Diner’s ties to FPU grad

  • Hometown Diner in Ottawa, Ohio is on its way to Rindge this week. The 1940s Silk City vintage diner is expected to open this fall near Edward Jones Investments at the intersection of routes 119 and 202.<br/><br/>Courtesy photo

RINDGE — Franklin Pierce alumnus Les Cooper, Class of 1971, fondly remembers his college days with his high school sweetheart, as well as frequent trips to Fogg’s Minimart at the corner of routes 119 and 202 to gas up his car. More than 40 years later, Cooper says he is in disbelief that one of the Silk City diners his great-grandfather’s company manufactured in the early to mid-1900s in Paterson, N.J., could soon be a top attraction less than two miles from his alma mater.

“I was blown off my chair when I found out,” said Cooper, who today lives in Lake Chapala, Mexico, of Rindge resident Tim Halliday’s recent purchase of a 1947 Silk City Diner. “There are only a few hundred of these diners left in the U.S. It’s statistically odd that one would end up in Rindge.”

Cooper transferred to Franklin Pierce College in his junior year after leaving seminary school in Chicago. He lived in Franklin Pierce’s Monadnock Hall as a dorm proctor, overseeing freshman and sophomore students, that first year. In his senior year, Cooper proposed to his high school sweetheart, Evelyn, at Cathedral of the Pines in Rindge and the newlyweds moved in to a little cabin on Contoocook Lake in Jaffrey — a place Cooper said he tries to visit about every 10 years.

“You guys are rich in history up there. And there are a whole lot of diner followers throughout the U.S. If it’s marketed well, you’ll be picking up a lot of tourists,” Cooper said Tuesday.

In addition to being a fullback on Franklin Pierce’s varsity soccer team, Cooper said he served on the college relations council, which looked for opportunities to enhance relations between students and Rindge residents. Cooper said he is hopeful that the diner will help accomplish that aim today.

“Diners are an American icon,” he said. “I think they’re a way of connecting generations.”

In 1886, Cooper’s great-grandfather, Everett Abbott Cooper, who was 26 years old at the time, started Paterson Wagon Company, which built carriages, coaches and other forms of transportation popular in that era. By 1908, Cooper said Ford had revolutionized transportation and Paterson Wagon Company adapted by building customized trucks and cars. When Cooper’s great-uncle returned from World War II, he noticed that diners were becoming increasingly popular. That’s when Everett and his sons decided to add on to their truck and automobile building business by offering Silk City diners, too.

“Why Silk City?” Cooper asked. “Because Paterson, N.J., was the center of the silk trade and manufacturing industry in the U.S.”

What made the Patterson Vehicle Company, as it came to be known, successful, Cooper said is that his family picked up on Henry Ford’s idea of mass production and applied it to the building of diners. They built a few units at one time and were able to offer lower-priced diners with a four-year payment plan, which they heavily advertised, Cooper said.

“They were making $3,000 a month,” he said. “In 1950, there were people [earning] just $3,000 a year.”

Silk City diners are known for their stainless steal construction, tile floors, easy-to-clean surfaces, plastic-like seating and the front door always constructed at the center of the diner, Cooper said.

“Owning a diner was hot,” he said, laughing. “If you had one, people took notice.”

Writers and historians studying the diner industry often contact Cooper, he said, to either proofread material or provide some needed information to help them along with their research. Historian Michael Gabriele of Clifton, N.J., is working on a book, tentatively titled “History of Diners in New Jersey, the Diner Capital of the World,” about the diner industry and recently sent Cooper a chapter on Silk City diners. Included at the very end of the chapter was mention of the new diner in Rindge.

Cooper said he contacted Halliday a few weeks ago to congratulate him on the purchase, and to share some of his family’s history.

“I promised him that I’d be up that way to visit him,” Cooper said, adding that he can’t wait to see his old college stomping grounds and a piece of his family’s history.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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