If you ever find yourself cruising east along I-20 through the center of Eastland County, Texas, just outside the sleepy town of Olden, right around County Road 438 overpass, you will pass by what appears to be the skeletal remains of an old drive-in theatre, the name of which is unknown, even to people who have lived nearby their entire lives.
Drive-In screens, by their very nature, are built to tell stories. That is their purpose. When the sun goes down, the projection room lights up, beaming flickering images through the night air onto a larger-than-life outdoor screen. However, this particular drive-in screen along a quite stretch of Texas highway never got the chance to tell its stories, or make cherished family memories lasting a lifetime.
Hal Walker lived with his young family in the small town of Ranger, Texas, during the mid 1940s. He was an ordinary man with ordinary dreams, raising a young family in post-World War II America. Hal was president of the local First National Bank of Ranger, and was looking to invest in a business which was, at that time, a very exciting new form of movie entertainment. Hal began building what would have been the first drive-in movie theatre in rural Eastland County, Texas, along what was then known as Highway 80.
Sadly, even the best laid plans of well-intentioned people can be thwarted by the cruelties of fate. While his new drive-in was under construction, Hal’s daughter died tragically in a horse riding accident. There can be no greater pain in life than to lose a young child, and Hal’s grief must have been unimaginable. Work on the drive-in came to an abrupt halt, after Hal’s daughter was suddenly taken away from his world.
Hal and his wife were utterly grief-stricken and inconsolable. The nameless drive-in theatre along Interstate 20 would never be completed or opened. Hal’s heart just wasn’t in it any longer.
The remains of Hal’s unfinished drive-in screen still stand to this day, as a lonely reminder of what might have been, and dreams unfulfilled. Hal Walker would eventually bury the grief deep inside his soul, and move on to serve his community over multiple terms as mayor of Ranger, Texas. It may have been a different life than the one Hal had once envisioned, but fate has a strange way of changing the course of life when least expected, or desired.
There would eventually be several other drive-ins built in Eastland County, Texas, all of which have been closed now for decades. Olden had the Dixie Drive-In, the Joy Drive-In would bring great happiness to the people of Cisco, and the Ranger Drive-In would arise in the town of its namesake.
And yet, Hal Walker’s never-opened, nameless drive-in screen, a local landmark that had its dreams ended before they ever began, is forever linked to the untimely death of a promising young girl in a community which, perhaps unknowingly, still grieves for her more than 70 years later.
“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.” ~ Walter Inglis Anderson
This guest post was written by Rick Cohen, owner of the Transit Drive-In in Lockport NY, and used by permission. Thanks!