Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Historic Winona drive-in hosts Farm Tractor Night & I was there September 4, 2014

A John Deere reaches

A John Deere rounds the corner onto the 600 block of East Sarnia Street where the drive-in is located.

TRACTORS RUMBLED INTO WINONA’S Lakeview Drive Inn parking lot on a perfect Minnesota evening in late August. Ideal temps. Sun edging behind the bluffs in this Mississippi River town of nearly 28,000.

Drive-in fare served in a paper lined basket.

Drive-in fare served in a paper lined basket.

Folks reminisced and downed burgers, onion rings and more served in red plastic baskets lined with checkered paper.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

Just like the old days. Root beer crafted on-site at the 1938 drive-in and served in frosty mugs by car hops.

Rows of tractors ringed Lakeview Drive Inn.

Rows of tractors ringed Lakeview Drive Inn.

My husband and I happened upon historic Lakeview’s annual Farm Tractor Night while returning from a vacation to Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. What a delight.

One view of Farm Tractor Night.

One view of Farm Tractor Night.

We were first introduced to Lakeview when our eldest daughter attended Winona State University, several blocks away, 10 years ago. I even wrote a magazine feature article on this vintage drive-in.

One can only imagine the conversation.

One can only imagine the conversation.

There’s something about a classic home-grown drive-in that speaks to summer and the past like no other place…

BONUS PHOTOS:

The oldest tractor, a 1937 John Deere A, at Lakeview.

The oldest tractor, a 1937 John Deere A, at Lakeview.

A sweet vintage Ford.

A sweet vintage Ford.

Even the Winona County dairy princesses showed up for Farm Tractor Night.

Even the Winona County dairy princesses showed up for Farm Tractor Night.

A lovely old Oliver parked on the edge of the parking lot across the street from a spacious city park.

A lovely old Oliver parked on the edge of the parking lot across the street from a spacious city park.

Loved the original art on this International tractor.

Loved the original art on this International tractor.

These two guys

Come as you are for Farm Tractor Night. So authentic.

Attendees could go on a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the park across the street.

Attendees could go on a tractor-pulled wagon ride through the park across the street.

Just arrived at the tractor show.

Just arrived at the tractor show.

FYI: The Lakeview Drive Inn closes for the season on September 14.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Dairyland, an old-fashioned drive-in in Fergus Falls June 13, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:12 AM
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I’VE SEEN THIS PLACE BEFORE. I just know I have. On my vintage Candy Land board game. Or in a fairy tale perhaps.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955. Although I did not ask, I believe the area to the left is the original drive-in, now used for storage and patio dining.

But I haven’t really. Not until this glorious spring evening have I laid eyes on the Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Now, here I am, photographing this longtime fast food place in the photographer’s golden hour, thrilling in the pop of red against pink-tinged sky, the flash of headlights signaling the end of a Thursday in this west central Minnesota community.

As close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer's regrets...

This is as close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer’s regrets…

If I had even a smidgen of space in my tummy for an ice cream treat, I’d be waiting in line at Dairyland for a hot fudge sundae. But my husband and I have just finished a filling meal of sandwiches and fries at Mabel Murphy’s, across Interstate 94, before touring the town. We are not one bit hungry. Too bad.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

So on this visit to Fergus Falls, I must content myself with photographing that sweet gingerbread style building which houses Dairyland, established here in 1955 and now in its 58th year of business.

Pat Connelly

Pat Connelly

Soon co-owner Pat Connelly notices me and walks across the street. He first worked at Dairyland at age fourteen, when he started with slicing onions. He and his wife, Jean, bought the place in 1997 from his brother, Chuck, who bought the business in 1982 from Bert Skogmo.

Up until 2001, Dairyland still had car hops. Now it’s drive-through or dining inside or on the patio.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

The eatery is still known for its homemade onion rings and for broasted chicken, Pat tells me.

Sandwiches are named after locals and those who worked here. Like the K.C. Ham & Cheese after Kelly Chandler. Or the Borstad Burger.

Pat seems especially proud of all the local teens he’s employed—500-plus through the years. When an elementary-aged girl walks by Dairyland, he greets her, tells me she will be coming with Mrs. Johnson’s class on an end-of-the-year class outing for treats. That’s tradition for most Fergus Falls students.

I can’t help but wonder at the memories they’ll cherish of Dairyland… and pass along someday to the next generation.

HAVE YOU EATEN at Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls? If so, let’s hear your thoughts. If not, tell us about a similar old-fashioned drive-in you’d recommend. Note that my husband and I were in Fergus Falls in mid May, when these photos were taken and I met Pat Connelly.

© Copyright 2103 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Milty Wilty in Wautoma, Wisconsin January 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:26 AM
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UNTIL ABOUT A MONTH AGO, I’d never heard of the Milty Wilty.

In fact, I’d never been to Wautoma, the small, central Wisconsin town that is home to this old-fashioned drive-in. But my husband and I were driving through Wautoma, moving our second eldest daughter to eastern Wisconsin, when I spotted the Milty Wilty. For sure there’s a story behind that name.

 

The Milty Wilty, which I photographed while we were driving through Wautoma, Wisconsin..

If the drive-in had been open, we would have pulled in. But it’s closed for the season.

You can bet that next summer, when we’re passing through Wautoma again, we’ll stop at the Milty Wilty for a treat. According to several online reviews, the1947 diner serves rich and creamy, light-as-a-feather custard ice cream in huge cones.

I expect the place will be hopping with locals and tourists lining up for that custard or a thick, creamy shake.

My cousin Bev lives in Wautoma. She says the area lakes draw the rich people (OK, she may not exactly have said “rich people,” but that’s what she meant) from Milwaukee and Chicago. I believe her. I saw lots of fancy houses along the lakeshore on the edge of Wautoma.

But I also saw that vintage Milty Wilty along Wisconsin Highway 21. And, honestly, it’s down-home places like that small-town drive-in which appeal to me more than any lakeside McMansion.

You can’t put a price on nostalgia, on a place like the Milty Wilty.

IF ANYONE HAS BEEN to the Milty Wilty, feel free to submit a comment. I’d love to learn more about the drive-in, including how it got its name. Do you have a favorite Minnesota (or Wisconsin or other-state) drive-in? Submit a comment, too. I’m always looking for interesting places to visit when I’m on the road.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling