Motor Vu returns to life

Detail of a screen capture of a KPVI news video

Yaknow, it really disappointed me in 2017 when the healthy-looking Motor Vu Drive-In in Idaho Falls ID failed to answer the summer bell (the spring calendar?) in 2017, which I noted when I “visited” in in my Drive-In-A Day Odyssey that year. So I’m doubly happy to learn that it’s active again, including four benefit dates scheduled for 2022.

As reported by KPVI, Pocatello ID’s News Leader, the Ronald McDonald House of Charities of Idaho is promoting the series this year, with all of the gate proceeds going to the charity. Each of the Thursday night double features will start with a Jurassic Park movie, followed by another recent classic.

I’m always happy for any news that lets me flip the On switch in my drive-in database, although I’m embarassed that I didn’t notice it earlier. (Apparently this is its third season back, coinciding with our third year of Covid.) And as the Motor Vu’s marquee shows, it’s also open for regular movies on weekends. It’s one of the oldest drive-ins (1947) in the West, and it’s great to have it back.

May 18: Sunset Auto Vue, Grangeville ID

Drive-in screen with a line of cars in front

photo from the Sunset Auto Vue Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 138 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Considering the places I’ve been this week, a drive that’s longer than anything I’ll probably have in July doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. I left Colville WA and drove four and a half hours down US 395 through Spokane, US 195 to the Idaho border, then US 95 to the Sunset Auto Vue in Grangeville ID.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Sunset Auto Vue opened in 1955, closed in 1986, and was reopened in the late 1990s. Its original screen blew down in a windstorm and had to be rebuilt before the 2008 season.

Boise State Public Radio ran a story in 2012 about the coming switch to digital projection. Owner Chris Wagner said, “Film is just on its way out. If you want to be in business, you’ll have to be digital.”

There’s no marquee or other signage on site. In downtown Grangeville, the historic Blue Fox Theatre uses one side of its marquee to list what’s at the Sunset Auto Vue. But it’s possible to take some great pictures at the drive-in, as you can see if you click over to the Rustic Lens blog. Sure wish I could use some of those photos!

Once again, I’m at a drive-in in season but in the middle of the week. The Sunset Auto Vue is showing movies on Fridays through Sundays this month. That gave me more time to rest from all that driving.

Miles Today / Total:  250 / 15981 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 61

Nearby Restaurant: After all the driving I’ve been doing this week, I wanted some comfort food, and that’s what they serve at the Hilltop Cafe. Huge portions of breakfast even at lunch, centered on plate-wide buckwheat pancakes. Just glad I drove here fast, because they close before dinner time.

Where I Virtually Stayed: This one is one of the better Super 8s, except for erratic wifi while I was there. I was greeted with snacks and a fireplace in the lobby. My room had a comfortable bed, a mini fridge and a microwave. Breakfast was better than the usual Super 8, with scrambled eggs and sausage, and the price was great as always.

Only in Grangeville: Just northwest of Grangeville is Dog Bark Park, home to Toby and Sweet Willy, the World’s Two Biggest Beagles. Toby, a 12-foot tall beagle statue, was built by Dog Bark Park’s husband and wife chainsaw artists Dennis Sullivan and Frances Conklin. Canine carvings are a specialty although visitors are apt to find fish, feline, bear, moose and Lewis & Clark themed carvings as well.

Next stop: Silver Bow Drive In, Butte MT.

May 6: Parma Motor-Vu Drive In, Parma ID

It’s Day 126 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. In between long-drive days, I got a short one, just a half hour from Caldwell ID to the Parma Motor-Vu Drive In, in Parma of course.

As recounted in a 2013 Idaho Press-Tribune article celebrating its 60th anniversary, the Motor Vu was built in 1953 by Bill Dobbs, who wanted to get people to stop watching TV and return to the movies. Folks kept watching their sets at home, but the drive-in did just well enough to stay in operation all those years.

Dobbs’ daughter Karen Cornwell, who owns the place now, said that during the lean 1980s, the Motor Vu survived with Spanish-language films. “For a while the drive-in showed those films Wednesdays and Sundays and English-language films Thursdays through Saturdays.”

The wonderful history page on the Motor Vu web site tells more stories about the difficult time between the first wave of drive-ins and their eventual nostalgic resurgence. “The famous Motor-Vu marquee neon went out except for the MO. We couldn’t afford to get it fixed and the kids started calling it the MO. At first, it didn’t seem too cute to us since it was a reminder of hard times, but it wasn’t long before we, too, were calling it the MO. Finally, two years later, we got it fixed and would you believe it – the ‘R’ still didn’t work and we then had Moe Toe Voo.”

I was so glad to continue to make up ground toward my goal of 200 active drive-in nights this year. (After a lot of cold, closed drive-ins I visited in March and April, my pace is back up to 168.) I didn’t really mind seeing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 yet again. This year, I’ve seen much worse more often. Even on its third consecutive night, GotGV2 still makes a fine drive-in film.

Miles Today / Total:  21 / 13843 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 58

Nearby Restaurant: With the short drive, I had plenty of time to relax at the Parma Ridge Winery for lunch and stuff. I love a good mushroom and swiss burger, and the “G&R” added some chunky blue cheese. I prefer dry red wines, but the dry Gewürztraminer was flavorful and refreshing. And ah, those beautiful vineyard views!

Where I Virtually Stayed: I love it when TripAdvisor can steer me to a mom and pop classic motel that’s just as good as the chains at a better price. That’s what I had to do when my search of Parma didn’t turn up a place to stay and I went up the road to the Ontario Inn just across the border in Ontario OR. My room was clean and comfortable, and it had a fridge. Breakfast in the morning had coffee and English muffins. And the money I saved will provide a magnificent lunch somewhere literally down the road.

Only in Parma: There’s a statue of Bigfoot in front of the replica of Old Fort Boise at the aptly named Old Fort Boise Park. (Some references call it a state park, but it’s only about one square block in the Parma city limits, so I doubt it.) But it’s not the famous furry Bigfoot. This one was a part-Cherokee named Starr Wilkinson, known for his wide, almost seven-foot frame, for his 18-inch feet, and for allegedly leading a band of raiders who pillaged wagon trains. Some of the Shoshone Indians he led (long story) called him Chief Bigfoot, and the name stuck.

Next stop: La Grande Drive In, La Grande OR.