June 12: Vali-Hi Drive-In, Lake Elmo MN

It’s Day 163 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. There are long drives and short drives, but this one was in between. It took a little over two hours to get from Long Prairie MN to the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo, just east of St. Paul.

I’m not sure what year the Vali-Hi opened; I couldn’t find a good answer anywhere on the web. My old guidebook references suggest it was before 1969, probably in the middle of the decade. Whoever started it gave way by 1984 to Bob O’Neill, still the owner when he was the subject of a 2013 article in the Star-Tribune.

The article was prompted by the Vali-Hi’s then-recent conversion to digital projection. “Digital has made life a lot easier, but you really miss being in a projection booth and hearing the film running,” O’Neill said.

One of the Vali-Hi signatures, along with a nifty arcade and a black and white photo booth, is that it shows triple features every night. Just eight days from the summer solstice, that means this northern drive-in starts around 9:30, so a patron who concluded this week’s program (run time 348 total minutes) wouldn’t drive out until after 3 in the morning.

Fortunately, in the interest of waking up in time for free continental breakfasts wherever I stay, I always quit after the first movie. (It amuses me that many drive-ins’ FAQ pages include “Am I allowed to leave after just one movie?”) On my 11th consecutive night watching a movie (a new personal high), I didn’t mind watching Wonder Woman for a third time.

Miles Today / Total:  140 / 21307 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Wonder Woman / 79

Nearby Restaurant: I love a good German restaurant, so I was a little confused when I went to Gorman’s Restaurant in Lake Elmo. They gave me a funny look when I asked about a Schweinshaxe, so instead I chose one of my other favorites – breakfast in the middle of the day. I had a stack of wheatcakes and some biscuits and gravy, which together are probably just about as healthy as that pig knuckle.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Although there is a Holiday Inn in Lake Elmo’s city limits, the Holiday Inn Express just south of the city border in Woodbury was actually closer. This place was very nice, with a fridge in my room and plenty of hot options in the busy breakfast area the next morning.

Only in Lake Elmo: A few miles away in North St. Paul, you’ll find 20 tons of concrete stucco shaped into the World’s Largest Stucco Snowman. According to the North St. Paul web site, former barber Lloyd Koesling came back from a visit to Disneyland with a suggestion for the city council and Jaycees, who would traditionally build a snowman as part of the annual snow Frolics Festival using the excess snow from plowing. Long story short, construction was completed in 1974. On the day in 2002 when Koesling passed away, the snowman wore a somber black band on his arm.

Next stop: Stardust Twin Drive-In Theater, Chetek WI.