June 11: Long Drive-In Theatre, Long Prairie MN

It’s Day 162 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Thank goodness the drives are getting shorter. It took me less than an hour and a half to get from Litchfield MN to the Long Drive-In Theatre in Long Prairie.

The Long is the best drive-in in Minnesota. At least that’s how the viewers of WCCO (Minneapolis’ News Leader) voted in 2014, resulting in the YouTube video embedded above.

Let me try to build the history of this place through several sources. The Echo Press of Alexandria MN wrote that the Long’s first owner, Tillie Smith started the theater in 1956 and lived in an apartment in the back room of the concessions building. The Morrison County Record wrote that “The theater changed hands a few times until it landed with Cliff and Laurel Meier in 1985.” According to a 2014 story in the Dairyland Peach, The Meiers sold it to their daughter Michelle Claseman and her family in 2013. That’s when they switched to digital projection. There’s room for about 300-350 cars here.

As you would expect, even a small-town drive-in must have had some lean times during the 80s and 90s. “I can remember my parents running a movie for five cars,” Michelle said. “They both had full-time jobs but they just loved to do it. Through the slow years, they ran at cost.”

Just last fall, the Echo Press wrote, “Nearly everything that came with Long Drive-In Theatre in 1956 still operates today, including Smith’s apartment appliances, outdoor speakers, the popcorn maker and the (film) projector, which is used to play retro trailers during Classic Car Night.”

Although Alien: Covenant had been out for a while, I hadn’t seen it before this night. It’s always great to get a fresh movie. I also enjoyed snacking on the “Nasty Nachos” topped with pulled pork, cheese sauce, and sour cream. Top that off with a “California Dream” (what I think of as a Dreamsicle float with orange soda), and it was a great Sunday night.

Miles Today / Total:  71 / 21167 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Alien: Covenant / 78

Nearby Restaurant: The Countryside Restaurant has breakfast all day, which I love, and great desserts, which I love possibly even more. In this case, I was able to get some peach pecan pancakes (with bacon and eggs for a little protein), then top it off with a slice of key lime pie. Yum!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Yeesh! Google and TripAdvisor list two hotels for Long Prairie (others are 17 miles away), and the reviews on one included the titles “lousy hotel”, “terrible”, and “Unbelievable!” So I chose the other, the Super 8. The staff was friendly, and my jacuzzi suite had a mini-fridge and microwave. There was a little bit of something for breakfast, and I was on my way to start a new week.

Only in Long Prairie: At Veterans Memorial Park, Army Reservist Kimberly Lawler built a mural / sculpture combination that’s five stories high. One is topped by the famous flag raising scene at Mt. Suribachi. The mural details the battle of Iwo Jima, the battlefield cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France and also includes a tribute to women in the military. The park also includes a Sherman tank and a statue of liberty replica.

Next stop: Vali-Hi Drive-In, Lake Elmo MN.