July 20: Auto Vue Drive-In, Sidney OH

It’s Day 201 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. My route still zigzags back and forth more than a perfect mileage-saving trip, but I’m doing it to catch drive-ins when they’re open. In this case, it was barely a half-hour drive from the Starlight Drive-In, between St. Henry and Maria Stein OH, and the Auto Vue Drive-In in Sidney OH.

According to its (unsuccessful) 2014 Kickstarter page, the Auto Vue was built in 1956 by the Nagelspach brothers. The Rees family bought it in 1987, and now daughter Teresa Covington runs the place. “The first season ended in 1987 with a thunderstorm ripping the concession roof off, requiring the building to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up – but we did it. In 1994, during a storm, a third of our steel screen was ‘curled down’, just like a sardine can, but again we rebuilt,” she wrote.

The Auto Vue has an unusual story behind its conversion to digital projection. In February 2015, at a drive-in conference in Florida, Covington asked Transit Drive-In (Lockport NY) owner Rick Cohen for fundraising suggestions. Cohen’s response was to start walking north from Kissimmee to raise awareness and money for the Auto Vue. He made it over 250 miles before a sprained ankle ended the walk, but not before he raised $8000. The Auto-vue took out a loan for the rest.

I was writing about the Auto Vue just last October, when it hosted the premiere of the regional promo Moving A Nation: Made in Shelby County. Then this year it opened earlier than usual so it could show the live-action Beauty and the Beast.

Thank goodness for drone photography! I’ve seen more aerial drive-in footage shot in the past year than in the 30 years before it. I embedded a decent view of the Auto Vue made by Jack Feazel and posted to YouTube.

This was just a picture-perfect drive-in night. The temperature was 80 and dropping at showtime, and the rain held off long enough for me to enjoy a Throwback Thursday showing of Smokey and the Bandit. That movie is such a fun 70s romp! And the concession stand had chocolate-covered frozen bananas, my new favorite pseudo-healthy dessert. It sort of balanced out the hot funnel cake I also got there.

Miles Today / Total:  26 / 25552 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Smokey and the Bandit / 117

Nearby Restaurant: For another great slice of retro, the place to go in Sidney is The Spot To Eat. It has a neon sign on the outside and red vinyl diner furnishings within. It serves up the classic burgers, fries, rings, and shakes at very reasonable prices, put the pies make it feel even more like a diner. My favorite, of course, remains pecan pie.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I guess it’s been a while since I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, so I took advantage of the one on Sidney. It’s a nice modern place, like most HIEs, with the full set of room amenities. Breakfast reminded me that I’d been missing out on those warm cinnamon rolls.

Only in Sidney: Several towns in the region were heavily influenced by the Miami and Erie Canal in the early 19th century. It took $8 million and 20 years for the state of Ohio to complete the project, just before the advent of railroads make it quickly obsolete. Just down the road from Sidney, you can see the canal’s restored Lock 1 plus four unrestored locks all in one place, called Lockington.

Next stop: Van-Del Drive-In, Middle Point OH.