I couldn’t find much online about the history of the El Rancho. It opened in June 1952, and early reference books say it was owned by Clifton R. Hall, Jr., who operated the indoor Colchester in Downsville. The Motion Picture Almanacs list him as the owner through at least 1966.
In October 1975, the El Rancho attracted the attention of The New York Times, and not in a good way. “The state police arrested the operator … after nearby residents complained that they could see X‐rated films from outside the theater. Troopers said (the man) had been charged with public display of offensive sexual material, a misdemeanor, and released in $100 bail. They said motorists driving along Route 5 and nearby residents had complained that they could see the movie screen.”
The MPAs of 1982-88 listed the El Rancho’s owner as “Hallmark”. Your guess is as good as mine, but I doubt if they sold greeting cards.
Darci and Bill Wemple bought the El Rancho in 1996. In 2013, they wrote that the drive-in “has seen banner days, and hard times. It is the little slice of Americana that has survived poor economies, severe weather, the video era, the computer generation, and now it faces… Digital conversion. Our customers, as well as our family, love El Rancho. It’s an entertainment medium every generation can enjoy, and the only entertainment in our farming community!” As you might have guessed, the occasion was Honda’s Project Drive-In, and the goal was to land a free digital projector, but that didn’t happen.
Instead, we turn to The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, which wrote in June 2016 that the digital conversion had come to the El Rancho. “The Wemples made the significant financial upgrades themselves, and did not ask their customers for any contributions. That’s one reason the Wemples ask visitors to buy hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn and the usual assortment of candy bars from their snack bars, and not bring food in with them.” And that’s pretty much all I know.
The occasion on this Sunday night was the drive-in’s annual Fall Scare-A-Thon weekend. The second two movies in the triple bill were pretty scary, but I only count the first, which was The Goonies. That left me saying “Hey guys!” for the rest of the night, but it was a nice, gentle warm-up of a first feature in case any kids were in the crowd.
Miles Today / Total: 48 / 32691 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Goonies / 177
Nearby Restaurant: The Village Restaurant, a stone’s throw away in Canajoharie, is a nice little local diner. My lunch was straightforward, but it was just a prelude to the real reason to drop by – the amazing pies. A slice of apple pie and plenty of coffee were just the antidote to a rainy day.
Where I Virtually Stayed: The closest hotel was another one of those nice Mom and Pop types, the Palatine Motel. The people were friendly, my room was clean, and it even had the full set of modern amenities. The money I saved with the low rate gave me plenty for breakfast elsewhere in the morning.
Only in Palatine Bridge: Just across the Mohawk River in Canajoharie, there once was a factory that made Beech-Nut gum and baby food. Now just across the street from that site is the Arkell Museum, which contains a whole lot of Beech-Nut memorabilia and displays about the Erie Canal.
Next stop: Ozoner 29, Broadalbin NY.