For years, this lunch wagon was an underemphasized display piece within the mock American town known as “Greenfield Village” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. However, it caught the eye of Richard “Diner Man” Gutman—the country’s foremost expert on diners—who informed the museum that their wagon was, in fact, the last-known lunch wagon in existence.
In the 19th century, “night lunch” wagons like this one served nocturnal foodies their midnight fix. The horse-drawn carriages emerged as the masses slumbered, serving policemen, theatergoers, and night-shift factory workers. One of these workers, an engineer with the Edison Illuminating Company, was a young Henry Ford, who allegedly ate a hot dog and a coffee nightly from this very cart, known as the Owl Night Lunch Wagon. When he later formed the nostalgic Greenfield Village—an outdoor section of his namesake museum stocked with icons of 19th-century Americana—he acquired his favorite wagon and made it part of the landscape.
The wagon’s historical significance slipped through the cracks as it became a little-noticed piece of the museum that sold popcorn to visitors. Gutman’s letter to museum directors in the early 1980s sparked a rigorous restoration campaign, which he oversaw, to return the Owl Night Lunch to its former glory. Today, the renovated wagon boasts a bright veneer, selling hot dogs and coffee once again.