June 30: Route 34 Drive In Theatre, Earlville IL

It’s Day 181 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. When I was putting together this leg of the trip, I saw that the Route 34 Drive In Theatre in Earlville IL would be open from the previous Friday through the Tuesday Fourth of July and somehow mistook it for a seven-day schedule. That’s why I took a two-day detour to northern Indiana for my Wednesday and Thursday night shows, and why I needed a three-hour drive from Knox IN to the Route 34 for to rejoin my previously planned route.

The Route 34, then owned by Charles Dyas, opened as the Dyas 34 in June 1954. He kept it running until selling it to Ron Magnoni Jr. in 1994, which is probably when the drive-in’s name changed. That’s Ron above in an excellent 2015 YouTube video, extolling the virtues of a rural drive-in with its lack of ambient light.

That video interview comes in the middle of the conversion to digital projectors. In a 2014 article in DeKalb Daily Chronicle, Magnoni talks about raising funds for the new system, replacing film projectors “made of a combination of parts from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘70s.” He also said business improved a few years after he bought the 34 when stopping showing R-rated movies and lured in more families.

In the video above, Magnoni talks about the preparation work he had done to modernize the projection booth. About switching away from film, he said, “All my friends (in the business) tell me they hated it at first, then they loved it. Well, I don’t think I’m going to love it.”

Then an April 2016 article in the La Salle NewsTribune, Magnoni announced that the Route 34’s transition was almost complete. “I should be able to play anything from any film company now,” he said.

Tonight marked my second consecutive night of Despicable Me 3, which was nothing compared to my Cars 3 marathon. The concession stand sells fried chicken, which I think is a terrible food to bring in but a real treat to eat when it’s freshly cooked. (Not to mention that it’s much better to support the concession stand whenever possible.) Life is good!

Miles Today / Total:  164 / 23001 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Despicable Me 3 / 97

Nearby Restaurant: For some surprisingly complex and flavorful Italian food in the middle of a small Illinois town, you’ll want to go to Francesca’s Restaurant. I enjoyed some baked spaghetti for lunch, and I almost wish I’d come back for some cod in the Friday night fish fry.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t any hotels in Earlville, so I had to take US 34 to I-39 for Mendota IL’s Comfort Inn. I’ve been so spoiled by in-room mini-fridges at similar chain hotels that I was surprised by its absence in my king bed room, which was otherwise everything I needed, including wifi and a coffeemaker. Breakfast in the morning was up to the typical Comfort Inn standards. Just another typically great night.

Only in Earlville: Every September they hold the Fiber in the Park festival in Shabbona Park here. “Bring your projects or your spinning wheel, and spend the day listening to live music, far from the city.” Plus they have alpacas.

Next stop: Skyview Drive-In, Litchfield IL.