Oct. 9: Ozoner 29, Broadalbin NY

Ozoner 29 marquee saying "Open Soon"

Photo from the Ozoner 29 Facebook page

It’s Day 282 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This was a very short drive, barely 40 minutes from the El Rancho Drive-In Theatre in Palatine Bridge NY to the Ozoner 29 in Broadalbin NY. They’re so close that you could commute between them. And that’s pretty much what happens.

If you were with me on my previous stop, you know that the El Rancho was purchased by Darci and Bill Wemple in 1996. They must have enjoyed the experience, because they built the two-screen Ozoner 29 from scratch, opening in 2003.

A 2003 CBS News article pointed to the Ozoner 29 as evidence of a drive-in theater resurgence. “Darci and Bill Wemple opened one this summer in Broadalbin, N.Y., a town in foothills of the Adirondacks where tourists visit in the warm months. The Wemples already owned a drive-in about 40 minutes away in a farming community.”

“For the people that live there, it is their theater,” Darci said. “For everyone else, it’s a novelty draw.”

The Daily Gazette of Schenectady NY interviewed BIll in April 2012. “This is classic Americana,” he said. “People love living in the past. It was better times back then. I’ve noticed old things come back, old cars, old clothes. I think drive-ins are next.” The Gazette mentioned that the projection area included a bed “leftover from the days their kids Devin and Brianne, now 20 and 18, once slept while their dad kept the projector running late into the night.” Two years later, The Daily Gazette ran a gallery of 12 photos from what was the drive-in’s last year with film projectors.

The Wemples converted the Ozoner 29 to digital projection in early 2015. That’s when Darci told The Leader-Herald, “What we did was we searched out the best priced new equipment and basically …. we managed to pull together between family, banks and remortgages enough to do the projection. It was either that or close down completely and our children really, really love the drive-in and they were heartbroken that we might actually close-down, so we did what we could and we’re keeping it.”

The Recorder of Amsterdam NY (pdf) wrote in 2015 “We decided to make the investment for our children because they wanted to carry on this business,” Bill said. “People don’t know how close we came to not opening. If it wasn’t for (our) kids, we probably wouldn’t have.” So having those kids in the projector booth must have got them hooked on operating drive-ins!

Unlike the El Rancho the night before, the Ozoner 29 had long since closed for the season, not that either would have been showing movies on a Monday in October. I’m only 23 nights away from my original goal of 200 active drive-ins this year, but I’m concerned that I might end up a little short.

Miles Today / Total: 28 / 32719 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 177

Nearby Restaurant: Directly across Highway 29 from the Ozoner 29 is Project 29, a great pub with plenty of interesting beers and food too. I enjoyed the blueberry ale and the Fall Tree Oktoberfest, but not on an empty stomach. A pot roast sandwich provided all the insulation I’d need to handle those tasty brews.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Looks like the closest hotels to Broadalbin are in Johnstown, and of those available, I chose the Microtel Inn. Even though the price was great, there was coffee available when I arrived, my room had the full set of modern amenities, and the continental breakfast was just enough to get me ready for another day.

Only in Broadalbin: Ten miles away in Amsterdam, there’s a red Volkswagen Beetle parked at the top of a tall smokestack. According to ExploringUpstate.com, the bug went up around the mid-1970s and was a way for auto repair shop owner Gary Dudka to attract attention to his business. As of 2014, it had become a favorite nesting place for a murder of crows.

Next stop: Glen Drive-In Theatre, Queensbury NY.