Valentine Diners Along
the Mother Road and Beyond
Image from Valentine Manufacturing
Kansas State Historical
days when busy streets were lined with the fast food chains of McDonalds,
Wendy’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell, there were literally hundreds of all
American Mom and Pop Diner’s. One of the most popular varieties of
these old time diners was the
Webster’s Dictionary defines a diner as "a restaurant in the shape of a
railroad car." In the case of
Valentine Diners ,
as well as many others, this was true as the manufacturing design
reflected the style of railroad dining cars.
wagon, the predecessor to the diner was invented in 1872 by Walter Scott
who later became a commercial manufacturer of lunch wagons in 1887. The lunch wagon idea caught on so quickly that many towns passed
ordinances to restrict their hours of operation. As a result, many
operators looked for a more permanent solution turning old railroad cars
and obsolete horse drawn streetcars into diners. New
manufacturers of these cars also cropped up at an amazing pace. These new
and innovate "dining cars” were constructed with indoor bathrooms, tables,
and repositioned counters to accommodate a larger food selection.
early days most of the dining car manufacturers were located on the east
coast, producing shiny stainless steel structures. Because of their
distant location, diners didn’t catch on in the west for many years. However that all changed with Arthur Valentine came to
Kansas in 1914. A natural salesman, he first started selling
cars in Great Bend, then sometime around 1930, he and his wife, Ella,
opened a restaurant in the small south-central town of Hazelton,
Enjoying their successful business, they soon expanded to
include two more restaurants in Wichita and Hutchinson,
Kansas . These restaurants were the predecessor of what would become known as the
Valentine Lunch System. These original small diners operated in
buildings that Valentine had either purchased or leased. At the same
time a company called Ablah Hotel Supply was making prefabricated
lunchroom buildings and around 1932, they made one for Arthur Valentine. Valentine was so impressed that he began working for Ablah,
becoming a salesman for their buildings.
One of the first
Kansas State Historical
Eventually, Valentine owned and operated as many as 50 of these
lunchrooms. However, by the end of the decade Ablah discontinued
the manufacture of pre-fab building and allowed Valentine to take on
that part of the business.
In 1938, Valentine arranged with the Hayes
Equipment Manufacturing Company to build his sandwich shops, but the
arrangement was short lived when material shortages created by World
War II shut the operation down. Frustrated, Valentine became a
Boeing inspector during the war, but shortly after it was over, he
recreated the business, calling it Valentine Industries.
continually tinkered with new ideas to achieve business success. In
addition to selling his diners fully equipped, it could also be bought
gutted with only a few shelves for other purposes such as liquor stores
and barber shops.
But, his true
success was Valentine Lunch System. These eight-to-ten-seat diners
could be operated by just one or two people. The little square-sided
structures were designed to be easily moved on flatbed railroad car. Inside, stools were placed around a counter. Some designs had
pick-up windows. The catalogs reinforced the idea that an individual
purchasing one of these diners could make a substantial living and that
they could add additional units if they desired. Ordering the diner
through a catalog, the struggling entrepreneur could buy the boxy little
diner for just $5,000 with monthly installment payments of $40.00. Arriving complete with grill, counter and stools, the operation could be
unloaded, set upon a concrete slab, and be operational within hours.
an industry where nearly all major diner manufacturers were on the East
Coast, Valentine soon became very successful as the diners were shipped
all across the country, particularly to small towns, where they were
sometimes the only restaurant available.
Sadly, Arthur's health
began to fail as in 1951 just as
were becoming extremely successful. His involvement in the company
thereafter diminished until his death in 1954. The business was sold
to the Radcliff family in 1957 and continued to operate until August 1968.
the American diner has seen resurgence in popularity in the last several
years. For those of us who would prefer a pleasant smile and a great
grilled burger, to the manufacturing-like mentality of many of the fast
food places, this is a great relief.
Many of these small diners continue to exist today all over
the country. Here is a list of those we’ve found on
Arizona on I-40 is the old Twin
Arrows Trading Post and Cafe. Located at exit 219, this was a
icon. Sadly, its closed today.
Valentine Diner , in 300
block of East Second Street, has been called the Highway Diner,
Monday's Cafe and Irene's in the past. The 9-stool diner probably
opened about 1950.
Now called the Pit at 114 East Third Street, the 9-stool diner
opened around 1950. Originally owned by Cecil McCormick, it was
first called the Birthplace Diner. Over the years, it has also
been nam ed
the One Spot Grill and the
Located at Seventh and Manvel Streets this diner was originally
located in Leedy,
Oklahoma . Patina Properties purchased in in 2003 and moved it to
Chandler . The 1958 "Little Chef" model 10-stool diner is currently in the
process of restoration.
Oklahoma - The
Diner is part of the
Museum complex located at 2229 West Gary Boulevard. Originally
opened in 1956 in
the owners M.L. and Alta Porter ran the cafe until 1964. The museum acquired it in 2002, restored it, and
placed it on the museum grounds at
Mexico - This old
Valentine Diner once stood in Magdelena, New
Mexico before it was purchased by Jerry Ueckert and moved to
Edgewood. The diner had
extensive damage and Jerry is currently in the process of restoring
it. It is located on
Mexico - This old Valentine Diner, now
located at Girard and Central (US66),
is now used by the
Police Department. It once served
customers at 8th and Central as the "Albuquerque
Diner." Later it was donated to the
Museum, who allows the
Police Department to utilize it as a sub station.
of America, updated
Legends' General Store
66 Postcard Coloring Book - If you love
Route 66, enjoy
coloring, and like to share with others, this book is for you! The Route
66 Postcard Coloring Book contains 20 postcards of various places along
America's Mother Road, each ready for your own artistic touch. Then after
you color, remove each and send as a postcard. Complete with stamp
placement on the back and information on each location. Or, keep your
finished work as a reminder of fun times traveling Route 66.