Throwback Sapulpa: Wimpy’s Diner

In our on-going series featuring Sapulpa’s “Dive’s, Diners and Drive-Ins” we best not overlook one of the most famous of all — Wimpy’s Diner. The historic icon, an old interurban street car converted into a small sit-down cafe on Sapulpa’s busy Dewey Street, still summons local memories of yesteryear.

Wimpy's Diner from the outside.
Wimpy’s Diner from the outside.

There have been numerous stories written of the old diner and the people who operated it. One of the best accounts is that written by the late Virginia Wolfe of Sapulpa in her Volume 1, “Remembrances and Little Known Facts of Our Community of Sapulpa.” The book was published during Sapulpa’s Centennial celebration in 1998.

Wolfe said that just writing the story made her mouth water.

“It wasn’t as plush as the St. James or Lorraine Hotel dining rooms,” she said of the small diner with its stools and counter not far from the grill, but “the enticing, mouth-watering, delightful odors filling the air hastened the pace and caused the hunger pains to increase; the anxiety would be overwhelming! Well, maybe this is overdoing it just a little, but I remember the delicious taste of the chili and the appealing flavor of the homemade fluffy coconut cream pie.”

She said she could hardly wait to take a seat on one of the eight bar stools that lined the counter or in one of the three booths across the front near the windows on the south side facing the street” at 515 E. Dewey.

ABOUT THE CARTOON CHARACTER: J. Wellington Wimpy, generally referred to as Wimpy, is one of the characters in the long-running comic strip Popeye, created by E.C. Segar. In the cartoons, Wimpy is soft-spoken, very intelligent, and well educated, but also cowardly, very lazy and utterly gluttonous. Hamburgers are Wimpy's all-time favorite food, and he is usually seen carrying or eating one or more at a time – however, he is usually too cheap to pay for them himself. A recurring joke involves Wimpy's attempts to con other patrons of the diner into buying his meal for him. His best-known catch phrase started in 1931 as "Cook me up a hamburger. I'll pay you Thursday." In 1932, this then became the famous "I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today".
ABOUT THE CARTOON CHARACTER:
J. Wellington Wimpy, generally referred to as Wimpy, is one of the characters in the long-running comic strip Popeye, created by E.C. Segar. In the cartoons, Wimpy is soft-spoken, very intelligent, and well educated, but also cowardly, very lazy and utterly gluttonous. Hamburgers are Wimpy’s all-time favorite food, and he is usually seen carrying or eating one or more at a time – however, he is usually too cheap to pay for them himself. A recurring joke involves Wimpy’s attempts to con other patrons of the diner into buying his meal for him. His best-known catch phrase started in 1931 as “Cook me up a hamburger. I’ll pay you Thursday.” In 1932, this then became the famous “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today”.

According to Wolfe’s research and interviews with family members, it was in October, 1932, when Whitney “Wimpy” Martin purchased one of the old Sapulpa trolley cars from a streetcar line at Tulsa and “turned it into one of the most popular diners in our city, one of Sapulpa’s legends.”

Sapulpa’s trolley system, mainly because of the proliferation of the automobile and other factors was gone and pretty much dismantled. Few of the cars survived. The one used for Wimpy’s Diner, perhaps one or two at area salvage yards and the one used at the Bennet Service Station (now restored and on display at the Jim Hubbard Plaza at TSU) were the only remnants of the old street cars.

But as Wolfe pointed out, it wasn’t the draw of Wimpy’s old street car that endeared the diner. The reputation of the eatery depended largely on the tastiness of the foods he served. “Simple foods, such as, fabulous hamburgers, delectable coneys, delicious chili, cold pop and out of this world pies,” she wrote.

On his food preparation counter near the grill was a thick marble slab — probably about two feet long an 18 inches wide — that Whitney used to shape and flatten the meat for his hamburgers.
“This item was given to a very good friend [unnamed] when the diner closed,” Wolfe said and then opined: “The sentimental value of this old treasure seems to radiate love and thoughtfulness and brings back memories that have a way of binding us to the past.”

Wimpy's Diner a place to Meet By the Late James W. Hubbard, Sapulpa Historical Society Every community, whether it was on Route 66 or not, had a restaurant where everyone ate, talked and drank coffee. One such place in Sapulpa was Wimpy's Diner. And "Wimpy" was Whitney W. Martin, who bought an old Sapulpa streetcar and converted it into a diner in the spring of 1934. He operated it until 1974, when "Wimpy," to the displeasure of his customers, retired. Martin bought the streetcar that became a Sapulpa landmark from Steryl McAllister and set it on a lot at 515 E. Dewey. He opened for business in early July 1934. Jumbo hamburgers sold two for 15 cents, soup was a dime and you could get a good breakfast, with ham or bacon and eggs, for 35 cents. Those prices rose over the years, of course, but stayed relatively steady. During the early years, the diner was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Business boomed. In the days before McDonald's, Wimpy Martin also set records for the number of burgers served. He once estimated in a three year period, his diner sold in excess of two million hamburgers. Martin believed in advertising, as well. Once, he had Sapulpa's Bartlett-Collins glass plant make him some glass ashtrays with the following message: "Stolen from Wimpy's Diner, Sapulpa, Oklahoma." The ash trays soon became collector's items and were requested by travelers from all over the U.S. As in any successful business, most of Wimpy's" advertising was done word of mouth. Even though it was a highly successful business, the tiny streetcar remained just that for 20 years.

Wimpy’s Diner a place to Meet

By the Late James W. Hubbard, Sapulpa Historical Society

Every community, whether it was on Route 66 or not, had a restaurant where everyone ate, talked and drank coffee. One such place in Sapulpa was Wimpy’s Diner.

And “Wimpy” was Whitney W. Martin, who bought an old Sapulpa streetcar and converted it into a diner in the spring of 1934. He operated it until 1974, when “Wimpy,” to the displeasure of his customers, retired.

Martin bought the streetcar that became a Sapulpa landmark from Steryl McAllister and set it on a lot at 515 E. Dewey.

He opened for business in early July 1934.

Jumbo hamburgers sold two for 15 cents, soup was a dime and you could get a good breakfast, with ham or bacon and eggs, for 35cents. Those prices rose over the years, of course, but stayed relatively steady.

During the early years, the diner was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Business boomed. In the days before McDonald’s,Wimpy Martin also set records for the number of burgers served.

He once estimated in a three year period, his diner sold in excess of two million hamburgers.

Martin believed in advertising, as well. Once, he had Sapulpa’s Bartlett-Collins glass plant make him some glass ashtrays withthe following message: “Stolen from Wimpy’s Diner, Sapulpa, Oklahoma.”

The ash trays soon became collector’s items and were requested by travelers from all over the U.S.

As in any successful business, most of Wimpy’s” advertising was done word of mouth. Even though it was a highly successful business, the tiny streetcar remained just that for 20 years.

On Whitney’s cash register was a paper weight — a copy of a trolley car made of cast iron and mounted on a marble slab. The walls of the diner were decorated with pictures of E.C. Segar’s “Popeye” comic strip characters — Olive, Pappy, Sweet Pea, Wimpy and Brutus — that were drawn and painted by a friend of Whitney’s, Bill Whinery.

The Coca-Cola Company had presented him with glasses also decorated with the “Popeye” character of “Wimpy.” A favorite memorabilia item was a round picture of Segar’s “Wimpy” sitting on a mound of hamburgers eating a burger, and including the famous statement, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

Whitney Martin’s parents, Shorty and Nannie, were born and reared in the Sapulpa/Tulsa area. Whitney was born at Claremore where he and Mildred were married. They had two sons born in Claremore, Ronnie in 1936 and Nolan in 1937. Whitney had worked as a cook at Sapulpa’s famous Harvey House Restaurant and at the elegant Mayo Hotel dining room in Tulsa.

The Martins resided at 1330 E. Lincoln. The diner was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And business was good. There was a standing order with Bean’s Bakery for 100 dozen hamburger buns a week. Wolfe noted that Martin did not have a telephone in the diner and he never formerly advertised.

During WWII, from 1941 through 1943, Whitney joined the Navy, serving duty in Spokane, Washington and California. During his absence, the diner was operated by his brothers, Buford, Clarence and twins, Wayne and Wesley. Gerald Hardgrove and Howard Crawford also lent helping hands working at the diner.

In the early 1950’s, more seating space was needed and the booths were added on the northwest corner of the trolley car.

Later a second addition was added on jut east of the first addition on the north side of the dine, and finally a third addition was added on the northeast and attached to the second addition to make room for additional kitchen facilities . . . and french fries were added to the menu.

Wolfe writes that Pete Anglin, while attending school worked for “Wimpy” after hours and during the lunch time in 1953 and 1954.

When Christmas time was nearing, Wimpy began to make fruit cakes for special friends. These were not small fruitcakes, some were about five pounds, said Wolfe.

“Pete said he would use 30 pound cans of dates and he would cut the dates until he would turn pink! Each date had to be cut into five pieces. The dates were long, oval shaped and sticky. The cherries were also in 30 pound cans, but each cherry just had to be cut in half. The nuts, Wimpy probably bought already crushed,” Wolfe wrote.

Nolan Martin and Pete would go down to the diner from Sapulpa High School at lunchtime and work, then return at 4 p.m. from school and work untill 9 p.m. Wimpy would work through until 5, 6, or 7p.m., and then Howard Crawford would take over the cooking and stay until 9 p.m.

Wimpy at that time had special 25-cent hamburgers, 20-cent coneys and 30- to 35-cent bowls of chili. He also served a hamburger steak and delicious home-made pies at 15 cents per slice.

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