May 2: Spud Drive In Movie Theater, Driggs ID

It’s Day 122 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It didn’t look like much on a map, but I guess a map of Idaho is different than a map of Alabama or Arkansas. Even though the Spud Drive In Movie Theater in Driggs was just an inch or two away from my starting point in Soda Springs, a had to drive over two and a half hours’ worth of twisty Teton mountain roads to get there.

The Spud opened in July 1953. In 1987, the owners decided to make a novelty postcard come to life by taking an old flatbed truck, adding a giant potato statue, and parking it out front. You can see photos of “the world’s largest potato” here and here and here.

The first 55 years of the Spud’s life couldn’t possibly be as tumultuous as the past 10 years have been. According to a 2013 article in the Jackson Hole (WY) News & Guide, Dawnelle Mangum and her then-husband Richard Wood ran the drive-in from 1987 to 2009. The Teton Valley News wrote that Lenny Zaban bought the theater in 2009. In 2010, Wydaho Group LLC ran the Spud for a year, booking a few concerts on the site in addition to showing movies. According to an article in the Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, the Spud became the “very first” drive-in to go digital in July that year, quoting Keith Zednick, Spud chief operating officer.

Wydaho Group announced in May 2011 that the Spud would close. Mangum and another local, Tyler Hammond, negotiated a lease from Wydaho Group. As of that 2013 article, they were fundraising for a new digital projector, so I guess Zednick’s projector was out of the picture.

A March 2015 article in the Teton Valley News included more changes. Hammond and Mangum had raised some money and had taken out a loan to get a new projector, but Mangum quit her managing job, and according to Hammond, Zaban told Hammond he wouldn’t be managing the place either. So as Hammond left the Spud, he took the projector with him. “I still owe money and here I am with no way to create revenue to pay it,” he said.

Zaban told the Teton Valley News that a new digital projector was on its way, and it appears that the 2015 and 2016 seasons were relatively uneventful. But late in 2016, the Spud was listed for sale with an asking price of $675,000. There’s nothing that suggests it won’t open for the 2017 season, but that’s still unsettling.

What’s certain is that on this first Tuesday night in May, the Spud wasn’t going to be showing anything. I headed back to my hotel room.

Miles Today / Total:  127 / 13425 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 55

Nearby Restaurant: I suppose part of it is the proximity of Jackson Hole just across the Wyoming border, but there are a surprising number of nice restaurants in little Driggs. I settled on Provisions, arriving in time for Juan’s famous fish tacos for lunch. Since this is Idaho, I had to order some fries with that.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Not that there are a lot of bad ones, but I was treated to another particularly nice Super 8 here in Driggs. The room was fairly large and comfortable, had a fridge and microwave, and with the money I saved with the low price I could supplement the typically spartan Super 8 continental breakfast.

Only in Driggs: Really, the drive-in with the giant potato in front is the quirkiest thing in town. Roadside America shows it as the only unusual feature for miles in any direction, and plenty of tourist blogs and travel sites point to it. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and the Idaho State Historic Registry. Sunset magazine included it in its article The Most Outrageous Roadside Attraction. And Mary Chapin Carpenter used a gorgeous twilight photo (right) of the Spud as the cover of her 2014 album Songs From the Movie.

Next stop: Motor Vu, Idaho Springs ID.