Sept. 17: Skowhegan Drive-In, Skowhegan ME

It’s Day 260 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It only took an hour to drive from Bangor to the Skowhegan Drive-In in Skowhegan ME.

The Skowhegan was built by Lockwood & Gordon Co. of Boston in 1954, according to an article in the Press Herald. At some point, ownership passed to Doug Corson, who was “involved with the drive-in since graduating from Skowhegan High School in 1956.”

In 2012, Corson sold the Skowhegan to Donald C. Brown Jr., who had run the Diamond State Drive-in in Felton DE before its lease ran out. The Press Herald article said the purchase price “took into consideration … the upgrades that were necessary, including the upcoming digital conversion.”

Less than two years later, Brown launched a FundRazr campaign to pay for digital projection equipment. “The quick conversion to digital by Hollywood movie producers took him by surprise,” wrote ““The model the drive-in operates on isn’t viable anymore,” Brown said. “It’s not just the digital projection system itself. It’s the maintenance that goes along with it. … that’s the uncertainty that the Skowhegan faces.”

Somehow the drive-in endured and found its new projectors. Dated February 2017, the last post on that FundRaze page read, “We’d like to thank all of the patrons of the Skowhegan Drive-In who helped us go digital. We didn’t get the full amount, but at least the amount we raised helped with the installation costs.”

It’s also got a nicely restored sign, as I wrote about last year. The town of Skowhegan and the state offered facade grants to small businesses outside of downtown. Brown got a little over $8,000, and now the neon-lit Skowhegan Drive-In Theatre sign is back.

For the video of the day, I could have embedded a short visit to the Skowhegan, but when would I get another opportunity to use a full drive-in tour conducted by small stuffed animals?

Miles Today / Total: 53 / 30815 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: It / 166

Nearby Restaurant: One of the great things about a short drive is that I arrive in time for breakfast. Combine that with a buffet, and you’ve found the place I want to visit, in this cast Ken’s Family Restaurant. All the bacon I could eat! Made-to-order omelettes! Biscuits and gravy! Donuts! Coffee! It’s a great way to get full enough to skip lunch and dinner.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are a few cute little motels in Skowhegan; the one I chose is The Towne Motel. It’s no chain hotel, but my room had the full set of modern amenities including wifi. Unlike a lot of small motels, the modest price included a modest continental breakfast. It got me going!

Only in Skowhegan: Skowhegan has the world’s tallest Indian statue, 62 feet tall with a 20-foot base. The engraved wooden sign at the statue’s base reads: “Dedicated to the Maine Indians, the first people to use these lands in peaceful ways.” The indigenous Abenaki people named the area Skowhegan, meaning “watching place (for fish).”

Next stop: Bridgton Twin Drive-In, Bridgton ME.

Sept. 16: Bangor Drive-In, Hermon ME

It’s Day 259 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I ended the Canadian portion of the trek this day, driving four hours from the Neptune Drive-In in Shediac New Brunswick to the Bangor Drive-In, built in Bangor but thanks to shifting boundaries, now just across the border in the town of Hermon ME.

Thanks to Steve Ginn’s wonderful YouTube history of the Bangor, I found almost all the details of the drive-in all in one place. The drive-in opened in June 1950 with a large single screen. Through the 1970s, it showed mostly mainstream movies with the occasional stag film night mixed in.

A storm blew down the original screen on Jan. 8, 1978. It was replaced that year by the two screens that survive today.

AM Radio sound was added before the 1985 season, which is odd because the Bangor abruptly closed on July 24, 1985. By noon on the 25th, every speaker had been removed. The eight-screen Bangor Mall Cinemas, owned by the same company as the drive-in, opened on the 26th.

The drive-in sat for almost 30 years, its grounds falling into disrepair but those recently built aluminum and steel screens holding up just fine. In 2015, Cinema Bangor LLC renovated and rebuilt the Bangor. The irony here is that the LLC also owned that same Bangor Mall Cinema. The company is fronted by partner Carol Epstein, whose father opened the drive-in in 1950.

The Bangor Daily News related Epstein’s excitement about the project. “[The drive-in] was a big piece of my childhood and I think for a lot of people it was a big piece of their childhood,” she said. Now everything is modern, including the digital projection of course, and the drive-in charges by the carload, which I prefer for some reason.

A special preview night was the occasion for the embedded YouTube video of the day. A radio morning crew visited, and I only hope they didn’t have to get up at 5 am or whatever the next day to work their shift.

How popular is the Stephen King movie It? (Well, his house is in Bangor.) On screen one, the Bangor is showing It followed by Annabelle: Creation. On screen two, the Bangor is showing It followed by The Hitman’s Bodyguard. With a choice like that, I watched It.

Miles Today / Total: 285 / 30762 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: It / 165

Nearby Restaurant: I’m glad I made it here in time for a late lunch at Friars’ Bakehouse. Run by the Franciscan Brothers of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, they offer seemingly simple dishes that taste better than one would expect. My chicken pot pie was amazing, and their signature bread was worth buying extra to save for later.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Comfort Inn in Bangor had everything I needed for my return to the USA. There were cheese, crackers, and cookies available as evening snacks. My room had a fridge and microwave; it never hurts to ask. And in the morning, the solid Comfort breakfast of waffles, meat, eggs and the continental regulars had me ready for a new day.

Only in Hermon Bangor: At Pickering Square, a pedestrian circle downtown, if you stand in the center and clap your hands, you’ll hear the echo as a squeak. The phenomenon has been reported by several sources, but no one knows exactly why it happens. If you want to try it, don’t go when it’s snowy (it doesn’t work then) but go soon; the city wants to modify the parking garage at one end and hopes it won’t change the acoustics.

Next stop: Skowhegan Drive-In, Skowhegan ME.

Sept. 9: Skylite Drive-In, Madawaska ME

Skylite Drive-In movie poster "marquee"

Photo from the Skylite Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 252 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As much as I dislike border crossings these days, it only made sense to stop over on my way from Mont-Saint-Hilaire QC to New Brunswick at the only drive-in within walking distance of the Canadian border, the Skylite Drive-In in Madawaska ME. The drive took a solid five hours, not counting time at the border.

Once upon a time, there was the Madawaska Drive-In. It opened in 1952 or so and survived until at least 1969. Then in mid-1970s, there’s no trace of it. In 1978, a different owner either took over the old Madawaska or built a new one. In either case, that drive-in was on Highway 1 southwest of town. It operated at least until 1988, and the site was redeveloped between 1999 and 2007.

And actually, that whole story has very little to do with the Skylite, which opened in 1973 by a Mr. Pelletier. It was a little larger than the Madawaska, if that still existed when the Skylite opened, and the two were definitely competitors into the 1980s. Some sources were getting the two a little confused, which is why I brought it up.

The Skylite’s history, in contrast, is both clear and straightforward. As documented last year by the local newspaper, the Fiddlehead Focus, “Since 1983, Donna and Gary Pelletier have owned and operated the Skylite Drive-In on 11th Avenue in Madawaska. The couple purchased the business from his father, and the traditional summer entertainment venue is now in its fifth generation, with the Pelletiers’ 5-year old granddaughter Kaitlyn Ferree handing out cool-pops to patrons during the warm weather months.”

The Skylite waited until the last minute, early 2016, to install digital projection but that worked out well. The drive-in is open seven days a week, perhaps helped by the relatively early sunsets at the eastern edge of the Eastern time zone; on this night the one movie started before 7:30. That sounds doable even on a weeknight.

So I kicked back with the Skylite’s signature fried Oreo, enjoyed watching The House for the first time in a couple of months, and felt as northeastern as I could get. Until I cross the border and get even more northeastern next week.

Miles Today / Total: 334 / 29084 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The House / 162

Nearby Restaurant: Everyone told me that I had to try Dolly’s Restaurant, and they were right. The special was chicken stew and ployes, and they were amazing. Apparently there’s a French Canadian way to make that stew, and I had just dodged it somehow during my week in Quebec. And it turned out that Dolly’s is named for Odette Pelletier, who bought it in 1987.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There aren’t a lot of choices on this side of the border, though I was quite happy with the Inn of Acadia. My room had a mini-fridge and a Keurig, the wifi was solid, and the continental breakfast included ployes. I’d call them wheatcakes, but I guess they’re darker on one side like a crepe. I love local, tasty treats!

Only in Madawaska: Motorcyclists from across the US visit the granite monument in Four Corners Park marking it as the northeast corner of the country. The Four Corners Tour of the Southern California Motorcycle Club includes stops at San Ysidro CA, Blaine WA, and Key West FL.

Next stop: Cine-Parc Satellite, Paquetville NB.