Recalling a few more memories from the drive-in era

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 3, 2001

Root beer stands and drive-ins may have faded away in this area.

Friday, August 03, 2001

Root beer stands and drive-ins may have faded away in this area. However, several readers responded to my two Lifestyles articles about this part of life in another era with several reactions. One was to recount their own personal memories of these roadside places. The other was a reminder that there’s still an A & W Drive-In operating about 20 miles east of Albert Lea.

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To confirm this tip about the existence of a nearby drive-in, I recently visited the A & W place over in Austin. For those area folks who want to revive memories of another era, this place over in Mower County is certainly the authentic thing.

Austin’s A & W Drive-In is located on Fourth St. N.W. To find this root beer emporium, go east on I-90 to Exit 178A, then go right about four blocks. The A & W shares the triangular lot at the intersection with First Drive N.W. with an ice cream place named the Point.

On the exterior of Austin’s A& W is a canopy. And under this canopy and out in the parking lot are the intercom stands with lighted menus. On each of the stands is a button for making contact with the person inside the building to place an order. There’s also a switch to signal the carhop to retrieve the tray and empty glass mugs.

I found out that this drive-in is open from March to October. I did forget to ask if the outside places are called stations, stalls or slots.

There are three choices for walk-in and drive-in customers at the Austin A & W. One is to remain inside the vehicles and let the waitresses (carhops) do the walking. There’s also an inside dining area, plus a rather attractive looking outdoor patio.

I did notice the figure of a happy looking bear on the outside of this eating establishment. One can assume he is the root beer bear. By the way, does this bear have a name?

Several people mentioned drive-ins at other localities which have faded away. One of them used to be near the junction of State Highways 13 and 30 in New Richland. Another one others mentioned was in Lake Mills, and there may have been a drive-in on the south side of Northwood.

One person did mention a still operating family-owned drive-in at Riceville, Iowa. Riceville is located about 10 miles south of the state line and somewhat southwest of LeRoy. She said this place has the choices of carhop service, indoor dining, or eating at several nearby picnic tables.

While writing those two Lifestyles articles about the drive-ins and root beer stands, I was tempted to work in one comment. It just didn’t quite work out there, so we’ll try it here. Somehow, the drive-in places with carhops are about as plentiful (or rare) as drive-in theaters.

Let’s close off with still another memory of the drive-in era several people mentioned. What they and my family remember is something called the &uot;kiddie mug&uot; or the &uot;baby root beer.&uot;

These were mugs about a third smaller than the regular size. In some drive-ins the carhops would bring these mugs filled with root beer at no charge for the really young children in the vehicle.

My children certainly enjoyed this added treat at the drive-ins, and so did our family dog.

I used to request an extra small mug of root beer for the dog. The carhops always complied with my request. If the drive-in didn’t have the smaller mug gimmick, I would just order an extra root beer.

Now, I didn’t let the dog drink out of the mug. Instead, I kept a small metal lid off a jar in the car so the dog could have a drink of water or root beer during the warmer months of the year.

I would pour a little root beer in the lid and set it on the car’s floor. Our dog would drink this taste treat and indicate a refill was needed. He would get one more drink of root beer and the remainder would go to one or more of the children.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.