May 21: Amusement Park Drive-in Theatre, Billings MT

It’s Day 141 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove across state lines for the sixth straight day, but it was the shortest of that bunch. In just an hour and a half, I motored from Powell WY to the Amusement Park Drive-in Theatre in Billings MT.

According to the Amusement Park’s history page, currently inactive but captured by the Internet Archive, the screen, marquee and sign are from the Park Drive-In, which operated in Cody WY from 1946 to 2003. Owners Riley and Vickie Cooke rebuilt the screen and opened in Billings in July 2005.

Like the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa, only smaller, the Amusement Park uses both sides of a single screen for two viewing areas. The front projection booth is a 1909 caboose, and the back projection booth is a 1938 circus truck purchased for $300.

There are amusement park rides at the base of the screen, along with a small mini-golf course, but it’s unclear whether they’re still in operation.

The Amusement Park installed two digital projectors in 2013, and Billings’ News Leader KULR was on hand, resulting in the video embedded above.

Riley Cooke told the Billings Gazette in 2015 that he was trying to recover the cost of those digital projectors. “It was go digital or go dark,” Cooke said. “I figure I’m not a businessman, I’m a showman, like P.T. Barnum or Buffalo Bill, but didn’t they die destitute or drunk?”

At this time of year, the Amusement Park is only open Fridays and Saturdays, leaving me out of luck on a Sunday night.

Miles Today / Total:  85 / 16636 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 63

Nearby Restaurant: Oh yes, I was ready for this. The Oktoberfest German Restaurant serves up the kind of cuisine I hadn’t been able to find for weeks. The “Montana Schnitzel” tasted just like the pork cutlet schnitzels I’ve grown to love. Served with Hofbräu Original beer, my favorite. What a great way to spend a Sunday!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Even though it’s supposed to be nice, I’m too superstitious to stay at a place called the Boothill Inn. Instead, I chose a good old Hilton Garden Inn, which is closer to the Amusement Park rather than an old cemetery. My room had a fridge, a microwave, and good wifi. There was a bar for unwinding in the evening and a free (for us Hilton Gold folks) breakfast in the morning. It left me ready for another trip across the border.

Only in Billings: Over a month ago, in Cuba MO, we found one of the old shoes of Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man. There’s another one in Billings at Al’s Bootery. Unlike that Cuba shoe store, Al’s opened after Wadlow passed away, so it didn’t get the shoe during one of his promotional tours. How did they acquire it? I just don’t know. Update: From the horse’s mouth: Al’s Bootery was a spinoff from Depner’s Shoe Repair that goes back into the early 1900’s. The shoe was acquired by someone at Depners then handed off to Al Jenkins who started Al’s Bootery and Repair Shop in 1946.

Next stop: Clearwater Drive-In Theater, Kyle SK.

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