting first the diner, then the railcar.

Tomlinson Run (of Good Luck) Railroad

BONUS FEATURE:  Bernie's Dining Depot, James Street, Chicopee, MA,

Here's the takeout menu that contains the history of the diner and the railcar. (B52 bomber fans, take note.):



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Bernie's Dining Depot Diner Photos: Outside

This photo gives a sense for how the diner and rail car are combined. The rail car provides extra seating for the small diner. In the foreground, the right-most quadrant of the diner building has been bumped out into a sun room:

Some vestiges of the original diner architecture remain.  I have no clue who the manufacturer is but will see if I can find out.  It was built during WWII:

Look closely through the glass in the door and you will see the amazing chrome backbar.  This diner is in great original shape!

Bernie's Dining Depot Diner Photos: Inside

I didn't want to be a total rube, so the inside shots aren't great. The diner was packed, I was in a hurry to get to the show, and didn't want to disturb the guests and fabulous wait staff too much with my flash camera.

The diner seen from the former Amtrak rail car dining room. Somebody was behind me. No chance for a do-over:

The rail car is divided into a large section and a small section.  I was in the latter.  The interior has been redone and is heavy on the oak paneling:

Mirrors at both ends make for flash explosions.  Woops.

Here's the nook area that I ate in. There are about 6 tables. The door goes to a smaller section that may be for private parties -- you'll see the stairs to it in the post that follows this one:

The Baked Fisherman's Platter.  Notice how the flash reflects back on all that yummy butter?  The service was amazingly fast and the food truly delicious (except the green beans were canned but that's typical for a diner):

Up next ... the outside of the car and its possible rail history ...



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A very quick search for Amtrak car #3954 says this car was originally NYC #3035, a post-war lightweight.  In 1969, it was reconfigured to a Penn Central 50-seat snack bar coach. In 1971, it was sold to Amtrak as #3954, and then in 1982, it was bought by the owner of the diner. Source: 12 November 2014 reply "Part Two: Postwar Lightweights, Continued:" to post "Surviving NYC Lightweight Cars; Railway Preservation News Post.

Stairway added to small room for private parties mentioned in the take-out menu (?):

Some embellishments were added for sure ...


Notice how the under carriage is original:



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Here is an interesting article that popped up in my newsfeed this morning, about a man who revitalizes and relocates diners.   Its interesting to think that the diner concept didn't work in some locations because people were uncomfortable sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers at a lunch counter. I have been enjoying this thread.





OMG !!  The Venus was along Rt.8, Allegheny Co.,Pa. near the turnpike interchange. Was there for years. Glad that it found a good home.  Take note of the curved glass windows in some of these diners. there is a company near Butler, Pa. that makes those.  Thanks for posting the article. Love the diners.

Hi John/Jay Jay,

Thanks for the great link  and contribution to this topic. The photos are superb and it's nice that the article focused on Steve Harwin's many restoration projects.  I, too, was struck by the part that said that there are some areas of the country where people didn't like sitting with strangers.  That's so much a part of the appeal and fun of eating in a diner, as well as in a dining car for that matter.

I have the Venus Diner listed on Rt. 8 in the Gibsonia section of Pittsburgh and no other info, so it's good to know where it is now. The diner was manufactured by the Fodero Dining Car Company, Bloomfield, NJ (1933-1981).  They were known for their stainless steel work and for their 1940s "winged clock".  The clock is evocative of the wings found on UP engines and around headlights on trolleys.  There are photo examples of both in an earlier post of mine in this thread.  Jim, I really like that curved glass and didn't know that Butler had a manufacturer there.  Interestingly, I found one or two trolleys that used curved windows. I will try and dig up pictures sometime; it seems like an impractical choice for actual cars.  First it takes up space on the ends where the doors usually are, and second I would think that curved glass would be under greater stress than flat glass and so at risk for cracking when in transit.

Thanks again,

Tomlinson Run Railroad

The Venus was known for good coffee and pies not gourmet food.   The glass company is the "Bent Glass Co". How is that for originality !!  Located in East Butler and there was a DINER not that far from it. Can't remember the name but I think it was the one originally in Butler.

Hi Forumites,

I haven't had any time to travel to and photograph the two trolley-to-diner conversions in my state.  (One involves island ferry travel on Cape Cod, so it won't happen anytime soon.) 

However, I did scan these photos of the Big Dig diner when it was in Boston.  This diner was mentioned in the article on restorations by Steve Harwin that Jay Jay/John posted here back in March. 

It's a 1940 Silk City (rare for Mass.) and is now part of Nancy's restaurant in Cleveland, OH. If I recall it's been given a '50s theme look.  My photos are from 2000 and were taken at the end of the day of a two-day three-state diner tour.  Not my best work. 

Up Next!  The most unusual rail-to-diner conversion yet!

Tomlinson Run Railroad




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This next item is awesome! 

The Black Diamond Diner, Trumansburg, NY, bills itself as the "World's Smallest RR Diner".  It is a roadside hot dog stand that was established circa 2013 by Jerry Collins.  He built it from the cab of a 1941 RS-1 that was being scrapped.  The engine was originally Lehigh Valley 212.  Here are some small photos, as a teaser:

The links below contain much larger and better photos along with background histories.  For the curious, I'm including some links on the Lehigh Valley's Black Diamond passenger train after which the diner was named. They have photos as well:

Excellent interior and exterior photos and story

Ithaca Journal feature with photos and story

Owner Jerry has a new steam hot dog cart with a whistle

The train geeks weigh in and conclude it's an RS-1

RRArchives photo

Here are some links to histories of the line:

Wikipedia (check out the Popular Culture section). The link might be flaky due to the parentheses. Hoopla is unhappy with it:

American Rails: Photos, timetables, the cool menu, and more

Feb. 2017 article with Alco PA photos

Two more ...

An Otto Kuhler Streamlined Pacific on an LV Black Diamond menu (from the American Rails link above):


After learning about the Black Diamond Diner, the engineer and conductor at the Tomlinson Run Railroad caught Chef Chuck Wagon eyeing the cab of the RR's RS-1 with one of "those" looks!  They rushed to the scene shouting, "Chef, step away from the cab!  Step away from the cab, Chef, and no one will get hurt." 

Chef no doubt was dreaming about a book that he had read that describes how to cook road kill inside your car's engine compartment while traveling, so that supper will be done at the end of your drive.  (I kid you not! Look it up :-) 

Chef figured that an RS-1 could do a better job than a Ford Fairlane, and he was imagining a feast of succulent slow-cook 'possum at the end of a New York City to Buffalo jaunt.  Luckily, the TRRR's beloved RS-1 is safely back in the engine house under lock and key with its cab intact.  As for Chef and his thwarted plans, well, the loud sound of banging pots and pans has been coming out of the dining car next to the team track for the past hour or two ... with any luck, the dining car will be serving up some really hot hot dogs soon.

Tomlinson Run Railroad





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jim pastorius posted:

Glad that you wrote !!  Wanted to tell you that last weekend they moved the diner at Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home in Irwin, Pa. -safely.

And, I'm glad to hear that.  Thanks for the update, Jim.  It's always encouraging when a building/rail car/trolley can be saved.


I've not much time to update posts here these days, but I did just come across this nice article on the chef at the Valley Railroad in Essex, Connecticut.  At my next visit, I hope to grab a snack at the Trackside Cafe.  It's an "honorary member" of a railcar turned restaurant as far as I'm concerned.  My timing was off last year and it was closed.  I'll look for some pix on my PC when logged in later.

Chef at Essex's Valley Railroad with snack bar mention and photo

Tomlinson Run Railroad 

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