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a retouched photograph of the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI spacer
figure 1


dog wagon. A diner or a restaurant on wheels.reference 1

You don’t hear this one much any more. Its use begins at the same time that Yale students start calling sausages “hot dogs” (see hot dogs (food)) and appears to have spread rapidly. In their history of Cornell University, Morris Bishop and Alison M. Kingsbury document the origins of a campus eatery, the Silbey Dog.

Its origin is recalled by a writer in the Alumni News (30 March 1916). “Old John Love...drove his dog wagon up by the foundry and began to serve coffee, soup, hot dogs, and desdemonas... After a while he took the wheels out from under the dog-wagon and left it there.”reference 2

Since this tidbit was provided in 1916 by someone already an alumnus, it suggests that the term is of earlier origin. This passage also demonstrates one reason why the dog wagon can been seen as both stationary and mobile. Another reason is that category of dog wagons rapidly expanded to include a range of eateries that were once mobile (if only to get them from the factory to a more permanent location), especially those whose design deliberately alluded to railroad dining cars.

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reproduction of a poster advertising a dining car spacer
figure 2

One somewhat obscure reference from Forbes contends that the lunch wagons of the early 1920’s were made from “genuine rolling stock.”reference 3 However, the prefabrication of diners goes back further. Among the earliest manufacturers was the Worcester Lunch Car Company, which made “night lunch carts” between 1890 and 1908. Many have attributed the origin of these iconic roadside establishments to this company. However, the Worcester Historical Museum eschews that honor, stating that this manufacturer “was not the first”.reference 4 The Museum provides further detail, however, about the nature of these diners’ mobility:

Diners were built in factories and sold completely equipped, from stoves to silverware to hat racks. Diners were built with wheels so that they could be moved from factory to site. Many Worcester diners still have their wheels hidden underneath.reference 5

In the 1950’s, Robert Penn Warren refers to the dog wagon in a way that addresses the ambiguity of the appellation in this interchange in Heaven’s Gate:

“Well, I won't be here. I'm driving Slim in, and he's going to take me slumming. We're going to eat at a dog-wagon,” [said Sue].

“It isn't a dog-wagon, exactly,” Slim said, in the tone of one who makes a correction merely out of disinterested love of accuracy. “It's sort of a restaurant. Down near the river. the food is not very good. It is greasy. But I I eat there quite frequently because it is very cheap and is near my studio.”reference 6

Poor-quality, cheap, greasy food is exactly what we associate with dog wagons; and, to be accurate, Slim was right: they are “not exactly” wagons.

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an illustration of the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. spacer
figure 3
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spacer illustratoin of a cart carrying a milk can with dogs in front ready to pull it. spacer
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“Dog wagon” is not to be confused with the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, which is used to promote a certain sausage product. Nor should it be used interchangeably with the term “dog cart” which may be used for a pushcart that sells hot dogs, but also refers to a cart drawn by actual dogs.

1. Haber, Tom Burns. 1965. Canine Terms Applied to Human Beings and Human Events: Part II. American Speech 40 (4):243-271.



2. Bishop, Morris. 1962. A History of Cornell. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 293.



3. Google Books. 2008. Forbes. Mountain View, Calif.: Google. Accessed Apr 16 2008 from http:// books? id= V0lEAAAAIAAJ&q= dog+wagon&dq= dog+wagon&lr= &ei= a0wGSO_8GYqIswOxo ZSHCw&pgis= 1.





4. Worester Historical Museum. 2008. Diners. Worcester's Own. Accessed Apr 16 2008 from http:// www. wo-diners.html.

5. Ibid.




6. Warren, Robert Penn. 1985. At Heaven's Gate. New York: Published for J. Laughlin by New Directions. 17.





About the illustrations: Figure 1 is a modified image of the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Original photo taken by Ted Boardman. You can easily see the reference to the romance of train travel. Used with permission.

Figure 2 is a reproduction of an advertisement for the Chicago and Alton Railroad Lines showing the interior of a dining car, entitled “Luxury on Wheels.” “You take your hotel along with you by this route. Meals enjoyed at leisure,” the railroad proclaims.reference 7 From a 21st century viewpoint, it may be difficult to remember that train travel was once something that the elite could indulge in: references to dining cars in dog wagons were intended as signifiers of wealth. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Figure 3 shows a rendering of the Weinermobile, as depicted on the Oscar Mayer web site at the date of this revision. This image is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this work in the article “dog-wagon” to illustrate the subject in question where no free equivalent is available or could be created that would adequately give the same information qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

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figure 5

Figure 4 shows a dog cart, as pulled by a dog. Figure 5 shows a pushcart that sells wieners, brats, red hots, foot-longs, franks, or something like that. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

7. Chicago & Alton R. R. Lines. 1885. Luxury on Wheels. (poster). Accessed Apr 16 2008 from http:// wiki/ Image: Luxury_on_wheels.jpg.





see also: hot dog (food) Last updated: July 5, 2008
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