LOVELAND — Campers and trailers hauling the essentials of Labor Day weekend were so commonplace along U.S. 34 headed to Loveland on Monday that the 1950s-era diner being towed to its next home almost didn't seem unusual.
Besides, if everything goes the way Loveland resident Gene Stires plans, the community is about to see a lot more of the vintage diner. The relocation on Monday was the first step toward bringing it back to life as a restored, operational diner.
"When we're done with it, we're hoping it looks like it did the day it was built," Stires said.
A truck from Chuck's Towing pulled the diner a little more than six miles to Stires' home near the south shore of Lake Loveland, but in 1992, Alton Johnson hauled it 550 miles from Adams, Neb. to his house on Glade Road. It stayed there for two decades.
"I wanted to finish it," he said. "But I'm 81 years old now. I hope (Stires) gets it fixed up."
Johnson, a longtime car collector, said there was something about the diner that struck him when he drove to Nebraska to pick it up back then. For one thing, it was completely intact -- dishes, salt and pepper shakers, soda fountain, ten bright red stool seats.
Even the pad used to jot down order for the cook was still there.
"It's like a little time capsule inside," Stires said.
Stires, who used to run Honnda Doctor at the corner of First Street and Lincoln Avenue and still owns that property, has fixed up many cars and restored a short bus on that property a few of years back. He's never dabbled in portable restaurants before, but ever since he saw the diner a couple of years ago, Stires said he hasn't been able to stop thinking about what it could become.
"All of the pieces just seemed to fit," he said.
One of those pieces was the name. Built in Kansas by Valentine Manufacturing Inc., it's one of about 2,000 small diners built from the late 1930s to 1970s that are now known and recognized across the country as "Valentine Diners."
Stires plans to keep that name alive, because what better distinction for the Sweetheart City?
This particular 25-by-10-foot Valentine Diner was built in the 1940s and operated in five locations in Nebraska through the course of its life, Johnson said.
While the diner is currently parked at his home, Stires said that's a temporary location while work begins. The permanent home is anticipated to be Stires' First Street and Lincoln Avenue property, just north of the building that's there.
"My old shop is kind of like a landmark," Stires said of the lot. "With this, we're trying to add another landmark."
Depending on weather, Stires hopes to have the diner opened as a new Loveland eatery -- dine in or take out from a walk-up window -- by the end of the year. It needs a good amount of work, but judging by the number of local businesses and community members who have already stepped forward to help -- Loveland Glass, Loveland Design, Sherwin-Williams and more --Stires believes the timeline is possible.
"All of these things are just falling into place," Stires said.
Jessica Maher can be reached at 669-5050, ext. 516, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaMaherRH.