Long journey: Old Milford Diner arrives in Indiana

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

That is the case with an old landmark diner that sat in downtown Milford for years, falling apart due to the weather and neglect. The diner had become a downtown eyesore in recent years, tagged with several health department notices stating it was in violation of the city’s blight ordinance.

Last Wednesday, Nov. 28, the old Milford Diner arrived at the home of Danny Miller outside of Kokomo, Ind., and Miller was thrilled. He’d never seen it before even though he laid claim to it more than a year ago. When it finally arrived, he said it was in even better shape than he’d expected.

M&G Rigging and Hauling in Lancaster, Pa., moved the diner from Milford to Indiana. While it was the week of Nov. 12 that Mel Brandt, president of M&G Rigging, and his crew were on the SBC property loading the old diner onto a flatbed truck, it wasn’t until the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 28, that the diner finally rolled into Indiana. Brandt had to wait for permits and escorts to start the roughly 800-mile journey, and Miller said Brandt didn’t really get going on the trek until Monday, Nov. 26.

The diner was well wrapped, but some of the shrinkwrap came off several times along the way, making it necessary to stop and reattach the material.

But the diner arrived safely. Miller said Brandt, described as a veteran ‘king of the road’ of diner movers,’ arrived by himself, and after parking the diner behind a church for the night, the next day the two got ready to unload it.

“He showed up by himself and I said, ‘Mel, where’s your help,’ and Mel said, ‘you’re looking at it,” Miller recounted.

Miller said they used a system of stacking railroad ties 37 inches high, just touching the frame of the diner, and them Brandt pulled a lever and lowered the flatbed so the diner rested on the structure of railroad ties.

Saving history

Miller is a car and history enthusiast, and he plans to restore the diner over the next three years and then move it somewhere, possibly to Kokomo, to resume its life as a working diner.

This isn’t exactly out of the ordinary for Miller. In 2004, he bought the Haynes Automobile Co.’s factory in Kokomo — a four-story, red-brick building — and moved his car-restoration business into the former factory, according to an article in the Kokomo Tribune.

A developer has since purchased the factory for apartments, Miller said.

The Milford Diner was once a city landmark, serving breakfast to Milford area residents for many years. Some people still remember the red vinyl booths and the red counter stools that added color to the small city eatery.

The Memaj family ran the restaurant until 2003, at which time it looked like the structure would be demolished.

John Lombard, a resident and businessman, stepped in and purchased the diner for $100,000 at the suggestion of his young son to help the Memaj family. His plans to move it and reopen it, and to have the Memaj family run it, however, fell through because, he said, the former owner of the New Haven Avenue parcel where the diner was located claimed ownership of the diner.

“In the middle of the legal wrangling the [Memaj] family informed me they would not be able to run the diner in our proposed new location due to health issues,” Lombard said. “At that point we dropped our efforts to move the diner.”

In 2009, a nonprofit group took up the battle to save the city landmark and assumed control of the Milford Diner. They intended to turn the iconic, stainless steel diner into a tourist and information center.

Then, for various reasons the efforts died, leaving the diner to the elements.

It was a couple of years ago that Miller learned about the diner through a diner museum website and got permission to take ownership of it.

Miller said when the old Milford Diner arrived in Indiana last week, he got his first chance to see it in person. The barstools inside the diner are a bit rusty, “but they don’t look too bad,” he said. “I believe I can salvage them.”

He intends to salvage all of it.

The diner, originally thought to be a 1946 Silk City Diner, is actually a 1953 Silk City Diner, Miller said.

As of this past weekend, he hadn’t done much except secure the diner on his property.

“I’ll start in the spring working on it hot and heavy,” Miller said.

He bought another diner, by the way: Miller had nearly given up on getting the Milford Diner when he decided to buy a diner in New Jersey. That one doesn’t need restoration, however, and Miller said he may just have it moved into storage until he decides where it will go.

While some people may question the desire to save old diners, Miller said it’s a passion based on history, memories and all that chrome.

His motto is ‘saving history and bringing the past alive.’

“So many people responded personally on my diner Facebook page,” Miller said. “They were posting their memories, and that’s one of the main reasons for this, to keep their memories alive and allow more to be made in the future.”

When Miller sees an old diner, he doesn’t see a rusty structure with doors and broken glass. He sees what it was, with the people inside and the food cooking on the grill. He hears the owners greeting people by name, and sort of pines for an era that is long gone.

The architecture, material and design of that period are an added bonus, he said.

Miller is hoping people have photos of the old diner that they can share with him. He would like to restore the inside to the way it once looked. He can be contacted at facebook.com/savethemilforddiner.