Watch CBS News

How Hurricane Katrina led to a '50s diner in southern Minnesota farm country

Finding Minnesota: Unique ‘50s diner in Dodge County
Finding Minnesota: Unique ‘50s diner in Dodge County 03:26

DODGE COUNTY, Minn. -- It's not very often you come across a 1950s diner in the middle of farm country. But you'll find exactly that at Kramer Farms in Dodge County.

In this week's Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen shows us how a hurricane down south led to a unique sight up north in Minnesota.

A couple of miles outside the town of Hayfield, you'll find an oasis of oddities. There's an old houseboat that's been turned into a playhouse complete with a waterslide and pool.

There's also a giant sport court for people of all ages, and a video arcade for kids. But a walk into another part of the shed, is like walking back into the 1950s.

For Tom Kramer, it all began with a pop machine.

"I was Googling vintage Coke machines and a picture of that actual Coke machine came up on the Internet," said Tom.

It belonged to a man in Louisiana. And when Tom called him, the owner had other ideas.

"He said I'm in New Orleans, but to get the Coke machine, you have to buy my diner," said Tom.

This was right after Hurricane Katrina. The diner hadn't been touched by the storm, but everything around it had. And that was bad for business.

"He went from 200 customers a day down to 5. And he was 68 years old and he said well, now is the time to retire," said Tom.

RELATED: Meet the family who has owned the Minnesota State Fair's Space Tower for over 40 years

So, after initially saying no, Tom said yes, and when the diner arrived at Kramer Farms, he was happy to see that it was exactly as advertised.

The stools, the jukebox and the booths all survived the hurricane. And the trip to Hayfield.

"Back in the day this was actually just field. This was actually dirt, right where we are right now. So I actually just got his dimensions and went out in this field and laid out the diner," said Tom.

The only catch was he didn't exactly tell his wife Lavae what he was building.

"And in my mind I'm thinking, oh, that's cute. A little table with some chairs. That'll be fun. And it got bigger and bigger and he came home and I said, 'a diner?' And he said, 'oh, yeah,' and he took me to the shed and there were boxes full of this stuff," said Lavae.

But it wasn't long before Lavae found the idea groovy. While Tom built the restaurant, she went hunting for nostalgia  filling the diner with candy and soda signs from 70 years ago.

"When you are in Hayfield, Minnesota, there aren't a lot of things to do. You have to build your own fun. You have to make your own fun," said Tom.

And that's what the Kramers have done. They've opened the diner up for high school reunions. They don't cook food here, but they do serve ice cream. And they don't charge visitors, but they do accept donations.

"When we get class reunions, especially older ones, they are just in heaven," said Tom.

Kramer Farms has become a gathering space over the years. Basketball players who shoot around in the sport court, credit "Kramer Coliseum" for helping Hayfield win back-to-back state titles.

All Tom and Lavae ask for in return, are smiles and memories.

"Not only our kids but thousands and thousands of kids have used it over the years. It's just amazing," said Tom.

"It's good because we've met really nice people. We have been a community center for quite a while," said Lavae.

The Kramers built the sport court 30 years ago for their four kids. They still have it open for high school players and they also use the diner for family holidays and birthdays, in addition to high school reunions.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.