July 21: Van-Del Drive-In, Middle Point OH

It’s Day 202 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It didn’t take too much extra time out of my way to have visited the Auto Vue Drive-In in Sidney OH Thursday night. It took less than an hour to drive back north from there to the Van-Del Drive-In just north of Middle Point OH on the old Lincoln Highway, halfway between Van Wert and Delphos.

I don’t know of another drive-in that went through so many changes early in its history as the Van-Del did. According to Cinema Treasures, it opened as the Star Lite in June 1948, built by the Christopher brothers from St. Mary’s OH. Just three months later in September 1948, they sold it to Paul Staup, who renamed it Staup’s Auto Movie. Staup also replaced the original screen tower, which had been blown down during its first winter, with a wider screen and installed a playground. Then in July 1951, Staup’s Auto Movie was renamed the Van-Del Auto Movie.

In April 1967 Thomas Epps started running the drive-in, (by August 1981 he was listed as the owner). widening the screen tower, installing a new sound system, and remodelling the concession stand. In September 1998, Epps sold the Van-Del to Jim and Joyce Boyd. Over the years the Boyd family has upgraded the Van-Del Drive-In with digital projection and has added two more screens.

It was complete serendipity that on the day of my virtual visit, legendary drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs declared the Van-Del to be his drive-in of the week. He wrote, “In the 1960s it pulled off a great publicity stunt as mesmerist “Dr. LeRoy” hypnotized and buried a man (Phil Davis, from Martinsville, IN) for three days. (History doesn’t say if he was entombed underneath the drive-in screen, but let’s choose to think so.) They haven’t buried anyone in a while, but the Van-Del still holds events like Dusk til Dawn nights on its three screens. And the Van-Del’s fans are so rabid that they spammed the Joe Bob page to feature their drive-in. Well played, Van-Del Drive-In.”

I found another nice drone aerial video to embed for you. This one’s from Les Bowen, who also uploaded a great drone shot of last year’s Fourth of July fireworks, but I digress.

With three screens, I had some choices for this evening’s movie, and I chose the new release. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is just too long a name for a movie. The special effects looked great under the stars, but I hope I don’t have to see it again too often this year.

Miles Today / Total:  53 / 25605 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets / 118

Nearby Restaurant: I drove just a little farther up the Lincoln Highway to the Rambler’s Roost Restaurant and Truck Stop. It’s quiet, across the street from a cemetary, and it’s on a bypassed road that used to be US 30. It’s been here for 60 years, almost as long as the drive-in. Most truck stops these days are owned by one chain or another, so it was great to get some home cooking from a mom and pop original.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Since there aren’t any hotels in Middle Point, my choices were in Van Wert and Delphos. The best combination of a safe national chain and a low price was the Microtel in Delphos. My room was clean and had the full set of amenities, and the light continental breakfast was enough to get me back on my way.

Only in Middle Point: You know how the Van-Del was named for its neighbors, Van Wert and Delphos? Well, Middle Point also got its name because it was about halfway between Van Wert and Delphos. The village was laid out in 1851, added a post office in 1854, and incorporated in 1874.

Next stop: Hummel Drive-In, Winchester IN.