Aug. 9: Hi-Road Drive In, Kenton OH

It’s Day 221 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Once again, it was a morning of two-lane highways and lots of farmland as I drove a little over an hour from Tiffin OH to the Hi-Road Drive In north of Kenton OH.

The Hi-Road held its grand opening in June 1949. It was managed, and probably owned, by Robert Hipp, who stayed in that role until at least the late 1950s. A heavy windstorm blew down the screen in January 1952, but of course they recovered. Merle Horst was managing the Hi Road in 1961, and it was open for Saturday flea markets in 1977.

After that, the history gets ever hazier for a while. A couple that was reported to own the Hi Road and nine other theaters in the area was in bankruptcy court in 1984. The drive-in’s previous listing in the Motion Picture Almanacs had vanished by the 1982 edition and for the rest of the decade. Did the place actually close? I can’t tell.

The Hi Road resurfaced in print in August 1998 when it began advertising in The Marion Star. By the next year, Rodney Miller had purchased the place and begun making overdue improvements. As he states in the above YouTube video, which was shot by Outdoor Moovies in 2004, the Hi Road had “really got run down” before he took over. One of his first steps was to spend over $5000 restoring the gorgeous marquee over the ticket booth. He added a second screen in 2011 and converted to digital projection by the end of the 2013 season.

In a Salt Magazine article from July 2017, Miller said he sees a lot of families these days. “Not only are there parents who came as kids now bringing their kids, we’ve got grandparents coming in with grandchildren,” he said. “I’ve seen cars where the parents are zonked out and the kids are still awake and watching the movie. It’s good for families with little kids. They can be a little noisy or fussy without really bothering anyone.”

In this corner of Ohio, there just aren’t enough drive-ins open all week this time of year for me to catch a movie absolutely every night. Even though the Hi Road was dark this night, I can imagine how nice the stars must look here in the middle of farmland on the way home from the show.

Miles Today / Total:  50 / 26900 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 135

Nearby Restaurant: One of the signs says Midway Restaurant, the next one over says Midway Diner. Its Facebook handle is “midwaydinerrestaurant”. And nobody explained what it’s midway between. At any event, this little place near downtown Kenton seems to be where the locals go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I’m glad I stopped by for some serious comfort food in such a cozy setting.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are no Hampton Inns in Kenton, nor any other big chain motel, so it’s a good thing that there’s a nice mom and pop place such as the B & J Motel. My humble little old room actually had the full set of modern amenities, including really good wifi. They didn’t have a lobby full of breakfast stuff, but at less than half the price I paid for the Hampton the night before, I had plenty of great options in town.

Only in Kenton: According to Roadside America, the Kenton Hardware Company was having problems in 1936 before western star Gene Autry gave it a contract to produce repeating cap guns. The Gene Autry cap gun became the most wanted toy in America, and the company made over 6 million of them. In his autobiography Back in the Saddle Again, Autry suggested that it was this toy that reversed an economic decline and “Saved Kenton.” Now there’s a mural in his honor facing Gene Autry Park.

Next stop: Star View Drive In Theatre, Norwalk OH.

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