May 21: Amusement Park Drive-in Theatre, Billings MT

It’s Day 141 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I drove across state lines for the sixth straight day, but it was the shortest of that bunch. In just an hour and a half, I motored from Powell WY to the Amusement Park Drive-in Theatre in Billings MT.

According to the Amusement Park’s history page, currently inactive but captured by the Internet Archive, the screen, marquee and sign are from the Park Drive-In, which operated in Cody WY from 1946 to 2003. Owners Riley and Vickie Cooke rebuilt the screen and opened in Billings in July 2005.

Like the Admiral Twin Drive-In in Tulsa, only smaller, the Amusement Park uses both sides of a single screen for two viewing areas. The front projection booth is a 1909 caboose, and the back projection booth is a 1938 circus truck purchased for $300.

There are amusement park rides at the base of the screen, along with a small mini-golf course, but it’s unclear whether they’re still in operation.

The Amusement Park installed two digital projectors in 2013, and Billings’ News Leader KULR was on hand, resulting in the video embedded above.

Riley Cooke told the Billings Gazette in 2015 that he was trying to recover the cost of those digital projectors. “It was go digital or go dark,” Cooke said. “I figure I’m not a businessman, I’m a showman, like P.T. Barnum or Buffalo Bill, but didn’t they die destitute or drunk?”

At this time of year, the Amusement Park is only open Fridays and Saturdays, leaving me out of luck on a Sunday night.

Miles Today / Total:  85 / 16636 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 63

Nearby Restaurant: Oh yes, I was ready for this. The Oktoberfest German Restaurant serves up the kind of cuisine I hadn’t been able to find for weeks. The “Montana Schnitzel” tasted just like the pork cutlet schnitzels I’ve grown to love. Served with Hofbräu Original beer, my favorite. What a great way to spend a Sunday!

Where I Virtually Stayed: Even though it’s supposed to be nice, I’m too superstitious to stay at a place called the Boothill Inn. Instead, I chose a good old Hilton Garden Inn, which is closer to the Amusement Park rather than an old cemetery. My room had a fridge, a microwave, and good wifi. There was a bar for unwinding in the evening and a free (for us Hilton Gold folks) breakfast in the morning. It left me ready for another trip across the border.

Only in Billings: Over a month ago, in Cuba MO, we found one of the old shoes of Robert Wadlow, the World’s Tallest Man. There’s another one in Billings at Al’s Bootery. Unlike that Cuba shoe store, Al’s opened after Wadlow passed away, so it didn’t get the shoe during one of his promotional tours. How did they acquire it? I just don’t know. Update: From the horse’s mouth: Al’s Bootery was a spinoff from Depner’s Shoe Repair that goes back into the early 1900’s. The shoe was acquired by someone at Depners then handed off to Al Jenkins who started Al’s Bootery and Repair Shop in 1946.

Next stop: Clearwater Drive-In Theater, Kyle SK.

May 19: Silver Bow Drive In, Butte MT

Concession stand window reflecting sunset clouds

photo from the Silver Bow Drive-In web site

It’s Day 139 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving to my fourth state / province in as many days, it was another five hours to go from Grangeville ID to the Silver Bow Drive In just west of Butte MT.

The Silver Bow was built by the Hansen Family in 1977, and it’s been owned and operated by them ever since. It began with a single screen, then added a second in 1980. In 2004 the second screen was rebuilt and expanded. The Silver Bow shows just a single movie each on those two screens.

The concession stand and projection booth, built by Jens Hansen I, were moved by the Hansens from the Rustic Drive-In of Deer Lodge MT when they built the Silver Bow. A 2003 article in the Montana Standard suggested that Silver Bow is really just the Rustic relocated.

That article mentioned the long history and determination of the Silver Bow and the people who ran it. “In late August 1992, six inches of snow blanketed the Butte area. (Operator Mark) Hansen was undaunted. ‘You could see the picture in the snow,’ he said.”

With a choice of two movies, I didn’t have to watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for a fifth time. (I have a feeling that sentence should end with “yet”.) Instead, I chose the other feature, the R-rated Mothers Day comedy Snatched. Goldie Hawn was amazing in Laugh-In; I really believed she was a ditz as I watched that show live when I was too young to know any better. Good to see her still getting work at 72.

Miles Today / Total:  284 / 16265 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Snatched / 62

Nearby Restaurant: After seeing it on Man vs. Food, I had to visit the Freeway Tavern, home of a Butte tradition. The Wop Chop pork chop sandwich is a whole pork chop deep-fried, covered with mustard and pickles, and served on a bun. Fight that tasty grease with a cold beer for a balanced, albeit unhealthy, one-of-a-kind meal.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It’s hard to go wrong at a Hampton Inn, and the wifi here was especially peppy. I splurged an extra $9 on a larger room; sometimes it just feels better to be able to swing my arms. In addition to a comfy king bed, the “study” had a fridge and microwave. Breakfast was the standard, solid Hampton fare. In a week of long drives, my stay was a dose of predictability, in a good way.

Only in Butte: One of the most historic places in Butte is the Dumas Brothel Museum. According to Wikipedia, the Dumas was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 while it was still an active house of prostitution. When it closed in 1982, it was the longest operating brothel in the United States, having operated for 92 years, long after prostitution was outlawed.

Next stop: American Dream Drive-In, Powell WY.

Montana drive-in goes digital

KULR, Billings MT’s news leader, had a nice story about the Amusement Park Drive-In just northeast of Laurel, which completed its conversion to digital projection. What sets this apart from all the other digital conversion stories is (a) it’s in Montana, (b) it includes video, and (c) I just love the name Amusement Park Drive-In.

Riley Cooke, co-owner of the theater, recalled the pre-digital days when something sometimes went wrong with the big film loop, made of spliced film from individual reels. “We had things called ‘brain wrap’, where it looks like a Christmas Tree,” Cooke said. “The film piled up, and you get to tell everybody out there ‘thanks for coming. This movie’s over until we spend about four hours straightening this mess up!'”

The story is really just an accurate retelling of the video segment, but the Cookes make it worth watching. So one way or another, go check it out!