Sorting Through the Rubble

This is a followup to Nessun Dorma and I suggest reading that first.


Fire Skippys 1960 9 aftermath

When we lived on the hill on West Main Street in Richland, we were only a couple hundred yards or so from the railroad tracks, and let me tell you, those freight trains were LOUD, and seemingly endless, and if you wanted to watch television you had to learn to filter them out.

And if you wanted to get a decent night’s sleep, you needed to really filter them out.

Which I suppose is why my sister and I were able to sleep through the wailing sirens and the shouting mobs and the explosions and crackling flames and just general excitement of that wild night when Rich Maid Kitchens and Skippy’s were destroyed in a huge conflagration. Just wish I could filter out those kinds of noises these days.

Our parents claimed they tried to wake us, but I don’t think they tried very hard.

Fire Skippys 1960 4 aftermath

In any case the following morning we got to see the smoking pile of smoldering rubble of what we had missed the night before.

The followup article in the Lebanon Daily News didn’t shed much light on the cause of the fire, it simply stated that State Police Fire Marshal Marlin Keath was probing into the cause and that preliminary reports indicated the fire had begun in the furnace room of the basement.

There was talk that Rich Maid Kitchens would be able rebuild using its other locations. I don’t know what the ultimate decision was concerning this fire, but I do remember that Rich Maid Kitchens did end up rebuilding in a different location (near Wernersville, I think, but I’m not positive about that), and sometime in the 1970s I seem to recollect they suffered another devastating fire. Hmm. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence?

Fire Skippys 1960 10 interior skippys aftermath

George and Pauline Zimmerman ended up rebuilding a modern structure on the lot that used to hold both their luncheonette and Rich Maid Kitchens; they used the additional space for a parking lot for their customers.

The new Skippy’s (for they retained the traditional name) was bright and shiny, and on more than one occasion I remember Pauline complaining that she wished they had never rebuilt it. After a few years they closed the restaurant and converted it into living quarters and lived there for a few years.

A few years later they sold it, and in the 70s it became a luncheonette again, apparently it’s true calling. I was living in Richland for a few years in the mid 70s and I’d often patronize the place, but I no longer remember the name of the new owners or even if they retained the name of Skippy’s. Sorry. Anyone else remember?

About ten years ago I paid a brief visit to Richland with my aunt and uncle Jane and Allen. The restaurant was now called the Rail Road Diner and had been modernized yet again. Or possibly rebuilt from the ground up.

Railroad Diner 1479


We had lunch there and the food was fine, but no one seemed to remember George and Pauline Zimmerman.

Well, it’s been over 50 years.

Railroad Diner 1485


[The photos of the aftermath of the fire are from the Dale Bentz Collection; the pics of the Rail Road Diner are from the JT Collection.]

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