June 9: Elko Drive-In Theater, Elko New Market MN

Cars watching a movie at night

photo from the Elko Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 160 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Today I paid the price for visiting Bellevue NE out of order. It took just over five hours of interstate highway driving to reach the Elko Drive-In Theater in the city of Elko New Market MN.

Like the Falconwood in Bellevue, the Elko is a 21st century drive-in grafted onto an existing attraction. But instead of a park, the Elko was added to an existing raceway, and it’s been around another couple of years, since 2014.

The Minnesota Star Tribune documented the genesis of the Elko early that year. The speedway owner, Tom Ryan, purchased the screen from Cottage Grove’s Cottage View Drive-In, which had closed at the end of the 2012 season. (The 116-foot-by-46-foot screen came apart in pieces that are 12 inches wide and 20 feet high.) Ryan told the Star Tribune that he thought it was a natural fit to supplement the speedway. “We have the room out there, and we think it’s a good business,” he said.

The Twin Cities Pioneer Press wrote at the time that the drive-in hadn’t been formally named yet. “We’re kicking around a few things,” Ryan told them. “Basically, it’ll be the Drive-in Theater at the Elko Speedway.” That may be why a few places, such as the Elko New Market Chamber of Commerce, call it the Champions Drive-In Theater. The drive-in’s Facebook page calls it the Elko; its web site calls it the Elko!, with exclamation point.


I saw the Guardians of the Galaxy for the seventh time tonight. Then again, the Elko serves beer and cheese curds at the concession stand, so it evens out.

Miles Today / Total:  361 / 21001 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 76

Nearby Restaurant: If you want something to eat here, you’d better head over to the Firehouse Grille. I got here too late for lunch, but not too late for happy hour. Plus, it was all you can eat rib night. Properly motivated, and lubricated by happy hour beverages, I can eat a lot of ribs.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There really aren’t any hotels in Elko New Market, so I had to drive up to Lakeville, just seven miles away. I got a pretty good deal at the Quality Inn there. My room had a mini-fridge and microwave, and there were warm eggs at breakfast. Sometimes enough is all you need.

Only in Elko New Market: Just up the road in Lakeville, you might notice Hot Sam’s Antiques, or as Roadside America calls it, ten wooded acres of big, weird junk. “It’s part photo park, theme park, artist’s haven, junkyard, antique shop. It is undeniably unique,” wrote the Minnesota Prairie Roots blog. “Hot Sam’s is like stepping into the pages of an I Spy book.”

Next stop: Starlite Drive-In, Litchfield MN.

June 5: Verne Drive In Theatre, Luverne MN

Verne Drive-In marquee

photo from the Verne Drive-In web site

It’s Day 156 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. My virtual odometer rolled over 20,000 just south of the Missouri River as I drove three hours from Neligh NE to the Verne Drive In Theatre in Luverne in the southwest corner of Minnesota.

The Verne was definitely built by Ken Sargent and opened before 1955. One source lists the opening date as 1954, but Walt Deutsch, who bought the place in 1966, told The Globe of Worthington MN that he “thought the first owners had the theater for 17 years before he took it over,” which would make the start date around 1949. The drive-in has always been a single screen with a capacity of almost 300 cars.

Deutsch, who had built a house next door, sold the Verne in the 1980s, and it closed some time after that. Glenn Burmeister bought the Verne and reopened it in 2000 after building new ticket and concession buildings and removing the old speaker poles. According to a great video by Pioneer Public Broadcasting, Deutsch and Burmeister are friends, and Deutsch still comes over to help sell tickets when the line gets too long.

I’m always happy to be at a drive-in that’s showing movies on a Monday night, even when that movie is latest Pirates of the Caribbean installment for my second night in a row. Snacking on honey drummies and pork shanks, I was able to make it through the movie’s two and a quarter hours one more time.

Miles Today / Total:  195 / 20171 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales / 72

Nearby Restaurant: The closest restaurant to the Verne, and possibly the best, is The Bluestem. The atmosphere is casual, but the menu is a bit upscale, or at least ambitious. Nothing beats a good filet mignon, and it was great to find someone who offers it. I added some breaded cheese balls and a slice of peanut butter devil’s food cake. I’ll eat healthier tomorrow.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The GrandStay Hotel & Suites was a regional chain I hadn’t run into before. Looks like it’s mostly around Minnesota and Wisconsin. At any rate, it was pretty nice. My room had a microwave, mini-fridge, a coffee maker, and good wifi. The hot breakfast was the best hotel breakfast I’d had in at least a few days. I’ll be looking for more of these GrandStays as I roam this region over the next week or two.

Only in Luverne: The Wayside Chapel just north of Luverne has more stained glass windows than seats, 6-3. (A photo from a story in The Globe from Worthington MN shows there’s also room for a standing preacher or two.) Parishioners of the Christian Reformed Church in Luverne dedicated the tiny chapel in 1963. The Rev. Bert Den Herder told The Globe, “It’s open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.”

Next stop: Superior 71 Drive-In Theater, Spirit Lake IA.

May 27: Sky-Vu Drive In, Warren MN

It’s Day 147 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I returned to the US, where I’ll be driving around for a least a month until I check out Ontario. On this day, it took almost six hours (not counting waiting time at the border) to head from Carlyle SK to the Sky-Vu Drive In just west of Warren MN.

The Prairie Dog opened in 1956. Leonard Novak bought the place in 1971 from Bixby Knight, and he’s owned it ever since. (He told WDAZ, “It’s something we bought years ago as a family investment.”) The Sky-Vu web site says, “Nothing much has changed at the SkyVu since the 1950s except that the movies have more special effects and the sound comes over your car’s FM stereo.”

The snack bar here offers some interesting choices, especially “Shorty’s Valley famous BBQ Sandwich”. Their description: Leonard sweats over the stove in the house next door in an effort to cook-up this tasty batch of BBQ. There is a special ingredient added to this concoction but Leonard refuses to reveal it. Good luck eating just one, it is simply impossible.

Although I’m always grateful to attend an active drive-in, and I appreciate the quantity entertainment of a triple feature, I only count the early movie, and that was this year’s Smurfs installment. This was the third time I’ve seen that film, which in other circumstances would be at least twice too many.

Miles Today / Total:  346 / 18516 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Smurfs: The Lost Village / 66

Nearby Restaurant: After a long drive, I wanted some comfort food, so I went to Melody’s Cafe. I was too late for breakfast, darn it, but a good old-fashioned chicken dinner with a baked potato and salad. And the half-mile walk from my motel was a great way to burn off a little dessert.

Where I Virtually Stayed: If you want to stay in Warren, you’re going to want to stay at the Elm Crest Motel. It’s another great mom and pop type of place. My room was clean and comfortable, complete with a mini-fridge and a microwave, and the price was great. (They told me it was on a snowmobile trail, but with low temperatures in the 40s, I couldn’t find any snow.)

Only in Warren: The Settler’s Square museum area in Warren includes buildings and storefronts from the region’s early days, and oh yes, “the famous UFO car.” That would be the sheriff’s office patrol car that may have collided with a UFO in 1979. According to Wikipedia, Deputy Sheriff Val Johnson claimed he saw a light, drove towards it, heard glass breaking, then woke up 39 minutes later. In his 1983 book, UFO skeptic Philip Klass argued that the entire event was a hoax, and that Johnson had deliberately damaged his own patrol car.

Next stop: Pheasant Drive-In, Mobridge SD.