Dec. 5: Carrolltown Hi-Way Drive In, Carrolltown PA

Hi-Way Drive-In marquee lit at night

Photo from the Hi-Way Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 339 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took just a little over a half hour to drive from The Bar-Ann Drive-In in Portage PA to the Carrolltown Hi-Way Drive In just north of Carrolltown PA. As you’ll see, I’m not the only one to make that commute.

My information about the Hi-Way’s history is sketchy at best. Cinema Treasures says it opened in 1951. The 1952 Theatre Catalog listed it with owners Thomas Woods and John M. Ridilla.

That’s the same John Ridilla from Latrobe PA who opened a Hi-Way Drive-In in his home town in 1950. Along with some real estate business partners, he incorporated Hi-Way Theaters, Inc. in Florida in early 1951. I wonder what other Hi-Way drive-ins are Ridilla creations. At any rate, the Motion Picture Almanac listed him as the Carrolltown drive-in’s owner through at least its 1966 edition.

After a short absence from the MPA list, the Hi-Way resurfaced in 1980 as owned by Cinemette. (pdf) says Cinemette owned the Hi-Way in 1975-80. By the 1984 MPA, the owner was listed as R. Glaus. I wonder if that was the young Rick Glaus, the guy who was running the Dependable in Moon PA at the time.

Donald Gawel owns the Hi-Way now along with the Bar-Ann, so he’s sure to have driven the same path I took this day. According to the 2007 obituary for Diane M. Radwanski Gawel, his late wife, she was “Co-owner of Hi-Way Drive In Theater in Carrolltown and the Bar-Ann Drive In Theater in Portage and previous operator of the Silver Drive In Theater in Johnstown for 12 years.”

Another clue to how long Gawel has owned the Hi-Way comes from a July 2013 article in The Trib-Dem about the switch from film to digital projection. “The Hi-Way Drive-In has been slotting 35mm film reels since 1984, when owners Don and Judy Gawel first got into the cinema business,” it said.

Don told The Trib-Dem that business was good and that he was looking forward to the new capabilities of the new equipment. “You either go with the new era of technology or you go out of business,” he said. “I chose to stay in it.”

The drive-in had closed for the season after the last weekend in October this year. I’m glad it will be back in the spring.

Miles Today / Total: 22 / 38754 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: It’s yet another regional restaurant chain that I hadn’t previously visited, and this one is masquerading as a convenience store. Sheetz has gasoline and smokes, but it also offers “Made To Order” food. I picked up a platter with homestyle chicken and fish plus some onion rings and mac and cheese bites. Then I brought it down to my hotel room for a feast alone.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Google said the closest hotel to the Hi-Way is the Quality Inn in Edensburg about 12 miles south. As Quality Inns go, this was a good one. My comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and breakfast with eggs and waffles gave me everything I needed. If only it were closer to the drive-in.

Only in Carrolltown: There’s a neat old abandoned railroad tunnel near Carrolltown. You can see its wooden supports in this YouTube video and read more about it on the Stuff Thats Gone Facebook page.

Next stop: Palace Gardens Drive In Theater, Indiana PA.