Narrow Gauge gets ready for 2024

Narrow Gauge Drive-In screen at twilight with sunset in the background
Photo from the Narrow Gauge Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Spring, time for some drive-in theater news. In Maine, the Narrow Gauge Drive-In was in the news for its preparations for another season. (Also, I’ve somehow overlooked the Narrow Gauge for years.)

According to a Breaking News Network story, the Narrow Gauge endured flooding last December that damaged its infrastructure. Owner John Moore said he plans to rebuild and reopen in April.

The Narrow Gauge looks like a typical pandemic-inspired drive-in, sitting behind the indoor Narrow Gauge Cinema and holding just 60 cars. However, it opened in July 2017, so I can’t use that as an excuse why I hadn’t noticed it. Moore has added a performance stage under the screen, and has held comedy and music concerts there.

In previous seasons, the Narrow Gauge has based its admission price on the Carload, including popcorn and sodas. I’m always happy to see that. They haven’t announced anything for this year. In any event, it’s great to add another drive-in to the Carload list.

Saco Hosts World Premiere

Saco Drive-In marquee

photo from the Saco Drive-In Facebook page

The Lewiston ME Sun Journal reported last week that local man J.R. Fortin premiered his web-based video series at the Saco Drive-In last weekend. Fortin shot scenes in at least 10 Maine towns, from Hollis to Mechanic Falls.

The trailer for “Hearts of New England” won the Gold Medal for Best Trailer at the Cleveland International Film Festival earlier this year. It tells the story of three war veterans and their different reactions to life after they return home.

The Sun Journal said that Fortin, who wrote, directed, and starred in the series, was surprised that the Saco would be available. “It was a shot in the dark to see if the theater would say yes,” he said. I just think it’s great that this 80-year-old drive-in can stay relevant in this age of online video.

Sept. 20: The Saco Drive In, Saco ME

It’s Day 263 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was another day in the suburbs of Portland ME, requiring less than half an hour to drive from the Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook to The Saco Drive In in Saco ME.

The Saco is the second-oldest drive-in still operating; only Shankweilers Drive-In Theatre in Orefield PA predates it. Based on the list in Kerry Segrave’s Drive-In Theaters, the Saco is probably one of the first couple dozen drive-ins ever built. It opened on July 15, 1939, a decade before in-car speakers came to town, so those first patrons must have been listening to the single loudspeaker with their windows open. Back then it was called the Saco Open Air Theatre.

According to Camille Smalley’s book The Saco Drive-In: Cinema Under the Maine Sky, Eugene Boragine and two partners were the Saco’s first owners. The drive-in closed for the duration of World War II, then reopened in July 1946. About 1950, Boragine bought out the partners and ran the place with his wife Helen Toth. In 1952, he changed its name to the Saco Motor-In Theatre, then again in 1954 to just the Saco Drive-In.

Smalley wrote that the Saco was resold “only a few times,” and Segrave’s book says it was put up for sale in 1987. An article in The Free Press of the University of Southern Maine said that Pat Roberge’s husband bought it in 1986, saying they had leased it to others during the next 25 years. As of 2014, it was still owned by Roberge Construction.

In 2011, Ry Russell and a couple of USM marketing classmates began leasing the Saco. They raised $20,000 to cover the start-up costs and were off to take a 21st-century approach to management. They built up a social media following which happened to pay off in 2013 when Project Honda offered a digital projectors to drive-ins that could garner the most votes. “You could say we were running for this contest before it even started,” Russell later told Portland Monthly (pdf).

For the YouTube video of the day, I picked the clip from WMTW, Portland’s News Leader, about the Saco’s victory in Project Honda.

This time of year, the Saco is still showing movies on Fridays and Saturdays. But not Wednesdays, giving me another night off.

Miles Today / Total: 14 / 30959 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 166

Nearby Restaurant: For the old-fashioned diner I wanted to substitute for missing out on the drive-in, I saw that the Auto Mile Diner even had a car in the name. The “diner” part was more authentic than retro-styled, and the superb biscuits and gravy made me glad I visited.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It had been so long since I stayed at a Hampton Inn that I jumped at the chance here in Saco. Modern, comfy room with a work desk, though no fridge. Hampton standard (good) breakfast with hot and cold options. Just a solid, reliable place.

Only in Saco: Just up US 1 from the drive-in is Scarborough’s Len Libby Candies, home of a life-sized chocolate moose. His name, of course, is Lenny, and he weighs 1700 pounds. They say he’s “the world’s largest chocolate animal sculpture,” which makes me wonder what larger animals there might be that would lend themselves to chocolate artistry.

Next stop: Weirs Drive-In Theatre, Laconia NH.