July 12: Hi Way Drive-In Theatre, Carsonville MI

It’s Day 193 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was nothing compared to some of the western legs of my odyssey, but this day’s drive was probably the longest I’ll have all month. Almost four hours after I left little Honor MI, I rolled up at the Hi Way Drive-In Theatre, a few miles west of Carsonville MI.

The Hi Way is the oldest active drive-in theater in Michigan. C. H. “Torchy” Clements opened the Hi Way in 1948 and owned it for the next 20 years. Doug Davis was the manager and projectionist. In 1968, Clements sold the drive-in to Stanley Fetting, who ran it with his son. They solid the Hi Way in 1997 to Steve Kurzinsky.

This place is a bit in the middle of nowhere, tucked between Highway M-46 and a bend in the Black River, surrounded by miles of farmland. The lot has the standard old drive-in ramps, all on a grassy field. There are speaker poles for 360 vehicles, but with FM radio sound, they might be able to find room for a few more. Without any meaningful civilization within a couple of miles, the Hi Way benefits from a lack of light pollution.

If your computer (or phone, or however you’re reading this) can play an old Windows Media Video format file, your first stop should be the Hi Way’s history page, which has a 20-minute slice of life from 1996, during Fetting’s tenure. That provides great background for a 2014 look at the Kurzinsky administration. Ben La Londe created one of the best little documentaries about a single drive-in, and I was able to embed it as a YouTube video above. Watch both to see the evolution of the projection system and the projectionist.

There’s yet another little WMV video from 2003 available at WaterWinterWonderland.com, which also has a note from Torchy’s daughter Patricia. “I was four years old when the drive in opened and spent a good part of my life there,” she wrote. “Some of that time was watching movies and fireworks, and some was pulling weeds from the flower beds in front, checking the speakers, and when I was older, manning the ticket booth. I loved it.”

I had a pretty good time myself, even though it was my eighth time through Despicable Me 3. I could crane my head out of the window and look out at the Milky Way.

Miles Today / Total:  215 / 24398 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Despicable Me 3 / 109

Nearby Restaurant: Another small town, another great little diner where they serve breakfast till 2 in the afternoon. Actually, the Triple J Cafe in Carsonville stays open till 3, but you get the idea. I enjoyed the sausage-stuffed French toast with a side of grits and enough coffee to make me glad I made the drive to get here.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Another small town, another mom and pop motel. In this case, the closest town with a motel was Sandusky, and the motel was DeMott’s Westpark Inn. There’s a restaurant and bar on the property, so that was nice. My room had a refridgerator and wifi, and there was actually a decent continental breakfast in the morning. All at a really good price!

Only in Carsonville: Less than 10 miles away at the end of Sanilac Road, the local name for Highway M-46 that leads from the Hi Way to Carsonville and beyond, you’ll find the Port Sanilac Lighthouse. The 59-foot tower and attached two-story house were built in 1886. The US government decommissioned the lighthouse and sold it to Carl Rosenfield for $4000 in 1928. Rosenfield’s grandson owns the place now, and apparently the lighthouse still works.

Next stop: US 23 Drive-in Theater, Flint MI.