Above: Jerry Ueckert renovated this Valentine diner and dubbed it the Red Top Diner. Photograph by Kate Nelson.
After they went into production in 1947, Valentine diners soon dotted the West—some 2,000 of the pint-size models were hauled by rail from Wichita, Kansas, bearing names like Little Chef, Nifty Nine, and Aristocrat. Few remain. In 2006, Jerry Ueckert found an abandoned 10-by-24-foot shell of one in Magdalena and trucked it to an Edgewood campground his family owned. There he removed asbestos, replaced the floor, scouted interior fixtures, and dubbed it the Red Top Diner, although he usually just calls it “Val.” “She was in 50 to 1, the movie about Mine That Bird, the Kentucky Derby winner,” he says. Val was temporarily parked at Wildlife West Nature Park, in Edgewood, when I stepped inside. Ueckert’s makeshift reno was crumbling, and he planned another redo after moving her closer to his Edgewood home, just off Route 66. The retired locksmith, occasional journalist, and full-time Route 66 booster considers Val to be a monument to the Mother Road, which, like the diners, faded in the 1960s. “I just want to walk to her in the morning, drink coffee, and talk to people about Route 66,” he says.