How are you doing?

For this cropped bit of stock photography, do you know which drive-in was holding this religious service? I sure don’t. © Depositphotos / everett225

Hi there! Are you well? I sure hope so. I’m sorry and a little embarrassed to have left you without fresh posts for so long. 2020 has been a very strange year, and its effect on drive-ins has also been very strange. Writing about anything so small and relatively unimportant feels like The News for Parrots, but this is a drive-in theater blog.

First, this new blog theme is jarring, but a WordPress update broke the menus on the theme I had been using. I’ll need some time to find a good replacement with a dark background like a drive-in Saturday night. At least this one still seems okay on phones as well as desktops.

Now, about my absence here for a few months. At the start, I was researching my next drive-in book, Drive-Ins of Colorado. That book should be out around the end of September, a date which seems much closer than it used to. Then the pandemic hit, locking out all in-person research tools and making me question what’s really important in life. The feeling passed after a few weeks, and I went back to work on the Colorado book and on updating last year’s book, Drive-Ins of Route 66.

Two quick notes: If you have any photos of Colorado’s drive-ins, especially those that aren’t active any more, that you’d like to offer for inclusion into that book, please drop me a line at mkilgore (at) by August 24. And if you would like to peruse a first draft PDF (free, and worth every penny) of the book in exchange for noticing my mistakes, send me an email at the same address. That PDF should be ready before Labor Day.

Oh, yes, the blog. There has been too much news about drive-ins this year. Some were blocked from opening. Others were encouraged to open. Concession stands were closed. Concessions were being sold at the box office. Some drive-ins reopened their concession stands and returned to the practice of blocking outside food. Pop-up drive-ins sprouted all over. Nobody had any fresh movies to show.

I feel especially bad about not really being able to maintain the list of active drive-ins. What’s there is correct as of January 2020, but what does an accurate list look like today? What does it mean when an established drive-in can’t open because of state or local mandates? When a pop-up opens in an indoor theater parking lot, is that really a new drive-in?

All of this is one tiny part of world upheaval. Over half a million painful deaths from the Covid virus. Society mostly shut down, then partially reopened into partial paranoia. A growing awareness that persons of color are less likely to have successful interactions with law enforcement than pale folks like me. Discussions of moving election dates, deciding which votes to count, and what are okay ways to vote. (Carload World HQ is in Colorado, an all-mail ballot state, yet I don’t feel corrupt.)

That’s why it’s hard for me to generate sufficient enthusiasm to relay a summary of the upcoming Metallica concert for drive-ins, or the new pop-up Motorama in Santa Fe NM, or even winds knocking down the long-closed Hill-Top’s screen in Joliet IL, although I do need to update the Route 66 book for that last one. I’ll drop by again when I have more news of my Colorado book, and maybe I’ll also find something else I’d enjoy sharing with you. Thanks always for dropping by.

I Found An New Old Drive-In

1954 aerial photo of the County Drive-InOne of my current projects involves drive-in theater history, and I just couldn’t find the location of the first one in Tucumcari NM. Let me tell you about the steps that led me to the glop of virtual asphalt that filled this pothole in my knowledge.

I post a lot of notes (as NeonMichael) at Cinema Treasures, a non-profit site dedicated to all movie theaters, indoors and drive-ins. For months there, we contributors had been baffled by the County Drive-In of Tucumcari. According to the Motion Picture Almanac series and the Theatre Catalogs, the County opened around 1949 and stayed active into the late 1950s. Those same sources also list the Canal Drive-In, which opened by 1951 and held on till perhaps the mid 1970s.

The earliest easily accessible Tucumcari aerial photos at Historic Aerials are from 1967, and the earliest topo map is from 1971. Both show the Canal, still active then, but no trace of the County. Nothing along the highways leading out of town showed the familiar pattern of drive-in screen, projection booth, and arcs of viewing ramps.

There was (is!) so little info about the County that one Cinema Treasures commenter suggested that the Canal began as the County. Drive-ins change names and cause historians confusion often enough, but there were so many concurrent listings in both contemporary drive-in directories that I figured that the County was its own place. But where?

It’s a lot less convenient than Historic Aerials, and more prone to outages, but the Earth Explorer page at the US Geological Survey site has some advantages. USGS graphics are in the public domain, and more importantly, the site offers aerial photos available nowhere else.

Yesterday afternoon, I spent about an hour drilling down into available aerial photos of Tucumcari. Skipping the images of cloud cover and those that didn’t include the entire town, I got lucky with one shot taken Oct. 10, 1954. The date was perfect for what I needed. There was the Canal on the west side. So I scanned the other highways leaving town and – nothing. No hint of a field of viewing arcs. No screen. Was the County just another name for the Canal?

I tried again, starting from the highways at the edges of the photos and slowly scanning back towards the center. And that’s when I finally found the County. (That’s the relevant piece of the photo at the top of this post.) It was also on the west side, but so close to the middle of town that Tucumcari had grown around it. Its screen cast a shadow, as did its north fence. The County also featured an uncommonly wide, unusually close projector building, which probably included a concession stand and may have offered indoor seating.

Knowing its location, I double-checked the 1967 aerial. Sure enough, that wide building and traces of the viewing arcs were still faintly visible, though not enough to notice without the location hint.

I discovered the County’s location like Columbus discovered America; some of the locals there already knew all about it. I’m sure that I had been in Tucumcari, old-timers could have told me about the County, and the local library’s old newspapers would have also told me the story. But working from Carload World Headquarters in Denver, it was so satisfying to find the proof online that the County was really there.

Video: NM’s Fiesta Closing

Carlsbad NM’s Fiesta Drive-In Theatre, which has three screens, digital projectors, and some wonderful neon signage, will reportedly closed for good after this weekend.

According to Cinema Treasures, the Fiesta opened with a single screen in 1948. (It’s listed in my 1949 Theatre Catalog that way.) It closed in 1970, but was completely rebuilt in 1989 as a three screen drive-in. According to KOB, Albuquerque’s News Leader, the Fiesta was reopened by Brad Light in 1990. He passed away in 2010 and the Fiesta went dark until his daughter, Sidney Light, reopened it again in 2012.

Sidney made the announcement on November 29th on the drive-in’s Facebook page. “It’s with great sadness that I regret to inform everyone that Fiesta Drive-In will be closing permanently after the movie showings on December 9th. I have already sold the place.” The post blamed declining audiences and a desire to move on.

It’s a small comfort that the drive-in gave locals a chance to experience it one last time, but it’s so sad that Light, who reopened in 2012 to keep her father’s legacy going and because she “knew it was a huge thing in this town,” apparently couldn’t find a buyer willing to keep the Fiesta running. Even though I got some nice photos on the place in 2013, I’m sad that I’ll never get a chance to watch a movie there.