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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, December 4, 2008

After cross-country trek
Ketchums return diner to its former glory

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

PRINCETOWN — The sun glinted on the Art Deco stainless steel panels that flank the door of the decrepit diner — a sign of its early days of glory. Tom Ketchum was on hand last Wednesday to see his dream come one step closer to reality.

As a light snow fell, the old diner with bright red stripes was hoisted by a giant crane to its new foundation on Route 20 in Princetown.

“Tom’s always wanted a diner,” said his wife, Sally Ketchum, who will run the refurbished eatery when it’s opened in the spring. The couple once planned to put a diner in Altamont next to the post office, Mrs. Ketchum said, “but we were told we couldn’t because there were enough places to eat in Altamont and they didn’t want more traffic.”

The Ketchums decided to put this diner on land they owned on Route 20 in Schenectady County and have been working through the approval process there, she said.

The old diner the Ketchums finally purchased was manufactured in New Jersey in 1956 and first bought by an Illinois couple, Norma and Bob Dye, who opened in Champagne, Ill. the 14th franchise for Kentucky Fried Chicken, said Mrs. Ketchum. Colonel Harland Sanders founded the franchise just four years earlier.

Mr. Ketchum has spent hours tracking down original diner parts to refurbish the restaurant, his wife said. He found the diner’s original “Chuck Wagon” sign. “Some college gal had bought it when the Dyes sold the diner at auction in 1976. It had been her haunt,” said Mrs. Ketchum.

“Tom went to the diner museum in Rhode Island and got a fifties pie case and an ice cream parlor,” said Mrs. Ketchum of a counter complete with stools.

He also found a 1950’s jukebox with four or five units to put on tables, so patrons can select their favorite tunes.

“It’s just like the ones on Happy Days,” said Mrs. Ketchum of the 1970’s television sitcom that presented an idealized version of life in the fifties.

After the auction in 1956, the diner traveled to several different locations in Illinois, said Mrs. Ketchum, and ended up in Michigan. “It sat in a field near Detroit since 2001,” she said. The Ketchums trucked it to its new location last Nov. 25. A year and a day later, on Nov. 26, it was hoisted onto its new foundation.

“Winter’s the worst time to work on it,” Mrs. Ketchum concluded of the restoration, “but we had no choice. We want to open by spring.”

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