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Delivery Days

The Daily Times and Chronicle, Tuesday, March 16, 1982

Burlington Past and Present, by John E. Fogelberg (Article # 143)


Here in Burlington at one time there were at least three different milk distributors, all of whom had definite milk routes. There was the Walter S. McIntire “Grand View Farm” on Center Street, the Fred F. Walker Farm on Winn Street, and the James A. Bustead Dairy “Pine Knoll Farm” on Wilmington Road. Delivery was an everyday or every other day affair. That was before every family had one or more automobiles in the garage.

Also making the rounds at least once a week were those from whom the busy housewife could buy meats and certain other staples. Eggs and vegetables most people had at home or could buy from roadside stands such as the one Mac McInnis ran on the corner of Bedford and Cambridge Streets.

Two meat wagons made the rounds in Burlington. One was driven by Orray Skelton, whose family also ran a little store where Four Acre Drive meets Cambridge Street now. The other belonged to Alexander Brown who operated out of his home on Winnmere Avenue. His slogan was “Meats at your door.” Orray covered most of the north and western part of the town during the week and often made his collections on a Saturday. Alec covered the Winnmere section and Woburn’s west side mostly.

Then there was the old peddler who came around two or three times every summer. He walked from place to place carrying over his shoulder a bag similar to a letter-carrier’s pouch, or holding a carpet bag in one hand and a walking stick in the other. Stoop-shouldered and wearing a floppy hat and worn and shabby clothing, the old gentleman sold needles and threads and such other small items as he could carry such as thimbles and coffee strainers and buttons. Some of the old-timers might still remember him.

Gypsies came to Burlington and stayed several days or a week each year prior to World War II. They were known to have parked their cars and wagons on the flat land behind Bennett’s farm on Francis Wyman Road or on Mill Street just off Winn. They sold wicker baskets and such.

When word spread that the Gypsies were in town, every farmer’s wife locked her kitchen door, because Gypsies were considered to be light-fingered and not to be trusted. They never really caused any trouble, however.

People in Burlington had little need to go out and eat and so there were but few places where one could get either a snack or a good meal. During Prohibition days there were a few speak-easies, and then came the club on Lowell Street and Bernstein’s “Red Dog Inn” on the Turnpike. Still later came a few beer-parlors when Burlington went wet, such as “The Grey Squirrel,” where the car wash is now.

One of the most interesting eating places in town from 1951 to 1961 was Joe Galipeau’s diner, the “Flying Saucer.” That small building once occupied a spot on Cambridge Street about where the Arco gas station is today. Earlier it had been the sandwich shop next to the old Wilmington High School, used to feed hungry students there. When that town built a new high school having a cafeteria, the little building was bought by Ted Murray and moved to Burlington, and there Joe ran his diner 10 years, helped from time to time by somebody known as Willie the Welder.

High school students congregated there in the afternoons and the town fathers and the politicians in the evening. The door on the old place couldn’t be locked and Joe never fixed it, but in all the years he was there Joe said that he never lost a thing and the kids knew the place wasn’t secured after he left at night. Some in town used to refer to Joe’s place as “The Greasy Spoon,” but Joe’s food was simple, good and wholesome. And he made good coffee, using Murray’s spring water.

Joe’s diner wasn’t a real diner or “dog-cart” in the old sense. For one of those, you had to go to Woburn Center. From 6 p.m. until 2 or 3 in the morning, men coming from the late shifts in the shops, or coming in on the late trains from Boston, or local politicians returning from meetings, grabbed the sandwiches, hot dogs and coffee served one Owen Doherty. He was there when this writer was a school boy in Woburn and was there just prior to the outbreak of World War II.

The little diner had a long narrow counter and seven stools. If the place was full, outsiders could be served through a window which opened at one end. Water was kept in eight-quart milk cans. Coffee was made in a big urn over a kerosene burner. Ownie served hot dogs and Western, cheese, egg and ham sandwiches. There was but one spoon. Ownie stirred your coffee for you. Since there was no plumbing, cups were washed in the one pan of water, which lasted the night long.

Our antiseptic society would probably shudder at Ownie’s operation today, but no one ever could trace any illness to his hot dogs. Many of Woburn’s political problems were hashed over in Ownie Doherty’s dog-cart. It is entirely possible that Doherty got his idea for a lunch cart from the first such enterprise in New England.

Diners were born in Rhode Island:

“Diners have been on the American scene since 1872, when the light of inspiration flashed on in the brain of a Providence, R.I. gentleman by the name of Walter Scott. Scott’s enterprise consisted of loading up a horse-drawn freight wagon with sandwiches, pies and coffee, along with the equipment needed for serving. He parked the rig downtown during the night and catered to the after-hours pedestrian population, most notably the staff of the Providence Journal.” — Mark Sawtelle

Diners, like the horse and wagon, the street cars, and peddlers like Orray and Alex, have come, had their day, and gone, although a lone diner may be found here and there. The diner on the corner of Green Street in Woburn is now a restaurant; the “Reading Diner” also is a restaurant and no longer looks like a diner, and the little trolley-car looking diner in Arlington called the “Pullman” is gone. Burlington never had a real diner unless the “Flying Saucer” could be called one.