EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO, Randy and I rolled into Sleepy Eye, a small ag-based community along U.S. Highway 14 in Brown County in southwestern Minnesota. I lived and worked there briefly as a newspaper reporter decades ago. So I’m familiar with the town, although much has changed. In recent years, we’ve stopped at Sleepy Eye Stained Glass for stained glass. Randy occasionally creates and repairs stained glass art.
But on this stop, we’d just come from neighboring Redwood County, where we saw my mom in the nursing home. We didn’t know it then, but this would be our last in-person visit before COVID-19 closed care center doors to visitors and changed everything.
By the time we reached Sleepy Eye well past the noon hour, I was hungry. It’s a running joke in our family that I need to eat on time or I get crabby. It’s the truth, not a joke.
We ended up at The Railway Bar & Grill, appropriately named given its location near the train tracks. Next to the grain elevator. I don’t recall what I ordered other than a sandwich. Nothing memorable, but sustenance.
In a pandemic year that’s been especially difficult for bars and restaurants, The Railway apparently struggled. The business—complete with bar, two dining areas, private conference room, an outdoor patio, 12 tappers and more—is now for sale. For $165,000.
I’m not familiar with dining options in Sleepy Eye. But I know one thing about small towns—cafes and bars and grills are community gathering places. Spots to meet with family and friends. After a ball game. On a Saturday night. To shoot the breeze. To celebrate. To get out of the house on a cold winter evening. To BS over a beer or two. From all indications, The Railway filled that need in Sleepy Eye.
When Randy and I finished our sandwiches on that early March Saturday afternoon in 2020, I stepped outside to photograph the neighborhood while he paid the bill. I focused my lens on three houses crammed together.
And then I aimed toward the towering grain elevators next to the bar & grill. Vintage elevators always draw my eye for their architectural interest (as cathedrals of the prairie), historical importance and connection to my farming past. Silo style grain storage units will never hold the same appeal as these rectangular grey elevators soaring high above small towns. Too many of these have vanished, including in my hometown of Vesta where a local farmer moved the elevators onto his farm.
On this Saturday, I delighted in reconnecting with my rural roots outside The Railway. In my memory, I heard the rumble of a train, saw grain trucks lining up at the elevator, smelled the earthy scent of harvest…
© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Oou It has been 45 some yrs since I was there Thanks for sharing Audrey 🙂
Well, then, I’m happy to take you back to Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.
Love the name of this little town. A year later… a lot has happened in a year.
Yes, much has happened in a year. The town is named after Native American Chief Sleepy Eye.
I am always amazed that in places where it doesn’t seem to be required, houses are built so close together. My wife loves watching fixer upper shows, and there is one that takes places in Indianapolis. The house are literally 10 feet apart! It isn’t Queens or Brooklyn! Anyway lovely post, and I myself love those small town eateries!
That’s an interesting comment about the closeness of houses in an area where it doesn’t seem required. But, even in smaller communities/cities, houses are sometimes shoe-horned onto lots. It’s happened in my neighborhood with larger lots split and houses moved in. In these small towns like Sleepy Eye, farmland surrounds the community and thus physical growth is often limited or difficult.
Like you, I love small town eateries. I will always choose home-grown over chain. The last time I dined inside a restaurant was a year ago. It will be a while before I feel comfortable doing that. Maybe once I’m vaccinated…and most others are, too.
Yes so sad to see local small businesses struggle. I am sure this place offered a respite to the town’s people to meet and connect. i was kinda awestruck by the price. Did not seem real high for all it came with.
It’s been a difficult year, for sure. Restaurants and bars are now open to 50 percent capacity in Minnesota. I’m thankful for the safety mandates, although I feel for the business owners and their employees.
I, too, thought the price reasonable. The price started a bit higher.
It is sad for the restaurant to have to close its doors. I’m sure it was a difficult decision. I hope someone can buy it and reopen it.
I hope, too, that a buyer can be found. In reading the Facebook page, I got the impression that the owners had talked about selling. The pandemic just pushed that forward.