June 25: Blue Grass Drive-In Theater, Blue Grass IA

It’s Day 176 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I jogged back from Galesburg IL, north across the border, past Davenport to the Blue Grass Drive-In Theater just west of Blue Grass IA. The drive only took about an hour, and the backpedalling was worth it to make sure I was at a drive-in with a Sunday night show.

The Blue Grass is one of those perfect modern success stories of a drive-in. After years of NIMBY obstacles, Randy Lorenz finally found an approved site, and in 2014, he built his drive-in.

There are just a few drive-ins with screens back-to-back, with one tower and two projection booths. Lorenz took that to the next level, building a a four-screen cube in the center of his complex. Only two are active now, but he’s got room to easily expand.

According to The Des Moines Register, Lorenz had planned to called it the Reel-to-Reel Drive In. (In fact, its Facebook page is still facebook.com/reeltoreel/.) Then came the change to digital projection. “I have two 35mm projectors in my garage that are basically paperweights right now,” he said. “They’re pretty much worthless.”

Once again we turn to WQAD, the Quad Cities’ News Leader, and this time they show the right way to promote a drive-in during a morning show – they visited the Blue Grass in the pre-dawn hours before the drive-in’s opening night this year. On the other hand, WQAD’s page on that story had a video from a projection booth (above), one from the concession stand, and one from the storm shelter(!), but nothing online that showed what the movie looked like on the screen. Maybe it was a big tease, or maybe the full morning show included that segment.

It was nice to have a choice of movies, so I was able to catch the latest Transformers entry, which is just as noisy and drive-in-worthy as the rest of them.

Miles Today / Total:  66 / 22489 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Transformers: The Last Knight / 92

Nearby Restaurant: Unless you want a Subway sandwich or convenience store food, the best restaurant by default in Blue Grass IA is in an unassuming building downtown, The Corner Grill. Fortunately, it’s pretty good. I enjoyed my grilled salmon salad since I was trying to eat healthy on alternating days, at least. Even better, there are lots of TVs and a bar. I’m glad to have found this place.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There just aren’t any hotels that close to the Blue Grass. I ended up heading almost 10 miles to the Comfort Inn in Davenport. My king bed room had all the standard amenities and good wifi. Breakfast in the morning was the standard Comfort Inn fare – a few hot options to go with continental breakfast – with a fireplace in the lobby. All of this for a pretty good price.

Only in Blue Grass: Ten miles north of the Blue Grass is the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, adjacent to the self-proclaimed World’s Largest Truckstop. That truckstop’s founder, Bill Moon, had a passion for collecting antique trucks and other trucking memorabilia, and the collection is truly amazing. The truckstop has a full food court, a buffet, and a full-service restaurant that served me the best biscuits and gravy that I’ve eaten in decades. Definitely worth the stop!

Next stop: McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry IL.

June 22: 61 Drive In Theatre, Delmar IA

It’s Day 173 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I left Wisconsin behind, driving a bit less than two hours via the fastest route, through Dubuque, to reach the 61 Drive In Theatre about a mile west of Delmar IA. The much larger town of Maquoketa is just about four miles north of the 61.

The 61 Drive-In opened around 1950 and has been in operation ever since, taking time out to repair screens destroyed by storms in 1960 and 1995. It’s a small, narrow drive-in surrounded by farmland and has a capacity of 180 cars.

According to an article last year in The Gazette of Cedar Rapids, owner Dennis Voy bought the 61 in 1972 “over a cup of coffee.” That’s when he started the free “train rides” for kids, as shown in the Gazette’s YouTube video embedded above.

Voy also told the Gazette something that I’ve noticed over the past decade or two. “People always ask me if they still come in the trunks — to my knowledge, no one does anymore,” he said.

I should buy some shares of Disney. After seven paid viewings, mostly last month, of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, this was my fifth round with Cars 3. Even in those GotG days, I never saw the movie four nights in a row as I just did here. It kept me thinking about the Cars universe – we see a few children, but do they grow? Are they manufactured (as in 2005’s Robots) or created organically? I’ll keep watching for clues.

Miles Today / Total:  95 / 22258 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 89

Nearby Restaurant: Of course I was attracted to Flapjacks Family Restaurant in Maquoketa. On one hand, it’s got a great salad bar. On the other, it serves breakfast all day. Breakfast is healthy, right? I chose the Maquoketa Meal Deal with bacon, eggs, sausage, and flapjacks of course. Maybe my next meal will just be salad.

Where I Virtually Stayed: After staying in one chain hotel or another so many nights, I was able to spend the night somewhere historic. The Decker Hotel in downtown Maquoketa has been around since 1875, but it still works. There was no fridge this time, but there was a flat-screen TV and wifi, plus I got a pass to the nearby YMCA if I wanted to work out. There was coffee in the morning, and I saved enough cash by staying here that finding breakfast was no problem.

Only in Delmar Maquoketa: There are any number of museums, sideshows, and tourist traps with two-headed critters, but the Jackson County Museum is the first I’ve heard of with a two-butted lamb. There are 22,000 square feet of exhibits over two floors, but the player pianos won’t stick in your head the same way. If you can’t make it in person, Roadside America has a photo.

Next stop: Midway Drive In Theatre, Sterling IL.

June 7: Valle Drive in, Newton IA

It’s Day 158 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove from Spirit Lake near Iowa’s northern border to the center of the state. The trip to the Valle Drive in in Newton, just east of Des Moines, took about three and a half hours.

The Valle is the oldest drive-in in Iowa. It opened in 1948 (says its web site) or 1949 (says its Facebook page), and still uses its original concession stand, popcorn machine, and in-car speakers. (There’s also a radio broadcast.)

As shown by the above 2014 YouTube video from KCCI, Des Moines’ News Leader, Jim Mertz, who bought the place from the original owners in 1976, was happy about successfully changing over to digital projection.

The summer before, Valle manager Katie Pletcher had told USA Today that the movie studios were getting serious about cutting off film to theaters. “They keep pushing back the deadline, but we think they might actually mean it this time,” she said.

“The drive-in will always be there. It’s going to last longer than I do,” Mertz said.

Wonder Woman is a fine drive-in movie, so I didn’t mind seeing it two nights in a row. Heck, it’s great to be able to see anything on a Wednesday night. The concession stand at the Valle had something close to one of my favorite treats from the drive-ins of my youth – frozen chocolate malts. The weather was perfect, starting in the low 70s and descending during the show. What a great night to be outside!

Miles Today / Total:  217 / 20464 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Wonder Woman / 74

Nearby Restaurant: Another small town, another diner. I’m really glad that the Midtown Cafe in Newton was still open for lunch when I arrived. Since it was Wednesday, I had the Wednesday lunch special – meat loaf. Great comfort food, served up by a true downtown diner, topped off with a slice of great diner pie!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Once again, I was back at a Super 8 motel, and this one’s a Pride of Super 8 award winner. Once again, I got a remodeled room with a mini-fridge, a microwave, and solid wifi. Breakfast included waffles, yogurt, and all the carbs and coffee I wanted.

Only in Newton: Just a few miles southeast of Newton, there’s a 60-foot high statue created from over 200 steel wagon wheels. It was built over 20 years ago by Leonard J. Maasdam when he was 90 years old.

Next stop: Falconwood, Bellevue NE.