Northfield closes 2014 with a wedding

Northfield Drive-In TheaterThe Recorder of Greenfield MA ran an article recapping the 2014 season for the no-longer-endangered Northfield Drive-In, just barely across the border from Northfield MA in Hinsdale NH. But the Recorder buried the lede: The Northfield will cap off the season with a special private affair – a wedding.

Northfield owner Mitchell Shakour was quoted as saying that because of a lack of strong movies, Hollywood’s 2014 summer was down 22 percent, but attendance at the Northfield was down just 8 percent. With slightly higher ticket prices and a 10 percent growth of concession sales, the gross was about even with last year.

Then way down near the end of the article came the fun news of Sept. 13. “We’ll be hosting our first-ever wedding at the drive-in,” Shakour explained. “They’re going to have dinner, drinks and a band, and when it gets dark they’re going to put on a film or two.”

For much more, including a scary tale of condensation nearly destroying the digital projector, you know you really should go read it!

Drive-ins used to be big in Durango

Rocket Drive-In marquee

The Rocket as it appeared in May 1998.
Photo by Michael Kilgore from the Carload Flickr Pool

The Durango Herald ran a great story yesterday that outlined a thorough history of drive-in theaters in Durango CO. It starts with the Basin Drive-in on Main Avenue in 1950, which was apparently its first year. “If the drive-in was open before that, which appears unlikely, it wasn’t advertised in the Herald,” wrote columnist John Peel.

In 1956, the Basin was renamed the Knox. That’s the way it’s listed in my 1955-56 Theatre Catalog’s drive-in list, and that it was run by (and probably owned by) one T.R. Knox.

The Rocket opened in 1957 in the southeast part of town. A year later, the Knox became the Bell Drive-in; I wonder if some guy named Bell bought it. In 1963, ads for the Bell disappeared from the Herald, so I’m guessing it died after the 1962 season. Also in 1963, the Buckskin Drive-In opened near Ignacio, a few miles south of Durango by the Southern Ute Reservation. The article didn’t mention when the Buckskin closed, but there’s little sign of it now.

Inside Durango proper, the Rocket was the only drive-in in town from 1963 until it closed in 2004. It had a great location between US Highway 160 to its north and a scenic bluff at its south. I’m glad to have experienced it before it left us.

There are a lot more memories and a couple of nice photos in the Herald article, so you really should go read it!

Fort Union reopens with digital projector

Fort Union drive-in screen

photo by Birdie Jaworski

It’s so exciting to find some seriously good news about one of the drive-ins closest to our hearts. The Fort Union Drive-In in Las Vegas NM has reopened for the 2014 season with a new digital projector, which should ensure its continued existence for decades to come. This great news comes from the Santa Fe New Mexican, which wrote a story about the local benefactor who stepped forward to save the drive-in.

Even such great news comes with a tinge of sadness. This is the first I’d heard of the demise of the Kiva Theater in downtown Las Vegas. When I visited the Kiva in May 2013, it was a vibrant community hub showing the latest films. According to the New Mexican story, the Kiva closed last fall because it couldn’t raise the money to buy a digital projector.

But let’s look at the excitement of getting another drive-in on solid footing. New general manager Jake Cordova, 18, persuaded his grandfather “to help buy the projector and take over the drive-in,” according to the story. Cordova plans to add another night, Thursday, to the weekend lineup and to keep the Fort Union open into October each year. Thanks to everyone who’s keeping this piece of Americana alive for generations to come.

Without film, Hi-Way faces tough choices

The Daily Freeman of Hudson Valley NY ran a story that I expect to see duplicated in dozens of other towns. Now that the Hollywood studios have stopped supplying film prints of their movies, the Hi-Way of Coxsackie has to decide what it’s going to do about the coming drive-in season.

According to the Daily Freeman story, Roger Babcock and his wife bought the Hi-Way in 1996. Since then, he expanded from one screen to four, and he takes pride in maintaining his fleet of dependable, workhorse film projectors. “All I replace is bulbs and a gear here and there,” Babcock said.

Now come the tough choices. If Babcock switches to digital, how many projectors can he afford? He’ll need to upgrade the projection booth to “clean room” conditions with heat, air conditioning, air filtering, and an internet connection. Where will he get the money for all that? Virtual print fees from the studios? Social Security? For much more about the Hi-Way and its future, you’ll just have to read the article.

Paramount quietly ends film distribution

Old motion picture film reel during the Thessaloniki (Greece) International Film Festival on November 5, 2012. © / werve.

Old motion picture film reel during the Thessaloniki (Greece) International Film Festival on November 5, 2012.
© / werve.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Paramount has stopped creating 35mm film versions of its new releases. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues was the final new film, and Wolf of Wall Street became Paramount’s first movie to be released only digitally.

The Times story said that “no studio wants to be seen as the first to abandon film, which retains a cachet among purists.” Now that one major studio has crossed that line and completely ended film production, the other majors should fall in line pretty quickly.

For drive-in theater operators waiting until the long-delayed switch away from film, now that’s where we are. In a way, it’s good that Paramount’s decision came at this time of year; if the switch had come in June, some theaters might have been stuck with shutting down in mid-season.

We still refer to new releases of music as “albums” even though it’s been a very long time since they came as a series of 78s held in pages like a photo album. Maybe 50 years from now, folks who watch movies will still refer to them as “films” the same way. When that happens, I hope to still be around to tell them stories of metal cans, projection rooms and huge platters of film so they’ll know how theaters once delivered our movie magic.

Retro Christmas present: The Remco Drive-In

Here’s what to get your young, unsophisticated drive-in enthusiast, especially if you have access to a time machine or a ton of cash to throw at some eBay seller. (If you can find the thing at all.)

Check out this commercial of two kids getting way too excited about the Remco “Movieland” drive-in toy. Marvel at the glorious scale-model drive-in set, which we see for only a second or two at the beginning. Get jolted back to reality at the sight of the real toy, which looks much smaller. Watch the young Patty Duke as Betty the Ticket Taker. See Jimmy underemphasize the fact that all they get to watch are just “six exciting still features”. By “still features,” Jimmy means a film strip, projected by a battery-operated light bulb onto a 4×6-inch screen.

The opening set, with the self-moving cars, I’ll bet that imaginary world had real films showing. But this thing? I expect that any real kid who got a Movieland Drive-In for Christmas in 1959 got tired of it in a half hour, don’t you?

The First Museum of Carload comment spam

© DepositPhotos / Alexander Limbach

© DepositPhotos / Alexander Limbach

Sure, this is off topic, but did you know that some awful people try to add comments to blogs just so they’ll have more links to their stupid web sites? I’m talking sites that sell fake versions of Nike shoes, Oakley sunglasses, Celine luggage, and other stuff. The spammers include the URL of one of these sites in each comment, and figure that if enough respectable blogs carry enough of those links, then Google will list their site high on the results page when someone is desperate enough to search for fake Oakleys or whatever.

Since they’re being sprayed at blogs of every topic, these comments are written to be vaguely complimentary to any post; presumably some bloggers will be so touched by the happy thoughts that they’ll allow them to pass through. These comments also don’t make much sense. So without further ado, here are some curated selections of comment spam that Carload has accumulated this year, copied and pasted to look exactly as the spammers sent them.

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And that concludes our first and hopefully only visit to the museum of Carload spam. If you want to see more, please leave a comment. If you want to see a lot more, leave a spam comment.

UDITOA holds fall meeting at Circle Drive-In

photo by, used by permission

photo by, used by permission

Cell phones, a satellite dish, a couch, a car seat, a leopard-print bra, and an orthodontic retainer with headgear. That’s a list of some of the stuff that drive-in theater owners have found lying around after their shows were over. Several of those owners were swapping stories about that debris and much more during the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association‘s annual fall gathering, held this year at the Circle Drive-In (Dickson City PA).

The Scranton Times-Tribune posted a very informative story to let us know about the UDITOA’s get-together. According to the Times-Tribune, about 60 owners attended. They heard from Dave Castelli, the Circle’s manager, about how the advantages that drive-ins have over indoor theaters. At the drive-in, small kids have room to walk around and young adults have the freedom to text in the privacy of their cars.

Another topic of discussion was the economics of drive-ins, many still facing the cost of converting to digital projection or the worry of not knowing when Hollywood studios will stop providing film. Two owners talked about their side jobs (factory worker, CPA) that they need.

There are more details in the article, which would have benefitted from a few photos. In any case, you know you need to go read it!

Austin homeless village to include “drive-in” theater

This is another installment in our occasional series, Things That are Not Drive-Ins. There are so many faux “drive-ins” that pop up every year that it requires something special to make it to a Carload post. The Community First village proposed for Austin TX is that kind of special project.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes has spent over a decade serving Austin’s chronically homeless, finding inexpensive housing and work to get some of them off the streets. Now MLF has announced an ambitious project to build an entire gated community of otherwise homeless residents, as described by KVUE, Austin’s news leader.

KVUE said that Community First would include a drive-in theater. That caused the same double-take I get when I hear requests to donate furniture for the homeless: If some poor soul doesn’t have a roof over his head, where’s he going to put that furniture, and if he’s got a car, why would he drive to a movie? As it turns out, this time KVUE was not completely accurate, probably for the first time in its history. The Community First blueprints clearly show an “outdoor theater,” albeit with spaces for about a dozen cars in a nearby parking lot.

Although the idea of a gated community with a private drive-in is appealing, I have to say that this will not be a true drive-in theater. I do wish its organizers all the best for using private funds to give the homeless a path back to productive society.