If you've been paying attention the last few days to the Thetford listserv or to the lists in some of its surrounding towns, you've probably noticed a post from Brian Boland. It says that he wants to start up a diner by the Post Mills Airport, which he owns, and is looking for someone to run it.
This seems like it might be a hare-brained idea. But anyone who knows Boland or has visited the airport museum, with its astounding collection of odds and ends that include what he calls "probably the largest collection on the planet" of old hot-air balloons, 148 of them, or has seen the Vermontasaurus on the far side of the airfield from the museum, knows that turning hare-brained ideas into reality is pretty much what Boland does.
"Anything that Brian touches is quirky and inspired and inevitably unconventional," Douglas Tifft—who tipped me off to the posts—writes in an email. "A few years ago I asked if he wanted the wood from an old camp building I was taking down on my waterfront. Of course he would, he said. When he saw the red-stained weathered boards, he was especially interested because he envisioned a mobile Vermontasaurus mounted on a flatbed trailer to take to parades and such. The red boards would be perfect. Sure enough, at that year's Orford-Fairlee Fourth of July Parade, bringing up the rear was a two-story, red-skinned dinosaur looking a bit like a Trojan horse with several people waving from behind the dinosaur's head. Best of all, a hot-air balloon burner was projecting from its mouth, firing flames above the heads of the crowd. When I asked him later how he got permission to do this, he said, 'I don't ask permission beforehand; I just ask forgiveness afterward.'"
In the case of the diner, Boland is going to have to ask permission, starting with Thetford's Development Review Board. He's got an informal hearing scheduled for April 13 to give the board an idea of what he's thinking and for the board "to assist Mr. Boland with his decision on pursuing this project," says town Zoning Administrator Diane Osgood.
Here's what Boland has to say about his idea:
I’ve just had the idea stuck in the back of my head for years. I used to live in Connecticut and would look at diners, ones for sale that had to be moved. But they were getting expensive and I just had a small property on a lake, and I realized, "Where the hell would I put this thing?"
Then 32 years and a bit ago I bought this neat airport as a place for... stuff. And it’s got this three-acre field across Robinson Hill Road. I was laid up after an operation and had a long winter to be horizontal and playing around on a laptop computer and I’m looking up old diners, and I kept stumbling upon the look I wanted. These were the old, pre-Silver Streak, wooden diners with a barrel-shaped roof and ceiling. And I thought Jeez, trying to find one is hard. I’m pretty handy, I’ll just build one from scratch.
It would be off to the west, completely out of the way of an airplane that might, you know, never stop. In all my years here, there was one glider that once never stopped and hit that field, but the hay was up about 20 inches, and it slowed the glider down immediately. Oh, and we had a fly-in some years back, and a guy in in a midget P-51 Mustang that went like a bat out of hell...
So I'm thinking that I could finally have a diner and make it look the way I want. But then I’m thinking, I don’t want to build it as an art work sitting empty. But I also don’t want to be behind the counter doing eggs and grilled cheese. So it’s paramount I find someone who can move in, run it, and almost think of it as theirs.
Being a diner maniac from way back, what could be better than having a diner 300 feet away from my pillow? Though I’ll insist they open a little before 6 am so I can get my coffee.
I want an outdoor eating area as well. And to fit the times, a little takeaway window at the end of the area behind the counter. Then the stools along the counter, and traditional-looking booths that look like they're from the 1920 era, not 1955.
I’m already thinking how to heat it maybe with radiant heating under the floor tiles, and it would be very well insulated.
I know there's a lot to go through before it can happen. So if they say this is ridiculous and blow the wind out of my sails, I’ll back away. But I don’t want them to approve the thing and then feel like there’s nobody on the planet interested in going in and running the business, which is why I'm putting out these posts.
If you look around, in East Thetford, Isabel’s packed it in. The Fairlee Diner’s been for sale quietly for years. The Lunch Box in Fairlee closed. The Third Rail is apartments now. There's nothing around! So it would be a little bit of a town meeting place. It would become a destination airport for flyers from other parts of the northeast—they’re always looking for what they call the $100 hamburger, a place to fly to and walk up the road to get a sandwich.
Just today I got 18 responses from people that are dying to pull in and eat there. Which is great, but what I need is someone to run it. The person I'm looking for may not exist — in which case, the air is out of the tire.
If you've always wanted to run a diner, you can reach Boland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-333-9254.