Oct. 15: Midway Drive-In Theatre, Minetto NY

It’s Day 288 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took about an hour and a half to drive from the Black River Drive In just northeast of Watertown NY to the Midway Drive-In Theatre, just south of Minetto, halfway between Oswego and Fulton NY.

According to the drive-in’s web site, the Midway opened in the summer of 1948, built and operated by brothers Ruben and Irving Canter. (Ruben was the one whose name always appeared in the drive-in lists of the day.) The web site says the Midway was sold to Charles Girrard and Anthony Kolinski, who owned the Atko Canton Corporation, in the late 1960s.

Since then, the story of the Midway was the story of John Nagelschmidt V. In 1961, while in high school, started working at the Midway. The job helped pay his way through college at Oswego State, where he majored in earth science and physics. That degree led to his 30-year career as a science teacher at G. Ray Bodley High School in Fulton. He retired from teaching in 1996.

During the summers, John V managed the Midway until he was offered the chance to buy it in 1987. He and his wife owned it ever since. The Oswego student magazine wrote in 2011 that the 67-year-old was still doing pretty much everything. “He orders and picks up supplies, chooses movies, does the advertising, keeps the books and performs maintenance at the theatre. ‘But I never go to work,’ he says. ‘When it becomes work, I’m done!'”

The Midway needed help from the community a few years later, but not because of digital projection. John V took care of that himself, but not long after in July 2014 a microburst totalled the old wooden screen hours before the drive-in was set to open. No one was hurt, but the replacement cost more than insurance would cover. Patrons and friend came together, and a steel replacement went up.

“Very rarely will I call in a contractor,” John V told the Oswego. “I like to do things myself. That’s probably why I got into physics at Oswego — it kind of makes the world go round.” Sadly, that led to the accident in April 2017 when he was working alone with an unfamiliar backhoe tractor. “He ran himself over accidentally,” his son, John Nagelschmidt VI, told WSYR, Syracuse’s News Leader. “He was off the seat in front of the tire and it went over him.” John V passed away from his injuries.

It took a few months to figure out all the pieces that John V had handled, but John VI and sister Heidi Nagelschmidt put it all together and reopened in July. “It’s been a little difficult because he didn’t share much of that with us,” John VI said. “He was an individualist and he liked to do things on his own.” There’s a good video that goes with that story, so you ought to go watch it.

Another good video is the embedded video of the day from WSTM, Syracuse’s News Leader. It commemorates the reopening of the Midway under the management of John V’s children. It’s both a message of hope and a time capsule to show what the place looked like earlier this year.

There was a triple feature showing this night, though I only count the first movie. It was my second round with Mother!, and I was just happy that the Midway was open and operating on a Sunday in the middle of October.

Miles Today / Total: 65 / 33159 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Mother! / 180

Nearby Restaurant: For another classic business, I dropped in to Wade’s Diner for a late breakfast in Oswego. The restaurant has been around since 1938 when it was in an actual pullman dining car. Now it has huge pancakes, amazing cinnamon bread, and lots of coffee. Did it have all of these things 80 years ago? Maybe that’s how it stayed popular all this time.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It turns out that the closest hotels to Minetto are in Oswego, where I tried my luck again at a Home2 Suites. Even though it’s really designed for extended stay visitors, they were okay with my one-nighter. My room had a full-sized refrigerator, breakfast had some meat to go with a full set of continental supplies, and the laundry room had a workout area. It’s just a little unusual, but it’s all good.

Only in Minetto: The Midway isn’t the only thing between Fulton and Oswego. There’s also the Oswego Canal, which opened in 1828, three years after the Erie Canal was completed. It connects the Erie Canal to Lake Ontario, and according to NYCanals.com, it was “one of the few canals built that was economically successful, largely in part because it allowed trade between the Atlantic Coast and and the raw-material-rich Canada.”

Next stop: Finger Lakes Drive-In, Auburn NY.

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