Sunday, March 20, 2016

7942. BELOW THE WATER LINE (pt. 198)

(pt. 198)
One thing about growing up in Avenel,
I guess I should mention, is the fact
concerning highway ideas about roadside
motels, and diners. As a kid, each of
us knew they were there. The highway
was, literally, a string of small motels,
and a few diners  -  the Avenel Diner
and the Premium Diner among them.
Rahway had diners, in town there was
'Irene's.' Up and down Routes One and
Nine they could be found. The word
'iconic' wasn't really in use yet, though
in time that's what these all became -
not yet grown into their concept then.
What made it all interesting, for me, 
was that down at the bottom of Omar 
Ave., and Blair Road, was the factory
location, and yard of, Kullman Dining 
Car Company. They actually MADE 
these things, and were known nationally! 
(See insert; follows): "Kullman Dining Car 
Company, established in Newark, New 
Jersey in 1927, originally manufactured 
diners. The company expanded and 
later became the Kullman Building 
Corporation. It relocated to Avenel and 
finally to Clinton Township (with 
corporate offices in Lebanon) and 
over the years production grew to 
include prefabricated housing, 
dormitories, prisons, schools, banks, 
equipment buildings of cellular 
communications towers. It also 
built the first pre-fab United States 
Embassy in Guinea-Bissau in West
Africa. The company is known for 
incorporating the use of new materials, 
such as stainless steel and formica
as they were developed and appyling 
technologies developed through 
construction of diners to other buildings 
and is credited with introducing the 
term accelerated construction
The company re-organized in 
bankruptcy and Kullman Industries 
went out off business in 2011. 
XSite Modular (, 
a company formed by the management 
team that left prior to Kullman going 
out of business, now owns all the 
Kullman Intellectual Property 
purchased at auction."
Diners like that have, of course 
and over time now become part 
of the road-weary American
traveler's legend, all part of the
presentation. It was strengthening
as well as weird to see that have a
basis in Avenel. It was a small 
enough factory, and much of  the
work was done outside. These 
metal trailer type things, the
dining cars, were constructed and 
then the insides were appointed  -  
we'd see guys building counters, 
stove-sections, seats, padding, 
tables. The entire shooting match  -  
shiny metal, glass and mirrors. 
Everything would be done,
ready for hook-ups and power 
lines. Even the little table-top 
juke-box selector things, in place. 
Then they'd be coupled to trucks, 
or lifted onto flatbeds, etc., for the 
trip to their destination. It  could be 
Ohio, or Indiana, or Arizona. Evidently 
these things were shipped everywhere. 
We even learned geography from this  
-  the guys would talk a little to us, 
lunchtimes, eating sandwiches. No 
matter what they said, we'd believe 
them. 'Some King bought this for his 
private dining room. It's going far away,
getting lifted there by plane! We gotta' 
hang it, at the airport, at the bottom 
of a plane. Hope the wheels can hold 
the runway speed for takeoff!' Then 
they'd laugh. We kind'a knew it was all
BS, but we'd laugh back and I guess
'pretend' we took in the whole tale.
Crazy stuff, but it was fun. The other
cool thing was that, out back, at the 
ends of the work-yard, there'd be one
or two wrecked or abandoned or old
diner-car things, just sitting there. 
We'd usually manage to get in, just 
traipsing around  -  we treated it all 
the same way we treated the car and 
the truck junkyards. It was just how 
we lived. Cool stuff, and a million 
memories. Kullman eventually 
closed up or moved on. But for a
long time, whenever I entered a 
diner, I'd look for the little
'manufactured by' sign, in metal, 
usually somewhere on the side 
wall or, in the larger ones, on the
entryway inside wall. Kullman 
Dining Car Company, Avenel, NJ.
So, I mean then, I'd tell myself, 
what was Avenel about if not 
supplying the entire big, bad 
world with dining cars. Just like 
the portables at school  -  as if
they moved  -  on wheels, silver 
metal, like Airstream trailers that 
some bimbo family would drive 
around with, or in, to Utah or New 
Mexico, scrambling eggs in their
diner-car kitchen all the way, sitting 
there to eat while humming to Elvis 
on the juke-box, the sloppy diner-cook 
guy, in his dirty white apron and funny 
white cap, dropping his cigarette ashes 
when you hit a bump in Ohio right into 
your pureed ham-strap, creamed peas 
and potato-crisps. Kullman Dining Car 
Company, from us to you! And not 
only that, but we lived in a town where, 
every 1000 feet, all along Rt. One, north 
and south, was another roadside motel! 
Some of them with walls around them 
so the cheaters could park their cars 
unseen. All those office guys with their 
secretaries, and all that, taking an hour 
out of their busy day, right there, in Avenel, 
to make time with Sally O'Malley and
her wonderful salt-shakers! What a
world! Mystery world, to be sure. Ten
year old kids, saying, 'what do they 
want to do that for?' not quite sure 
yet what the whole motel strip was 
about (in both senses of the word!). 
So much to be said for the innocent 
life. I can't begin, and I've long ago 
sold away my birthright to that.
Anyway, again, Avenel was 'indubitably', 
(such a 1950's word), the center of 
some part of the world. I often just 
walked to the end of Inman Avenue,
right to Rt. One, just to watch the 
traffic passing  - wondering and 
wishing. All those people, busy with 
doing, going somewhere, and set on 
a human task. I little cared, actually, 
for anything of the southbound traffic  
-  it was only the northbound that took 
my spirit away. I made the (false) 
assumption, of course, that they were 
all going to New York City, some 1960
crazy-image I had of tunnels and 
bridges leading to intense company, 
intellectual adjustment, creative and 
crazy people. Certainly where I'd want 
to soon go and be. Not that they were, 
I just approached it that way as 'place 
of dreams, end-site for any travel, 
golden city to be at'. Just a kid's
fantasy maybe, like being once more
in that tree house behind my house, 
hanging over the tracks and viewing 
from the treetop heights that distant 
city. Man, was I made of dreams or 
not? And if it all was a dream, how 
different was it, really, from any of 
those dreams in the hot-sheet 
motels nearby?
One last thing too, years later  -  back 
in Pennsylvania, after I'd left there, 
a lot of the farmers hit hard times. 
Some closed up their operations.
One guy, my old farm neighbor 
Warren Gustin, I know he took a 
'second' job, in Elmira, 20 miles
away from his home in Columbia
Crossroads. His 5 kids and wife, 
and him, managed to still continue 
the farm work and the cow chores 
and planting, but on a different scale, 
and the job he took enabled some 
needed extra money to carry them. 
He took a job with the Bombardier 
Company, from Canada. They
refurbished NJ and NYC railroad 
cars  -  the old, crummy ones would 
be brought in, they'd gut them, make 
everything new and updated, re-do 
the entire car for safety and service
qualifications. He found it all very 
amazing, but what shocked him more 
was the day-to-day workman's things 
he had to do  -  he'd never before worked 
in a factory format. It depressed him at
first, and caused him some problems, 
having been a free and open farmer his 
entire work-life. No matter  -  just like 
the Kullman Dining Car place, on each 
of their rail cars (and I'd look for, and
see this badge too, on many of the trains 
I rode) they would rivet in a metal plate 
that says 'Refurbished, July 20o1,
(or whatever date), Bombardier Railcar
Co., Elmira, New York. I still always look.

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