Nov. 20: Sunset Drive In Theatre, Shelby NC

Sunset Drive-In marquee

Photo from the Sunset Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 324 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After catching a Sunday night movie, I was back on the road for another 3½ hours from the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre in Henderson NC to the Sunset Drive In Theatre just west of Shelby NC.

The Sunset opened around 1952 and was owned by the regional Colonial Theatres chain until the 1980s. Colonial was based in Valdese NC, and at the time it built or acquired the Sunset, it’s first drive-in, the chain was run by general manager G. D. Carpenter.

Rick Stinnett, whose family built and ran the Bessemer City Kings Mountain Drive-In until it closed after the 2014 season, bought the Sunset in 1984. He spent $100,000 to remodel and convert the projection room in early 2014.

“This is something I’ve done all my life,” Stinnett told The Charlotte Observer that year. “I don’t know what else I’d do.”

And I’m sad to say that’s about all I could find about the Sunset Drive-In. I’m glad it’s still alive, but it won’t be until next spring that it’ll be showing movies again. It’s just another dark night in November for me.

Miles Today / Total: 230 / 37067 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 194

Nearby Restaurant: The Shelby Cafe serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and after too many days of too long drives, I wanted some comfort food. The chicken pot pie with green beans and mashed potatoes was perfect for my mood, and glancing at the breakfast menu, I knew I’d be back soon.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I took a chance on something called WoodSpring Suites because it was well-regarded yet less than half the cost of the Hampton Inn. It’s one of those places designed for long-term stays, complete with full refrigerators in the rooms, but they’re willing to rent by the night. The rooms are uncomplicated, but mine had everything I needed. I was on my own for breakfast, but The Shelby Cafe had me covered.

Only in Shelby: Shelby is home to the Earl Scruggs Center, a museum and event space celebrating combines the life story of legendary five-string banjo master and Cleveland County native, Earl Scruggs. He learned to play in nearby Flint Hill and began his three-finger playing style best known for its use on the Beverly Hillbillies Theme.

Next stop: Stateline Drive-in, Elizabethton TN.

Nov. 19: Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre (Part 2), Henderson NC

It’s Day 323 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This day marked what I hope will be a singular oddity this year – I’m returning to a drive-in because its digital projector was on the fritz on my first visit. Which is why I drove 3½ hours from Hound’s Drive-In in Kings Mountain NC back to the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre in Henderson NC.

If you’ll recall, the Raleigh Road opened as the Moon-Glo in 1949 and changed its name after it was bought in 1977 by N.T. “Tinker” Lyles. (I now notice the Warren Record says the name change was at the insistence of the former owner, Sonny Stevenson.) When we last left our story, Mark and Jennifer Frank had purchased the drive-in in late 2011 from Megan and Jim Kopp, who we’ve since met again as the current owner of the Family Drive-In.

The Fayetteville Observer wrote in 2015 that the Franks had owned and operated the Keysville Drive-In in Keysville VA, which reopened for a few years beginning in 2009, but sold it to focus on the Raleigh Road. “I just got this cockamamie idea I was going to resurrect a drive-in movie theater,” he said of entering the outdoor business.

The Raleigh Road’s 80×60 foot screen is made of roofing materials, and the concessions building, now including a digital projector as well as the kitchen, looks much as it did in 1949. “I call it a bunker,” Mark said with a laugh.

The Observer also noted that the Raleigh Road’s capacity is 265 cars, are there have nights where they’ve had to turn away cars 45 minutes before showtime. “Most Fridays or Saturdays,” Mark said, “you better get there early or you might not get in.”

IndyWeek ran a story in 2014 in advance of the drive-in’s conversion to digital projection. “We’ve done some of the work already,” Mark said. “We had to redo the electrical; the building is from 1949. We’re basically going from a 1957 Chevy, very simple to work on, to the world’s biggest iPad.”

For a really nice story of what the drive-in is like these days, you should read the article / review written just two months ago by Kay Whatley at the Grey Area News. “Being outside under the sky, later all the stars, was cool as heck,” she wrote. There are also a half-dozen photos, so you really should go read it!

The embedded video of the day is from Vimeo, a short with the Franks when they were still using film. I like the way it shows off the “bunker” concession stand and other parts of the Raleigh Road. You might also want to check out the Facebook Live videos that the staff whipped up this season.

This was my third viewing of Justice League in four days. Thor: Ragnarok, which I’ve also seen three times, was better. Just sayin’.

Miles Today / Total: 221 / 37067 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Justice League / 194

Nearby Restaurant: It was time for another regional chain, Ribeyes Steakhouse. It delivered what the name promised, a fine ribeye steak, and it came with a baked potato and a very nice salad bar in a casual setting. I can see why other towns would want one of these.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Last time I was here, I chose a different hotel to save money. This visit, I ponied up for the Hampton Inn. There were all the great Hampton touches such as coffee and cookies waiting at check-in, my comfortable room had all the modern amenities, and the solid buffet included in the Hampton breakfast. It was a nice place to relax after a long drive.

Only in Henderson (again): Less than 20 minutes up the highway from Henderson is Soul City, a planned community first proposed in 1969 by Floyd McKissick, a civil rights leader and director of the Congress of Racial Equality. Soul City was to be a mixed-use town, with houses, factories, and stores in one convenient location, populated by people of all races. The city never came close to its lofty projections, and its only industrial building, Soultech 1, was purchased by the adjoining Warren County Correctional Institution for expansion.

Next stop: Sunset Drive In Theatre, Shelby NC.

Nov. 18: Hound’s Drive-In, Kings Mountain NC

It’s Day 322 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Because I’m still connecting the dots for the only drive-ins still showing movies in mid-November, I drove over six hours from the Family Drive-In Theatre southwest of Stephens City VA to Hound’s Drive-In in Kings Mountain NC.

The Brown family opened Hound’s last year at its campground there. As documented at the Shelby Star, owner Mike “Hound” Brown previously owned the local indoor theater from 1978-90, and his son Preston worked there in his youth.

“We just miss the theater experience back when we were younger,” Preston said. “We liked it. It was fun and exciting and we’ve always wanted to get back into it.”

After another nearby drive-in closed in 2014, the Browns saw the opportunity to open their own. They built a 100×50 foot screen and a digital projection booth to serve it. The lot holds about 500-800 cars, depending on how closely they get packed. A concession stand serves fast-food dinners as well as the typical theater snacks.

The Gaston Gazette followed up in June this year, and it reported that Hound’s is a hit. “I expected it to do well, but I didn’t expect it to do as well as it’s done,” Preston said.

Thanks in part to overflow crowds, the Browns are building a second screen, which should be ready by the start of the 2018 season. You can see it on the embedded YouTube video of the day, which was uploaded just last month. The Gazette said that Preston also wants to add a third screen. The crowds he’s seen so far should support three screenings a night, he said.

The Hound’s Drive-In web site says that this is a “Double Feature Weekend” showing “Polar Express, Justice League and The Kingsman”. I hope that doesn’t mean that I can only pick two of those movies to watch. At any rate, I only count the earliest flick, which means it’s my first time this year to watch The Polar Express. I wonder if I’ll see it at any other Christmas special nights next month.

Miles Today / Total: 382 / 36846 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: The Polar Express / 193

Nearby Restaurant: After driving most of the day, I took my fast dinner at the other drive-in in Kings Mountain, Blackwood’s Drive-In restaurant. I skipped past all the burgers and ordered a ribeye steak sandwich and an order of fries. My order was delivered to my car, just like the drive-in restaurants of old. Great nostalgia, great sandwich.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It looks like the best place to stay in Kings Mountain is the Holiday Inn Express. It was nice in every way. There were warm cookies waiting at check-in. My comfortable room had all the modern amenities. And I’d forgotten how I’d missed the HIE cinnamon rolls as part of the very nice HIE free breakfast in the morning.

Only in Kings Mountain: The city of Kings Mountain was once called White Plains, but it was renamed in honor of the nearby Battle of Kings Mountain, which took place October 7, 1780. The decisive victory by the Patriot militia over the Loyalist militia greatly raised the Patriots’ morale. With his Loyalist militia beaten, British General Cornwallis was forced to abandon his plan to invade North Carolina and retreated into South Carolina.

Next stop: Raleigh Road Outdoor Theatre, Henderson NC.