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. © Depositphotos.com / werve.

Old motion picture film reel during the Thessaloniki (Greece) International Film Festival on November 5, 2012.
© Depositphotos.com / 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 RetroRoadmap.com, used by permission

photo by RetroRoadmap.com, 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.

Capital News Service celebrates Bengies

Colleen Wilson of the Capital News Service gave us a fine, lengthy article all about how well Bengies Drive-In (Middle River MD) is doing these days. I can’t tell what the occasion is, except that Bengies is still going strong and showing movies this late in the season. But I’m sure glad she did. Not only do we get to read that fine time capsule of owner D. Edward Vogel and Bengies in October 2013, we also get to see this YouTube video, a slideshow set to Vogel’s theatrical announcements, and a superb map that mostly accurately shows where active drive-ins still exist. (It’s easy to overlook the Comanche in Buena Vista.)

The best quote in the video is right up front. “I believe every drive-in theater takes on the personality of the owner,” Vogel said. But be sure to watch the whole thing and check out the CNS article. And remember to change your clocks for the end of Daylight Saving Time this Sunday!

Midway raises just enough to buy projector

Midway Drive-In screen

photo by Jim Good, used by permission

As part of our Project Drive-In roundup series a few weeks ago, we mentioned the Midway Drive-In, which sits in the middle of farmland on a now-bypassed highway between Osawatomie and Paola KS. The Midway didn’t win one of the digital projectors that Honda gave away, but now comes news that it has raised enough money to get a loan to buy one, ensuring that the Midway will reopen in spring 2014.

According to The Kansas City (MO) Star and WDAF, Kansas City’s news leader, Osawatomie City Councilwoman Tamara Maichel organized the Midway Drive-In Digital Fund to raise money for the conversion. And earlier this week, Maichel posted that the Fund had raised over $14,000, enough for a down payment on a digital projector.

According to the post, “Midway Drive-In has to be up and running by the end of the year, due to taxes, incentives, and discounts from Sonic Equipment. The owners needed to get a loan.”

Midway owners Paul and Anna Dimoush said they were able to get a loan for the projector from Paola’s Citizens State Bank .“We’ll probably get it installed and run some movies through it to make sure it works before next season,” Paul Dimoush said.

The 330-car drive-in has been around since at least 1955, when the Theatre Catalog listed its operator as Mid-Central Theaters. Let’s hope it stays in operation for at least another 60 years.