The Old Dog Wagon Puts on the Dog


It started out as a humble imitator of the swanky dining car, but now its menus and marvels have made it into a roadside Ritz

By Gardner B. Soule

THE eating places with the most elaborate menus in the wold, in the fastest service and the most customers are not the restaurants of Paris but instead are mass-produced in U.S. plants.

The roadside diner- the long, narrow, silver-colored affair that looks like a railroad dining car – has become the fanciest, speediest and busiest of eating establishments.

The story begins more than 60 years ago, in 1892, the year Charles Duryea successfully operated the first gasoline driven horseless carriage in America. In that year a man named Charles Palmer started using horse-drawn wagons to carry hot frankfurters and beans to workmen in Worcester, Mass., factories.

What grew out of Duryea’s invention is well known. What came from Palmer’s idea is not. But as Americans took to the highways, the diner took out after the cars, and by 1953 the diner was as different from Palmer’s dog-and-bean wagon as a 1953 Cadillac is from Duryea’s gasoline buggy:

– Instead of Palmer’s menu of two choices, the 1953 diner has a menu that may run to six pages and include lobster Cantonese, crepes Suzette and champagne.

– Instead of taking the time that the Greasy Spoon used to require to prepare a meal, the 1953 diner is engineered to get the average customer in, fed and out in 20 minutes.

– Instead of peddling food to workmen only, the 1953 diner caters to men, women and children, even to clubs. It caters to truck drivers still (although the tip-off to a diner’s popularity is no longer rows of Freuhaufs but a parking lot full of Fords, Buicks – and up). It caters, above all, to families.

– Instead of functioning at night only (this got Charles Palmer suspected as the operator of a sinister trade), the modern diner is open 24 hours a day. “We don’t have a key,” says Martin Rich, who owns a diner near Port Chester, N.Y., on U.S. 1 ” I forgot where I put it.”

– Instead of being an establishment of doubtful hygiene, the 1953 diner has steel counters, leather or plastic seat covers, terrazzo floors, chrome decorations and a plastic ceiling. All- including the ceiling- can be wiped clean instantly with a damp cloth.

– Instead of seating six or eight persons at a counter only, as Palmer’s wagons did, the modern diner has tables, booths and counters, and seats as many as 137.

– Instead of being carpenter built wooden wagons, today’s diners are stainless steel, chromium plated, air conditioned, fully insulated, fluorescent lighted, deluxe eating establishments with as many accessories as a 1953 automobile. They are constructed on assembly lines with power tools, largely from prefabricated parts.

The man who changed the wooden lunch wagon into a streamlined steel car was a New Yorker named Jerry O’Mahony. He ran a diner a 7th Ave and 34th Street in 1913. Did well, too. Made $1,380 that year. But customers asked where he got his wooden diner. So he had his carpenter build some, and sold them for $300 each ($6461 in 2009). Then he kept on building diners.

Today Jerry O’Mahony, Inc. of Elizabeth, N.J. is the biggest of about a dozen companies making diners. Others include Silk City Diner, Inc., and Paramount Diner Corp. at Paterson, N.J. and Kullman Dining Car Co. at Harrison N.J. New Jersey is the state that makes the diner.

Prices Have Gone Up

O’Mahony’s prices have gone up. “Our diners,” the company boasts, “are the most expensive you can buy.” Selling prices start at $36,000 (34 seats) and go up to $110,000 (those 137 seaters)

An O’Mahony diner is delivered to its owner complete: with sinks, stoves, refrigerators, walk in freezers (a diner buys a side of beef at once), plumbing, air conditioning, heating, automatic dish washers, steam tables, phone booths, counters, stools, pots, pans, waitresses uniforms, china, napkins, silverware, toothpicks, rest rooms, fudge pumps, food warmers, and juke box outlets offering a choice of up to 100 records.

O’Mahony will include television sets if you insist, but doesn’t like to. TV keeps the customers staying longer than that 20 minutes without increasing the money they spend.

Some O’Mahony diners come with a private mahogany office for the owner, complete with built in shower.

The prospective owner usually pays only about one-fourth down. The O’Mahony company has an interest, therefore, in the owner’s success and checks the proposed location before it sells every diner. Traffic past the proposed site is surveyed.

The prospective owner is combed over pretty hard, too. O’Mahony won’t sell to an absentee owner because, with an absentee, more food goes out the back door than out the front.

If a location fails to pay off, a 1953 diner can be jacked up, put on wheels and hauled to a more promising spot. But so thorough are these surveys that not one O’Mahony diner has had to be moved in the past 10 years. Instead, bigger diners are continually replacing those whose business has outgrown them.

$1,250 a Week

An owner’s possibilities for profit are better than Jerry O’Mahony’s were in 1913. Today the net may run $1,250 a week. “Financial security,” says an O’Mahony circular, “is yours for the asking.”

Martin Rick, who runs the Old Post Grill diner on U.S. 1, has gone out after that financial security with an O’Mahony diner. His menu is almost as long as the highway. He sells coffee only and also five-course dinners. He specializes in Hungarian goulash and seafoods. He offers your choice of salads, cold cuts, sodas, sundaes and a dozen categories of desserts. You can wash all this down wish champagne ($6 a bottle) or with anything else. Here Rich’s is different from the typical diner, which does not serve liquor.

The kitchen at Rich’s is a masterpiece of compactness. All cooking apparatus is condensed into a space the size of a truck body – friers, baking ovens, short order grills, heavy duty ranges, sinks, storage. The only food prepared in front of the customer is ice cream dishes.

None of Rich’s waitresses has to walk more than 34 feet in any direction to fill an order. This allows Rich to maintain that 20-minute schedule, an important factor with the average check around 60 cents. His 92 seat diner has fed 2500 people in one day

Diners Heading West

Observing the success of Rich and others, the O’Mahony company is expanding. It has just opened a plant in St. Louis, the first one to mass produce diners west of New Jersey. Transportation costs from the factory to a site are high, and most of the 6,000 U.S. diners are in the East, near the New Jersey factories. But soon, the company hopes, O’Mahony steamlined diners will dot highways everywhere.

In the West, diners will have to compete with deluxe drive ins which are rare in the East. No problem, a diner executive said. Drive-ins have limited menus, he insisted, and predicted that diners would beat them.

Customers Come in Limousines

What the company doesn’t add, enterprising owners will. One owner in the East put Baked Alaska on his menu and became a success. Dozens of owners have added tablecloths and freshly cut flowers to their tables. This has worked so well at one diner – in Aberdeen, MD – that three regular customers arrive daily in chauffeur-driven limousines.

But a diner out on New Jersey 29 has added the crowning touch – a headwaiter, complete with tuxedo, who seats the guests. Yet if you approach this headwaiter in shirtsleeves, in overalls or behind a day’s growth of beard, he will seat you promptly and won’t even raise an aristocratic eyebrow.














Jerry O’Mahony Dining Cars

I bought this online with the intention of sharing it here. I’ve typed the copy up for easier reading. Enjoy!





If there is anything that people are more fastidious about than the food they eat, it is the environment in which it is served. Because of this fact the modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car fulfils one of the most insistent demands of the general public.

A modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car is more than just a casual eating place, – it’s the kind of place that people enthuse about and return to frequently.

Public approval of Jerry O’Mahony dining cars is more than a passing fad. The fact that the dining car offers its guests rapid service, cleanliness, comfort, and an opportunity to see the food prepared, justifies the rapid rate of increase in dining car patronage.

Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are recognized by every community as a distinct addition to their particular neighbourhood.
Owners of Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are prosperous business men. Proven figures show them to have an actual net income of $5,000 – $10,000 per year.

The success of the modern dining car is firmly established. Take advantage of this opportunity to attain financial independence.

** The modern dining car interior – monarch type, Bakelite ceiling and stainless steel back wall **



Present day business conditions are more favourable for dining car owners than ever before. Be your own boss!

People have become “dining car conscious”. They are seeking modern, sanitary, streamlined food service, and are aware that a dining car is the best place to get it. Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are a rapidly growing institution.

The dining car field does more than assure you a comfortable income. It gives you an opportunity to establish your own business. Many owners of Jerry O’Mahony dining cars who started out with just this thought in mind are now successful business men.

Desirable locations are plentiful. Hundreds of miles of new highways and innumerable towns throughout the country await the establishment of these modern eating places.

Study the dining car field. Assure your independence; – earn a larger income than most salaried men ever receive! Place yourself among the more prosperous members of your community.

Statistics prove that the initial investment in the dining car business will be returned to you yearly.

** Victory Type. Size: Ten feet, eight inches by forty feet. * Equipped with sliding doors. Delivered via freight. *



Twenty-five to thirty cents of every dollar received by the owners of Jerry O’Mahony dining cars is clear profit.

Periodic surveys among owners of dining cars prove the average well managed Jerry O’Mahony dining car yields a profit of 25% to 30% on gross sales.

A modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car, in an average location, will serve between 500 and 700 customers a day. Statistics reveal that each person eating in one of these diners spends on the average of twenty to twenty-five cents.

Assume your Jerry O’Mahony dining car serves 500 customers a day, and the sales average is twenty cents. Your daily receipts will be one hundred dollars. With this basis of figuring, conservative though it is, your weekly profit, after deducting the cost of food, help, and overhead, will approximate one hundred and seventy-five dollars.

Study these figures carefully, – see for yourself how YOU can earn $5,000 to $10,000 a year operating a modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car.

** Interior, Victory Type. Size: Ten feet eight inches by forty feet, equipped with ventilators. Freight delivery. **




A small amount of capital will establish you as the owner of a prosperous dining car business.
Many competent people, ambitious to start businesses of their own, are handicapped by the lack of sufficient cash. The Jerry O’Mahony Purchase Plan is a straight-forward arrangement of deferred payments, so regulated that you, as a good operator, can easily make the payments out of your dining car’s profit without working any hardship upon yourself. You pay as you earn, and after a short time you become the sole owner of a highly profitable dining car business. The dining car pays for itself.

Of course, many people have sufficient capital to buy their dining cars outright; but if you haven’t, no matter what your capital may be, investigate the Jerry O’Mahony purchase plan. Let us review your particular problem.

** Interior, monarch type, Size 10’8” by 45’. Booths at end in addition to counter. Shipped by freight*



For thirty years Jerry O’Mahony, Inc., has been helping people get started in the dining car business. Our engineers and experts, rich in their knowledge of dining car technique, are available to help you start and succeed in this rapidly growing field. They will advise you in the choice of your location, recommend the type and size dining car best suited to your needs and suggest methods of operation and finance.
We cordially invite you to visit our plant to see how the modern Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are constructed. Come in and talk with us. You will benefit by our vast store of facts pertaining to your success in the dining car business.

Arrange a visit at your convenience. A brief note to our Service Department will bring you further information.

Remember, you can earn from $5,000 to $10,000 a year operating a Jerry O’Mahony dining car. The time to start is NOW!

*** Interior, Monarch type, size fifteen feet by forty feet. Showing kitchen and two toilets ***



Preparations for opening a modern Jerry O’Mahony dining car are simple. Four connections are all that are necessary. When the gas, water, electricity and sewer are connected, your dining car is ready for use.
Provisions for efficient ventilation assure the proper de-humidification and elimination of all odors from our dining cars, – a vital factor in all good eating places.

Every individual item of equipment selected for use in Jerry O’Mahony dining cars is chosen only after extensive research for durability and efficiency.

Built to stand many times the stress and strain of transportation and daily use, modern Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are ready to use shortly after delivery.

Consult our engineers. Their advice concerning the establishment of successful dining cars is important to your success as a dining car owner. Benefit by the years of experience that have mad the opening of a Jerry O’Mahony dining car a simple matter.

*** Monarch type with gothics and deck sash. Size, fifteen feet by forty feet***





The counter and boots are modern in every detail. The counter provides seats for twenty-six customers. Seventy- four may be comfortably seated in booths. The efficient arrangement of the modern equipment in the back bar speeds service throughout the dining car.


The Fairview diner is the world’s largest dining car. Eighty feet in length and sixteen feet in width, it is equipped to servie one hundred persons at one time. This dining car is air conditioned throughout. Its streamlined beauty, unusual capacity and extraordinary ease of operating is a true endorsement of our slogan: “In Our Line We Lead the World.”


This spacious dining room accommodates seventy-four persons. The furnishings are especially arranged to facilitate the service of parties of six, eight, ten and twelve people. An ideal arrangement for dining cars catering to business men or family groups.



Jerry O’Mahony, Inc., builds dining cars to meet every individual requirement. Most popular among the many types of modern Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are the MONARCH and VICTORY. Modern in every particular, these dining cars are creating a sensation throughout the country.

Both types have porcelain-enameled exteriors, trimmed with stainless steel. Bakelite or stainless steel doors and extruded Aluminum window sashes with Alumilite screens provide a sparkling exterior that requires no painting or redecorating.

The streamlined beauty of the exterior of any Jerry O’Mahony dining car is greatly enhanced by rounded corners; a feature developed by our engineering department with a view toward added attractiveness and durability.

Both types of dining cars have ceramic tile floors and Bakelite ceilings. Side walls are of mosaic tile trimmed with lustrous Mexican mahogany.

Every detail of these dining cars clearly demonstrates the careful planning and craftsmanship for which Jerry O’Mahony, Inc., is famous.

*** Monarch type, size fifteen feet by forty feet. Enamel and stainless steel exterior. ***



Jerry O’Mahony dining cars embody more than just the practical equipment for food service. They have an appealing architecture and a distinctive design which is attractive and will remain so throughout the years. Our designers carefully avoid the dangerous extremes of fads, favouring always the lines and decorative mediums which are of lasting good taste.

Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are permanent assets. Our thirty years experience in the styling of dining cars has given Jerry O’Mahony dining cars the permanence of appeal that assures operators an enduring, profit-making investment. Renovating or redecorating is seldom if ever necessary; resulting in extremely low up-keel cost and a minimum of depreciation. Many operators of Jerry O’Mahony dining cars, after receiving their original investment many times over, have turned in their diners on larger, newer dining cars after as long as twenty-five years of service. Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are styled to save.

*** Interior, Monarch type. Size, fifteen feet wide by forty feet long. Equipped for booth service. ***

There’s the Westbury diner in the foreground, I’d assume it’s the same diner as this one. Also identifiable is the Franklin Diner. Note the rounded corner monarchs and the squared corner, stained glass windowed monarchs side by side.



Jerry O’Mahony, Inc. Operates the largest, most up-to-the-minute dining car factory in the world.
Large though our plant is, all building operations are so co-ordinated that every detail in the construction of a Jerry O’Mahony dining car is carefully supervised by one of the founders of this firm.

Many of the men who build Jerry O’Mahony dining cars have “come up from the ranks” in our employ. After years of apprenticeship these men have become craftsmen unexcelled in their trade.

To build a dining car for you, that is to last for thirty years, and to incorporate, as we do, all of the modern improvements, we employ the ultimate in craftsmanship, and use the best materials obtainable. Modern machinery and up-to-date methods assure lasting construction.

Come, visit our plant. Watch our craftsmen at work, notice the materials, – the tools they use. See for yourself why we can say, “In Our Line We Lead the World”.




Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are built to last for thirty years! In the selection of materials, the first consideration is durability. Only the finest material is used in construction.
The steel structure and the fabrication of West Virginian oak is the result of years of research in the building of better dining cars.

The exterior, which is porcelain-enameled, trimmed with copper or stainless steel, perfectly insulates our dining cars against moisture and imparts the lustrous beauty for which jerry O’Mahony dining cars have become famous.

The interior of every Jerry O’Mahony dining car is designed both for beauty and practicality. Floors of ceramic tile and side walls and counter step of mosaic tile in color combinations that harmonize with the Bakelite ceiling and Mexican mahogany trim, make a beautiful, long lasting interior. Alumilite window sash, stainless steel equipment and backwall, and the built in Bakelite hood all combine to make Jerry O’Mahony dining cars the most attractive and easily maintained of eating places.




Coffee is your most important item. With this in view we have designed an economical, automatic coffee maker that achieves the ultimate in the consistent brewing of good coffee. The self controlled features and our drip system assure the brewing of good coffee at all times, with a minimum of effort. This coffee maker is thermostatically controlled.


Easily accessible, the stainless steel steam table or electric food container in each Jerry O’Mahony dining car is complete with insets, covers, roll cover and double-walled warmer. Thermostatic control permits the prolonged storing of cooked food without shrinkage or loss of flavour.

Storage cabinet and display case

Modern Jerry O’Mahony dining cars are equipped with a large, modernistic, stainless steel refrigerator. In addition to this, a new feature in our dining cars is the reach-in storage and display case. Centrally located behind the counter, its accessibility speeds service. Equipped with stainless baine-marie pans and an overhead glass display case, with sliding doors and slanting mirrors, this auxiliary refrigerator keeps your supplies fresh and increases the sale of your most profitable items.


O’Mahony was founded in 1913, so celebrating 30 years would date this to c. 1943.

Some closeups from other pages
If you have any idea as to where any of these diners were located, or if any are still around, please comment.


Barrel roofed “Victory” model. Older style stools, and a sliding door. I wonder what the actual date of manufacture of this particular diner was. Interesting that this barrel roofed style with the skylight vents on the roof, that is so associated with 1920s and early 1930s diner style is still offered in the early 1940s.

Interior with washrooms.

The terrace grill, a square cornered monarch model. Interesting that they’re advertising this older style monarch alongside the newer, streamlined one. I wonder how the demand for this type was at the point the brochure was published.

dining room setup

interior of the fairview

Fairview diner, an extra long monarch model

Westbury Diner, a monarch model with curved and an end door


It seems that the monarch name is used exclusively now to describe O’Mahony’s like this one, but the way the copy is worded here, it seems more like monarch was O’Mahony’s general model name for any monitor roof diner they produced, while “victory” was the model name for their barrel roof models.