June 6: Superior 71 Drive-In Theater, Spirit Lake IA

It’s Day 157 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thanks to I-90, it took me just a little over an hour to drive from Luverne MN to the Superior 71 Drive-In Theater just south of the border in Spirit Lake IA.

The Superior 71 is a single-screen (55 by 90 feet), 21st century drive-in with a capacity of about 360 cars. It might accommodate another couple hundred in nearby grassy areas when they’re dry.

As described by a fine video from KARE, Minneapolis’ News Leader, Gaylord Kemp built the place in 2008 after he pried 10 acres of farmland away from a corn grower, convinced local officials to change the zoning, and found an intact screen eight miles away at a drive-in shuttered for nearly 40 years.

“We began looking for land in 2005,” Kemp told the Sioux City Journal this week. He found this 10-acre cornfield in Superior Township just before land prices went up. He found his screen practically next door on Highway 9, where the old Chief Drive-In stood, abandonded, west of Estherville. Kemp built a two-story projection, concessions and restrooms building.

“It’s a perfect retirement business,” Kemp said. “The drive-in creates an atmosphere everyone enjoys. What kind of job can you work at where people come in and they’re all happy because they can relax and watch a movie?”

I was really happy to find a Tuesday night drive-in movie, and it’s great to be making progress towards my goal of 200 live nights this year. This was my fifth active night in a row, the first time that’s happened since February. More than all that, I was happy to finally get a chance to see the Wonder Woman movie that has been getting so much buzz. It’s a really good movie, especially for drive-ins.

Miles Today / Total:  76 / 20247 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Wonder Woman / 73

Nearby Restaurant: I love finding comfort food, and even the name Family Diner just, well it doesn’t scream, but it quietly assures you of comfort food. Where else can you get a good hot beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy except at a true diner? And don’t get me started on the huge slices of meringue pie!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Another small town, another Super 8 motel. I guess I’m racking up a lot of virtual Wyndham Rewards points so I can stay at even more Super 8s for free when I’m done with this odyssey. Anyway, the Spirit Lake Super 8 had freshly remodeled rooms with mini-fridges, microwaves, and solid wifi, plus there’s that carb-packing Super 8 continental breakfast (with biscuits and gravy!) to get me on the road in the morning.

Only in Spirit Lake: Just a little south of the drive-in is Arnolds Park Amusement Park, which has been in operation in one form or another since 1889, when Wesley Arnold built a 60-foot tall tobaggan-style waterslide. It includes the Legend roller coaster, built in 1930 and one of the oldest wooden coasters still in operation.

Next stop: Valle Drive in, Newton IA.

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