Remembering The Railroader

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Reader Judy Gallegos writes with a question:

“Hey David — love your site! I grew up in Glendora in the 70s, and now live in the Midwest, so your site is a nice cure for homesickness.

“Wonder if you or your readers might remember the name of a train-themed restaurant in Claremont/Pomona in the 70s. I believe it eventually became a Victoria Station, but was called something else before that (not Carneys…).

“It was off the 10 Freeway and Indian Hill, I think, and consisted of a steam engine, a caboose, and a few cars. My sister and I have been trying to remember the name and we’re stumped.

“Thanks for your help and keep up the good work!!”

I’ve heard vague whispers about this restaurant, said to have been located at Indian Hill and San Jose, but didn’t have a name to attach. By coincidence, I was just accepted as a member of the Facebook page Growing Up in Montclair, Calif. (tingle!) (even though I didn’t grow up in Montclair) and Tim Corvin just posted a photo there of the Railroader, locating it on Indian Hill in Claremont.

Must be the same place. I borrowed the photo for this blog post.

But that’s all I know. Can anyone tell us more about The Railroader?

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  • judi

    I’m part of the Growing Up in Montclair Facebook page, as I did grow up there, so I can only hope that your “(tingle!)” was a truly sincere and honest reaction, and by no means meant as sarcastic, right?! RIGHT?!

    [Right! (Mostly.) -- DA]

  • Bob House

    Having grown up (1951-late 60s) literally around the corner from the Indian Hill and San Jose intersection, and often visiting my parents at the same house in subsequent years, I was surprised to have no recollection of this restaurant. I checked with my younger sister, hoping her memory was better. She recalls a railroad car restaurant “definitely” at Indian Hill and First, near the railroad tracks there, and “perhaps” one at Indian Hill and San Jose, behind or east of the property that is now the new Norms. I’m anxious to hear more about this topic from other readers who are more familiar with it.

  • Kathryn Dunn

    Great memories! We ate there frequently when growing up here in Claremont. Typically after Sunday services at the Church of Religious Science on College Avenue. It was tucked behind what is now Baker’s Square (?) where Hotel Claremont is on San Jose and Indian Hill. They used white tablecloths and had a piano player named Osborne who played Sundays.

    [A confirmed sighting! Thank you, Kathryn. -- DA]

  • Dave Y

    Didn’t they move the cars over to 9th street in Upland? Was a diner, then a toy shop I think. The cars are still there I believe, now offices.

    [The cars are still around?! Can someone confirm that, and tell us where? -- DA]

  • Penn Weldon

    I remember climbing on the railroad cars and eating there a few times. I also remember that they were moved to Upland and being very sad. You might ask at the Claremont and Upland railroad stations.

  • shirley wofford

    The restaurant was called, “The Depot”. It operated in the mid 70′s. It was basically a steak house, ala “Cask and Cleaver”. It served good steaks, and had chocolate sundaes, for dessert. I believe it was near the tracks, west of the current train station. I don’t know if the, “The Depot”, was an independent, or part of a corporate chain. I would bet that the former Claremont historian, who recently passed away, sadly, would have had historical data, on that restaurant. Hopefully, someone else in Claremont, is carrying on with documenting the City’s history.

    [Sounds as though Claremont had two train-themed eateries, one by the tracks and one nearer the freeway. -- DA]

  • Kathryn Dunn

    There were two train-themed restaurants in Claremont. One at the southeast corner of San Jose and Indian Hill and a second in the Claremont Depot. I don’t recall if the Depot restaurant actually used an empty train car or not. The San Jose train car was a fully functioning restaurant as late as 1979-1980. Although the last year or two service had drastically diminished.

    [This blog post is getting more interesting with each comment. -- DA]

  • JMac

    I can confirm the existence of two train themed restaurants on Indian Hill. I dined at each, with the Depot being the more fine dining experience as Shirley stated. The Railroader was more homestyle dining, ala the Big Yellow House, if memory serves me correct. Neither seemed to last very long. I did get my first taste of Anchor Steam beer at the Depot.

    [JMac gets honors for having eaten at both defunct restaurants! Thanks for the eyewitness account. -- DA]

  • Brian Brownbridge

    I worked as a cook at the Railroader restaurant in San Bernardino for awhile in 1978.

  • Don J

    Dave, Claremont’s railroad passenger car restaurant was “The Golden Spike” — it was located where the Claremont Lodge (formerly Travelodge) is today — near San Jose & Indian Hill.

    When the place went belly up the caboose & cars were moved to a new officepark (I believe by flatbed truck) off 9th Street just North of the Metrolink tracks in Upland (behind Above & Beyond Travel). It was a lawyer’s office, then Freedom Financial Real Estate Services, then Miss Katie’s Toy Depot, before she moved. I posted on all this 3 years ago: http://www.insidesocal.com/davidallen/2008/04/less-pie.html

    [Pardon us for forgetting. But could the restaurant have been first the Railroader, and then the Golden Spike? Or vice versa? -- DA]

  • Matt Swift

    My parents actually invested stock in “The Railroader” and unfortunately have nothing to show for it. I really don’t remember eating there or any of the locations. I can help you with the location of the cars in Upland however. They are located around 1450-70 W 9th St in Upland on the south side set way back from the street. I didn’t know they were from the Railroader though.

    [I'll have to take a look. Thanks for the address, Matt. -- DA]

  • Tim Corvin

    Thanks for using my photo, David, I’m honored. That’s me and my mom in 1974 after a Sunday church service. The caboose was used as a waiting room on busy days.

    This is also where I landed my first job at 16 a few years later. I lasted two weeks before being fired because they said I wasn’t washing the dishes clean enough. Well enough, they worked me to death.

    The Railroader went out of busines a few years later and reopened with another train theme. “The Golden Spike” sounds right. And as mentioned, it is now in Upland and housing offices.

    [You've confirmed my hunch about the names. And I wondered if that was you in the photo. Neat. -- DA]

  • Ted Melendez

    What about the railroad car on Riverside Drive and Yorba in the unincorporated part of Chino?

    [What about it? Just kidding. I've never seen it. -- DA]

  • Bob Terry

    OK David, here is a blast from the past. I have heard this restaurant mentioned before by my wife of 9 years and had her look at your blog and she just about spun like Linda Blair. She was part of the opening team of waitresses in 1974 at the tender age of 17 and all she could say was…”they had us wear the most God-awlful short overalls with suspenders…red t-shirts..red bandanas and stupid looking Engineer Bill type hats.” She said also that she smelled like hamburgers every night she went home. She said she lasted a year there but the memory is forever. Her name back then was Loni Kaylor.

    [Ha ha ha! I'm glad you shared all that on her behalf. -- DA]

  • barbara f

    I remember seeing the train restaurant called “The Depot” down at the tracks where there once was a real “depot” (which was still standing though not in use when I was a kid, that small building still with an outside ledge for the ticket counter and a cab parked out front).

    The freight trains once rolled through town at least twice a day when I was growing up. And a few whooshed through late in the night. They used to come in quite often in a time I never knew there, when the fruit was loaded on to the trains. Now, just a few train whistles sounded throughout the day, and the crossing barricade would drop with much clanging and flashing of lights to block traffic on a couple of the major thoroughfares.

    When the restaurants arrived, at that historic juncture in time trains as transportation were very nearly out of business nationwide, and were essentially being used to haul freight. Passenger service was dwindling and service and quality greatly diminished. With resulting diminished incomes and revenues, trains on the track provided increasingly lousy food to passengers. National passenger service throughout the country was severely curtailed and railroads themselves nearly out of business nationwide.

    That meant the ideas of traveling long distances and dining on trains would be going away, too. I noticed this happening at the time. Railroads were going out of business. And everyone else of the time likely noticed it, too. The old cars were being taken off the tracks and melted to scrap for many things, most likely for the war efforts, recycled into new materials. People were already making reservations to take what they thought would be their last train trip.

    This is just a footnote in the background to set the time so that people might understand why there might be nostalgia motif restaurants in railcars appearing at that point in time. The menu didn’t surprise me, either. Steaks, which seemed somehow to promise overall a more genuine cattle car experience.

    [Barbara, thanks for the context. -- DA]

  • Jeff A

    I drove by the location on 1450 9th St and it appears that the caboose and car are exactly the ones pictured in the article, though they’ve been painted. Interesting thing to see. You’d never know they were there!

    [I'll make a special trip by soon. Thanks for the confirmation, Jeff. -- DA]

  • http://www.insidesocal.com/dine909 John Plessel

    I loved going to the San Bernardino Railroader as a kid.

    Occasionally we went to the Redlands location as well.

    It was THE place to go for my birthday dinner.

    According to this page (http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,2559538), there were also locations in Pomona, Riverside and Hemet, in addition to the ones discussed here.

  • John Erb

    I worked at the Railroader as a dishwasher and then short order cook in the late 1970s when I was in high school at CHS. I know some very disgusting stories that I will spare everyone.

  • Catherine Brundage

    The Depot at First Street in Claremont opened in the early 70′s. It had the dark, woody brown decor popular at that time with lots of railroad memorabilia. It changed hands at some point by 1977 and was renamed Imagination Station. I remember things like hamburgers, omelets, salads and a fruit and cheese plate on the lunch menu. Local bands played in the bar/nightclub area which was one of very few in this area and got quite crowded. One was a fusion band called Rust. It changed hands again by 1979/80 and was renamed Orient Express. I think it changed ownership/names several times after that.

    [Catherine, thanks for helping us piece this history together. -- DA]

  • Catherine Brundage

    More about Depot/Imagination Station in these email excerpts from my mom, Martha Brundage:

    I just found a menu for the Imagination Station with a photo of a drawing of a small boy waving to an engine with the number 517. The drawings inside are by Elisa LaBue, signature on bottom right hand corner. This is an expanded menu over the Clmt. Depot, and it includes “Crazy Coffees,” and “Weird Cocktails.”

    The yellow Claremont Depot restaurant was fashioned after the original 19th century depot on that plot ( see p. 18 in Judy Wright’s book, “Claremont: a Pictorial History,” 1980 ), with the addition of one or more rail cars that were integrated into the design and contained the seating for meals.

    The bar was fun, and Dad and I went dancing there several times in the early to mid 1970s. I still have two menus from there. The menu items were divided into: Train Orders, Main Entree, Link and Pin Couplers, and Before the Departure categories. One could start with the included salad bar. What fun it was.

    Sometimes we walked down and sat on the restaurant recreated platform and waited for the El Capitan to skirt through Claremont from the L.A. station to Chicago, around 9 to 9:30 p.m. The front of the two toned ochre and rust menu had a photo of an old locomotive engine with the number 3531. The most expensive item was the “SHRIMP& MUSHROOMS SAUTEED WITH GARLIC AND WINE,” and cost $3.25. Coffee, tea, or milk was 25 cents. In those years, many of us wore long skirts. I’ll try to remember more. The best source would be Claremont Heritage.

    P.S.: There was also a caboose, where one needed to step up quite a ways to be seated at the table.

    ["I'll try to remember more"? I think she did a great job as it is. Thank your mother for us, Catherine. -- DA]

  • barbara f

    So the orchards have vanished, and even the little upstart choo choo restaurants have nearly vanished into the fog of time and you must eat strange new combinations of foods drawn from stores near at hand. I simply must tell you, it wasn’t always like this, children. It simply wasn’t.

    Back in a distant time, as the national rail system was nearly blown out of existence by a combination of wide expanse of highways, gasoline much cheaper than it is now, and airfares at rock bottom prices (even cheaper than a Greyhound bus, many times) … back then, before “the Depot” arrived to nestle nostalgically in close vicinity to the rusty old train tracks … a fine dining establishment called Chez Robert was there (pronounced “Robert” as if to to rhyme with “was there”)… reservations required for meals, with lunches starting out fixe price at $100.

    Truman Capote, famous then only for hobnobbing with the fabulously wealthy of New York and everywhere else in the world of international travel where the famously rich happened to congregate, arrived to dine there at some indistinct period in time in 1968, debarking at a geographic point near the real depot from his convertible. This was shortly after his recent drive through visit to the Bay Area environs, a short tour which even included a spin through Berkeley.

    After a splendid repast at Chez Robert’s, the famed writer (rich now from a recent movie adapted from his book) left behind his briefcase containing $25,000 in cash on an unoccupied seat next to him. He soon realized his mistake, and returned to retrieve his traveling bag. And I said at the time, upon hearing of this event, “he must not have liked the service, he even returned to take back his tip.”

    [Heh heh. Barbara, that restaurant, and that visit, are new to me. Thank you for sharing the tale with us. -- DA]