May 2: Spud Drive In Movie Theater, Driggs ID

It’s Day 122 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It didn’t look like much on a map, but I guess a map of Idaho is different than a map of Alabama or Arkansas. Even though the Spud Drive In Movie Theater in Driggs was just an inch or two away from my starting point in Soda Springs, a had to drive over two and a half hours’ worth of twisty Teton mountain roads to get there.

The Spud opened in July 1953. In 1987, the owners decided to make a novelty postcard come to life by taking an old flatbed truck, adding a giant potato statue, and parking it out front. You can see photos of “the world’s largest potato” here and here and here.

The first 55 years of the Spud’s life couldn’t possibly be as tumultuous as the past 10 years have been. According to a 2013 article in the Jackson Hole (WY) News & Guide, Dawnelle Mangum and her then-husband Richard Wood ran the drive-in from 1987 to 2009. The Teton Valley News wrote that Lenny Zaban bought the theater in 2009. In 2010, Wydaho Group LLC ran the Spud for a year, booking a few concerts on the site in addition to showing movies. According to an article in the Lubbock (TX) Avalanche-Journal, the Spud became the “very first” drive-in to go digital in July that year, quoting Keith Zednick, Spud chief operating officer.

Wydaho Group announced in May 2011 that the Spud would close. Mangum and another local, Tyler Hammond, negotiated a lease from Wydaho Group. As of that 2013 article, they were fundraising for a new digital projector, so I guess Zednick’s projector was out of the picture.

A March 2015 article in the Teton Valley News included more changes. Hammond and Mangum had raised some money and had taken out a loan to get a new projector, but Mangum quit her managing job, and according to Hammond, Zaban told Hammond he wouldn’t be managing the place either. So as Hammond left the Spud, he took the projector with him. “I still owe money and here I am with no way to create revenue to pay it,” he said.

Zaban told the Teton Valley News that a new digital projector was on its way, and it appears that the 2015 and 2016 seasons were relatively uneventful. But late in 2016, the Spud was listed for sale with an asking price of $675,000. There’s nothing that suggests it won’t open for the 2017 season, but that’s still unsettling.

What’s certain is that on this first Tuesday night in May, the Spud wasn’t going to be showing anything. I headed back to my hotel room.

Miles Today / Total:  127 / 13425 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 55

Nearby Restaurant: I suppose part of it is the proximity of Jackson Hole just across the Wyoming border, but there are a surprising number of nice restaurants in little Driggs. I settled on Provisions, arriving in time for Juan’s famous fish tacos for lunch. Since this is Idaho, I had to order some fries with that.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Not that there are a lot of bad ones, but I was treated to another particularly nice Super 8 here in Driggs. The room was fairly large and comfortable, had a fridge and microwave, and with the money I saved with the low price I could supplement the typically spartan Super 8 continental breakfast.

Only in Driggs: Really, the drive-in with the giant potato in front is the quirkiest thing in town. Roadside America shows it as the only unusual feature for miles in any direction, and plenty of tourist blogs and travel sites point to it. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and the Idaho State Historic Registry. Sunset magazine included it in its article The Most Outrageous Roadside Attraction. And Mary Chapin Carpenter used a gorgeous twilight photo (right) of the Spud as the cover of her 2014 album Songs From the Movie.

Next stop: Motor Vu, Idaho Springs ID.

May 1: Idan-Ha Drive In Theatre, Soda Springs ID

photo by arbyreed, from the Carload Flickr pool

It’s Day 121 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey, what you might consider the start of the middle third of the year. My drive was a very fast straight two-hour shot up the interstates from the Motor Vu Drive-In Theatre in Riverdale UT to the Idan-Ha Drive In Theatre in Soda Springs ID.

When did the Idan-Ha open? A 2013 article in the Idaho State Business Journal claimed it “has been a part of Soda Springs for nearly 60 years,” but that raises a couple of questions.

Some time around 1953, the Dawn-a-Vu Drive-In opened for business, built by Donald M. Mendenhall and named for his daughter, Elnora Dawn. Its capacity was about 300 cars. In my copies of the International Motion Picture Almanac, the only drive-in in Soda Springs from 1959 through 1976 is the Dawn-a-Vu. In the 1982 IMPA, the Dawn-a-Vu is gone but the Idan-Ha is listed, with a capacity of 200. There’s now a car dealership that extends into what could have been back rows of the drive-in. I can’t find any confirmation anywhere, but I’m guessing it just changed names around 1980. Update: A note from the current Idan-Ha crew said, “I am uncertain when the name changed but I thought that it happened when Owen owned it in the 80’s.” Bingo!

Back to that article, Idan-Ha head Jeff Bowen was afraid the drive-in would have to close after the 2013 season because it didn’t have a digital projector yet. “Bowen runs the drive-in mostly as a hobby and said he is ready to retire, but he already has someone lined up to take over the venture if it doesn’t close,” it said. Something worked; the Idan-Ha’s Facebook page listed movies from its first post in September 2014 through the 2016 season.

The Idan-Ha typically runs a short season; in 2016, it was from mid-May to the end of August. It’s also unusual in showing just a single movie every night, but that’s typically all I need before hitting the sack. On the first day of May, I was able to hit the sack early.

Miles Today / Total:  138 / 13298 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 55

Nearby Restaurant: The Arctic Circle is a restaurant chain, but only a regional chain mostly in Utah and Idaho. As the name implies, it’s partly an ice cream shop, but it also dishes up some fine burgers at very reasonable prices. Its French fries come with a unique fry sauce that beats the heck out of ketchup, and I loved my made-to-order chocolate malt.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There’s no elevator, but there’s plenty of history at Enders Hotel & Museum, which was built 100 years ago. The bed in my room was comfy, and the old hissing radiator reminded me of an apartment where I used to live. It came with a voucher for breakfast at the Geyser View Restaurant, so I could stay wrapped in the past while I watched a geyser that actually wasn’t there when the hotel was built. (See below.)

Only in Soda Springs: Soda Springs has a geyser that’s even more faithful than Old Faithful. According to Wikipedia, on November 30, 1937, a well drilling operation was surprised when it unintentionally released Soda Springs’s famous captive geyser, which shot 100 feet into the air. It has been capped and a timer activates it every hour on the hour. There is now a park and a visitor center at the site.

Next stop: Spud Drive In Movie Theater, Driggs ID.

Project Drive-In roundup 2, The Sequel

In my last post, I began the task of listing every local media report of every local drive-in that’s participating in Honda’s Project Drive-In. Foolishly, I thought that I might gather up all of them in one sitting. When I hit 20 theaters, each with a similar tale of tenuous finance and this lottery-ticket hope for survival, my eyes had glazed over, and I barely had the strength to finish off the post and click Publish.

Two days later, I’m ready again to see how many more drive-in reports I can list. Again, they’re alphabetized by state. And again, if you click through and find a particularly cool detail we should all know about, please leave a comment.

More of your candidates:

Whew again! That’s 20 more drive-ins with local coverage of their Project Drive-In eligibility. I don’t know whether there are 20 more that I haven’t mentioned, but if I spot enough new ones, there may be a third episode of this franchise.