County is similar to Columbia County because it is agriculturally
driven; the difference is it's flat. A straight ribbon of black asphalt
slices through cornfields stretching out for thousands of acres, as
far as the eye can see. Silos, barns, farmhouses and clumps of oak
trees dot the horizon. The oak trees here are different than those
in Columbia County,
maybe they're a different species, maybe it's the light. The leaves
are darker green and they spread more abundantly. Most of them resemble
the oak that stands across from Tipples on Route 66 in Ghent.
The soil here is different,
too. It's black, very rich growing soil. The corn is mostly feed corn
or grown for use in food products and yes it grows as high as an elephant's
eye. "This years crop is the tallest I've ever seen," an old farmer
On the southern end of the county
is the DeKalb County Fairgrounds. Most people around these parts call
it the Sandwich Fair because that's where it's located; same way the
Columbia County Fair is called the Chatham Fair. The fairgrounds are
beautiful. The buildings are Victorian and those oak trees are everywhere.
"Long John" Wentworth was a
Congressman, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the sixteenth Mayor of
Chicago. He was also quite a character. Wentworth once introduced
the Prince of Wales from the balcony of a Chicago Hotel to a crowd
below. "Boys, this is the prince. Prince, these are the boys."
In the middle of the 18th Century
the citizens of this area petitioned Wentworth to rename the place.
The railroad had gone through and this budding little village wanted
post office privileges; the bargain being "Long John" could choose
the name. He agreed, naming it after his hometown of Sandwich, New
Sandwich is a town about the
size of Chatham, although it's growing. A lot of people from the city,
moving there. Sound familiar? Situated at the intersection of Main
Street and Route 34 is the Sandwich Diner. Now this is nothing like
the stainless steel post-war diners we are so fond of in Columbia
County. No, this is another species altogether.
At first glance motoring toward
the intersection stoplight you notice a sleek railroad engine, a Zephyr
as they were called. It's actuality a railroad dining car with a carefully
sculpted sheet metal shroud fitted to the back end of the car. Once
inside you discover the car is a treasure, rich varnished woodwork
and arched stained glass eyebrow windows.
Costing $25,000 this dining
car was first put into service at the "Columbia Exposition", Chicago's
Worlds Fair in 1893. It was one of five luxury dining cars used on
the Burlington Line. Teddy Roosevelt used this car to campaign for
the Presidency. Eventually the car was taken out of service and sold
at a San Francisco auction in 1931 for $75. A California couple bought
the car and moved it to its present location.
In 1934 Route 34 was a popular
route from Chicago westward to Los Angeles. The Sandwich Diner became
a favorite and frequent stop for the touring big bands of Kay Kaiser,
Benny Meroff, Guy Lombardo, Glen Miller and Harry James. Prizefighter
Max Baer and movie star Cary Grant dined there.
White haired Terry TePoele is
a lovely lady with a wide smile. She happily relates the Diner's history
while I enjoy my breakfast. Terry and her husband Paul have operated
the Diner since 1974. The food is home cooking, Paul takes care of
that, Terry handles everything else. There are biscuits and gravy
and fresh blueberry pancakes and pies just out of the oven. Terry
brings me another glass of water, "Sandwich champagne," she jokes
referring to the tasty local well water. She points out all the old
photographs, one of Teddy Roosevelt greeting voters from the back
of this very car, and another of the Diner in the 1930's.
breakfast was delicious. Sitting at the counter to pay, I ask if I
might take her picture. Suddenly she becomes shy. "What should I do?
Should I be cleaning up?" she asks tidying up some counter dishes.
"Why do you want a picture of me?" she adds with a gesture down the
counter. "Don't you want a picture of the Diner instead?"
"You are the Diner," I reply
snapping the photograph.
We'll talk next time, From The
to Road Archive