June 28: 49er Drive-in Theatre, Valparaiso IN

49er Drive-In marquee

photo by Ron from the Carload Flickr Pool

It’s Day 179 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Even though this night will mark my 27th consecutive active movie night, I’m still a little behind the pace for my goal of 200 movies during this year-long trip. That’s why I’m zigzagging a little, trying to hit the weekend-only drive-ins on weekends, and spending Wednesday nights like this one where the place is open. All of which is a long-winded way of explaining why I’m putting Illinois on hold for a couple of days. Meanwhile, it took only about an hour and a half to circle Chicagoland and drive to the 49er Drive-in Theatre in Valparaiso IN.

The 49er, named for its proximity to Indiana Highway 49, opened in May 1956, to the Shauer family, according to my reference books. The Shauers ran the place, with a single screen and a capacity of 500 cars, until selling it to Bruce Shinabarger in the mid to late 1980s. Shinabarger kept it going until selling to Steve and Mike Cotton in 2000. The Cottons kept most elements of the drive-in but completely revamped the concession stand. I especially like the pinball machines they keep in there.

According to The Times of Northwest Indiana, a December 2010 blizzard knocked down the 49er screen, but the Cottons got it back up in May to open for the 2011 season. That screen had been there when the Cottons bought the drive-in, and they weren’t sure just how old it was. “The original screen, made of wood, blew down as well, … while a film was being shown.”

There are a few YouTube clips of the 49er, especially when they play the 1958 novelty song Beep Beep before the show starts, encouraging patrons to honk along. And the sound system is a hybrid – working in-car speakers for nostalgia, and digital stereo FM for audiophiles.

So. Much. Cars 3. Ninth. Viewing. Like Lightning McQueen, I want to decide when I’m done. I just want to make it to Friday and hopefully some new releases.

Miles Today / Total:  87 / 22794 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 95

Nearby Restaurant: I had a remarkable meal at the Industrial Revolution Eatery & Grille, starting with the namesake “Revolution” pizza, cooked in its brick oven. Then there was the sampler of local beers so I could pick my favorite. And it was all in an atmosphere of brick buildings and welded steel pillars. Neat!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again I found myself at the Hampton Inn, this time in Valparaiso. I especially appreciate any business that plugs the local drive-in on its web site. There’s not much more to say, except that everything was up to its usual Hampton quality including a room full of everything I wanted and a hot breakfast that was a lot like every other Hampton breakfast. It’s just a really safe bet for a good night’s stay.

Only in Valparaiso: The city of Valparaiso commissioned a statue of one of its most famous former residents, Orville Reddenbacher. According to an article in The Times, the sculptor relied heavily on images from the time the popcorn king guest-starred on Hee Haw.

Next stop: Melody Drive In Theater, Knox IN.

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