Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wyoming Waitress


Point of Rocks, Wyoming, c. 1950.
Used with permission Sweetwater County Historical Museum

Next year is the centennial anniversary of the Lincoln Highway. The original transcontinental road was built in 1913 and was 3400 miles long, from New York to San Francisco. Today, most of the road in Wyoming is unpaved and a rough ride for anyone trying to drive it, although sections do exist as the business loops of a few towns along modern I-80, and a stretch from Laramie to Walcott Junction was incorporated as part of a subsequent route, US 30. But back in the day, a paved road was a welcome novelty and meant many more miles could be traveled in one day than previously. 
Typical 1950s diner layout
Used with permission Sweetwater County Historical Museum

As long as there have been people traveling, there have been businesses catering to the traveler. Longer journeys by car presented a need for places to stop for gas, and a diner alongside the gas station was a natural addition. And a pretty young lady was a boon to any business, but most welcome as she approached the booth in the diner with a smile and pad and pencil to take orders and serve a meal at the end of a day’s long ride in the car.
Edith Angeli, waitress at Point of Rocks, Wyoming, c. 1950
Photo courtesy Alethea Williams

The Sugar Bowl in Green River, Wyoming, c. 1950
Used with permission Sweetwater County Historical Museum

The Lincoln Highway and the iconic Route 66 gave rise to such phenomena as the motor hotel – motel – and quick stop dining that preceded today’s fast food. Classic diner layout of the 1950s included a counter with swiveling stools in front of a kitchen with a window for orders in and orders out, and booths lining the outer walls. Streamlined, clean and shiny were the order of the day. Chrome was a staple of the ‘50s diner, from trim on the Formica-topped tables to the chair legs to the paper napkin dispensers. Just drop a coin in the wallbox: each booth had a chrome jukebox control with rotating selection menu so patrons didn’t have to leave their seats to queue up a favorite song. The floor was tile or linoleum for easy mopping at the end of a shift.
Sandwiches, salads, sundaes and pastries were popular menu items, quick to prepare and quick to serve. A vintage Howard Johnson’s menu listed on eBay offered the lowest priced luncheon sandwich -- a ham and cheese club -- for 40 cents, through a mid-priced chicken salad for 65 cents, all the way up to a 75-cent lobster and bacon club on three slices of bread. Dinner specials generally ran about 50 cents for grilled “frankforts” and potato salad with apple pie to 95 cents for kidney lamb chops with French fries.

Edith Angeli, Louis Kerlovich and unidentified woman
Probably taken in front of the Point of Rocks, Wyoming, cafe, c. 1950
Photo courtesy Alethea Williams
Most diners today are gone, although there are a few still operating along interstate highways and the main streets of small towns. Truck stops and fast food chains have taken over where the old-fashioned café left off, but one thing never goes out of style and is still appreciated no matter the business: a warm, welcoming smile.
Thank you, Sweetwater County Historical Museum in Green River, Wyoming, for permission to use the photographs.


Alethea Williams is the author of Wyoming State Historical Society Publications Award winner Willow Vale. Alethea writes fiction and nonfiction about Wyoming, where she has lived for more than half a century. Alethea blogs at http://www.actuallyalethea and


F. Larnerd said...

Just awesome!

PennyS said...

How wonderful to read a tribute to waitresses, those hard working women who were sorely underpaid and whose feet often hurt after their shift. Of course in the 21st Century these are now "servers" in the new parlance. Whatever the title, their urgent efforts to get that order, serve that meal, seat those waiting, and deal with the cranky cook--- is the same today. Thanks for writing such a nice tribute. To all who read this, please never be miserly with a tip.

Arletta Dawdy said...

Diners were very BIG in my the Jersey Shore, along the byways and highways in every direction...smiling waitresses with crisp uniforms smelling of the strong cigarette smoke that floated in the dining room. Moving west, diners diminished in the chrome-train-car style but not in spirit or service.
Thanks for a great post and remembrance, Alethea.

Renaissance Women said...

You bring back strong childhood memories. I was never one of the chosen, but so many of my family was. Thank you for such a wonderful trip along the memories of my mind.

Alethea Williams said...

Thank you for stopping by and all your kind comments. I'm glad you enjoyed "Wyoming Waitress."

Heidiwriter said...

I love this post and this tribute. I'll bet the food was fabulous!