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A railroad car? Why would Americans be attracted to food served in a railroad car? Well, according to the American Diner Museum, it all started in the 1800s with a man named Walter Scott, who was a part-time pressman in Providence, RI. Around 1858, when Scott was 17 years old, he supplemented his income by selling sandwiches and coffee from a basket to newspaper workers and patrons of men’s club rooms. Evidently, business was so good that he was able to quit his printing gig and devote himself solely to the sandwich business. Around 1872, he set up a covered horse-drawn wagon outside the Providence Journal newspaper office. Unwittingly, Scott created the beginnings of the American icon known as the dining car, or diner. Over the ensuing years, some entrepreneurs embarked on the development of more refined versions of the covered food wagon. These newer versions were wagons, but they were larger and allowed patrons to take a respite from the night air and inclement weather. These “Night Owls” began to appear in communities throughout New England, offering basic and inexpensive food choices to hungry passers-by after traditional restaurants had closed for the evening. As a business model, Night Owls (or lunch wagons) had become popular, and many New England communities began to experience the coming and going of these temporary hunger relievers. Local governmental bodies limited hours of operation for Night Owls and strictly enforced them. To get around this obstacle, the Night Owl operators found communities where business was good enough to plant roots and stay put, and so they did, establishing semi-permanent locations and maintaining a stationary position as more of a fixture, or building. In the later part of the 1800s, the more up-to-date vendors began installing electricity into their cars and outfitting them with furnishings, glass windows, and decorative woodwork. In the wake of this advancement, the older lunch wagons fell by the wayside and were very inexpensively converted by vendors into usable structures, but they only attracted the less-appreciated members of the community. The electrified, more modern cars prevailed. This was the next phase in the visual transformation of the lunch wagon into the diner car. In order to attract more business, especially from women who were fast becoming more influential (having won the right to vote in 1920), vendors updated their cars and decorated the exteriors to appear more like traditional buildings. According to the American Diner Museum, booths were added, shrubs and flowers were planted, and the word “Miss” was included in the title of many diners to feminize the establishments, making them more appealing to women.


Foodies of New England

Eggs, fresh baked ham and sweet potato homefries from Main Street Grille

Foodies of New England Fall 2012  

Diners. Gluten-free Fall Classics.Farm to Table.