When we were young, we lived on a small farm several miles outside of Sun Prairie. Sometimes after haying was done, Mom and Dad would take us all to the Dairy Queen in Sun Prairie for a treat. We were always given the choice of a small cone or a Dilly Bar.
When Joann and I were in middle school, we moved to Lake Mills. They had an A&W Drive-in, which we were not familiar with at the time. We were delighted to find out that they had soft-serve root beer ice cream. And when you ordered a twist ice cream cone, the twist was vanilla and root beer! It was delicious and we ordered it often. Every time we stopped, we had either a root beer cone or a twist cone.
When we left home and visited our first A&W outside of Lake Mills, we were very disappointed to find out that a twist cone was vanilla and chocolate. When we inquired, we found that they had never heard of root beer ice cream. It had been the invention of the owner of the Lake Mills A&W and it had never been passed on or had never been accepted by the corporate office. How sad, since it was excellent.
In our travels now, we come across many old ice cream stands. Some couldn’t compete in today’s market and have long since closed, as had this one in rural Noble County, Ohio. It looked like it was quite the place before modern life made it obsolete.
In Sheldon, Iowa early one morning, we got a tip from a cop about an old drive-in when we asked if he knew of anything old or historic to photograph. If you read our post from July 2009 entitled, “Oh crap….not again!,” you’ll know that the cop was suspicious of what we were doing at 5:30 in the morning, but after his tip, we drove down the road to this old drive-in.
On another trip to Iowa, we stopped in Decorah to photograph a mill, and then I asked Joann if she thought we could find the Whippy Dip. Decorah is rather large and I didn’t have an address. I typed the name into Irwin (our trusty GPS) but he didn’t have a listing for it.
But I had a picture of it that someone had posted on the internet, so I took a magnifying glass and read the name of a small bicycle shop next door. And when I typed that name into Irwin he did have an address. When we pulled up across the street from the Whippy Dip, there was a large crowd waiting out front to order their food. It is so nice to see old places continue to survive.
Often, when we hunt up old ice cream stands, even if they are still in business, we are there at the wrong time of the year or the wrong time of day and they are not open. In those cases, we content ourselves with taking a few pictures and remembering fondly the root beer cones of our youth.
Just last month we took a trip to Minnesota and we managed to stop at several open ice cream stands for a treat. For once it was the right time of year for drive-ins, so on the way north, we stopped at a small local stand for root beer. It was excellent and it reminded us of the gallons of root beer we used to pick up from the Lake Mills A&W.
Later in the trip, on a hot day, Joann said if we passed some place that had ice cream cones, she was getting one. When we pulled up to get gas later in the afternoon, I looked down the street and saw an A&W Drive-In.
As we pulled under the canopy, Joann asked if I thought they would have root beer ice cream. I said she could ask, but she shouldn’t get her hopes up. We ordered chocolate cones, and they were very good, but they just didn’t compare to those root beer ice cream cones at the A&W in Lake Mills.
On the last day of the trip, we got up before daybreak to make it to a mill we have never been to in the early morning light. After a few more stops, we made our way to Black River Falls. After photographing several churches in town, we went to hunt up the Dairy Way Ice Cream stand that we had been told about.
Joann got out and took photos, and then as she came back to the car, she asked if we should get something. It was too early for lunch, but we decided “life is short – eat dessert first,” so we went to the window and ordered two root beer floats.
Most of these little ice cream stands are open from Memorial Day until Labor Day. If you’re out shunpiking and you pull into a small town with a dairy stand, stop in. You’ll be supporting a small town tradition and helping to ensure that they will be around for years to come.