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Tuesday, May 3, 2016
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home : considered comment : selected past columns May 3, 2016

10/24/2006 3:37:00 PM
Hail and farewell to the Liner, longtime Rochester fixture

The south end Streamliner restaurant has been sold and closed, soon to be replaced by a package liquor store. Its passing must not go unnoticed, because this Streamliner was a Rochester fixture for more than half a century, particularly endeared and inhabited by a steady stream of joyful high school students.

There is, of course, another Streamliner in downtown Rochester that since 1988 has become popular for old and young alike. It continues the Streamliner reputation for quality food and service.

But "The Liner" on the south end was something special and it's that story that deserves preservation.

Bob Stoner opened it as this city's first drive-in restaurant in May, 1939, on East Ninth Street at the site of today's Wells Fargo Bank, just across the street from the later Streamliner. There were three more owners the next 10 years until it moved. That came about because Standard Oil owned the location and was ready to build a service station there. However, Standard offered to lease another site to owner A.C. (Chic) Johnson, behind its existing service station on the south end of the city.

And so 57 years ago, in the summer of 1949, the restaurant was raised onto wheels, eased down Ninth to Main and then to its final location at the junction of Roads 14-25-31. There was a bit of a hitch in that journey, as a few townsfolk remember. The restaurant's moving platform broke down while making the turn onto Main and it took a bit of time to get it going again.

The restaurant's loyal patrons followed it, particularly the high school students who sometimes jammed it so full after ball games that nobody was allowed in until somebody else left. For many years, it was the only place of its kind in the city.

By 1964 the original Streamliner had become outmoded. New owner Larry Calhoun, who started work there at 13 as a car hop, replaced it with an enlarged drive-in version. That's the building now being replaced. Larry and wife Gloria, who like Larry began there as a car hop, have been co-owners of the Streamliners since their marriage in 1967.

To most of the local young people, it always was "The Liner" even though owner Johnson renamed it Modern Dairy Bar to reflect his local Modern Dairy business; Calhoun restored the Streamliner name in 1964.

A harmless pastime of youngsters during the '50s, '60s and early '70s was "Buzzing the Liner." They would get the family car, as did our daughters, pick up friends and start from the A&W root beer drive-in (now the B&K) on East Ninth, drive to Main, turn south to The Liner, circling it and later on the nearby Penguin Point cafe. That was "Doing the L" and they would repeat the route until time to go home. The object? To meet or to see what friends were up to or simply to while away the evening.

Inside the Liner in those years, youngsters could find unusual treats besides the normal fare of sandwiches, French fries and ice cream. There was, for example, The Suicide, which is served yet today. It is a soft drink of flavored Coke topped with marshmallow. When stirred, it quickly foams out the cup like lava from a volcano, to screams of childish delight in times past. There also was something called Swamp Water, made of Green River soft drink and root beer, which presumably looked much like its name.

The man most closely identified with The Liner in its early days was its manager, Bob Timbers. Admired by all who knew or worked for him, the soft-spoken Timbers was involved in food service here for 46 years, 22 of them with The Liner. He's now 78 and in happy retirement with Judy, his wife of 58 years, and he recalls much of the restaurant's early history.

Bob joined The Liner as a 16-year-old in 1944 with owner Herb Hooks. He left when Hooks sold but came back in 1947 and remained for 15 years, almost all of that time as its calm, efficient, hard-working manager. Men who as teen-age boys were hired by Bob as car hops will recall with fondness his care for their training, for their finances and getting them home safely after work each night.

After leaving The Liner in 1962, Timbers had a long career as owner or worker in foods. He bought the A&W root beer stand on two occasions, owned the Hamburger Hut on Main Street, twice managed the produce department for Wilt's supermarket and on two other occasions came back to the Streamliner to help the Calhouns.

His memories of his years at The Liner universally are pleasant; only once did he need help to quiet the house. On the whole he thoroughly enjoyed his work, his workers and his customers, which also is an accurate reflection of The Liner and of its existence.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, November 1, 2006
Article comment by: Pam Whalin

It is a sad thing to see the Liner being torn down. I lived in Rochester until my ealy teenage years and now live in Florida. The Liner was the place to go. My friends and I would walk the 18 or so blocks from our homes just to see who was there and what was happening. I come back to Rochester almost every year and the Liner and Dicks Drive Inn are/were always on my agenda when it comes to food. A piece of history gone forever, even though there is one in town it will never be the same. I know I will miss seeing it on the corner when I come into town.

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