May 9: 99W Drive-in, Newberg OR

99W Drive-In marquee at night

photo from the 99W Drive-In web site

It’s Day 129 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Oregon’s another one of those states that look smaller on a map. Sure, I needed to travel almost from border to border heading from Milton-Freewater to Newberg, but it takes driving it to appreciate the four and a half hours it took to get to the 99W Drive-in.

The 99W opened in 1953, and it’s been operated by the Francis family ever since. It’s listed in the National Register of Historic Places “as a rare, remaining, intact example of a drive-in theater.” Owner Brian Francis told KOIN, “People will come in and call it ‘retro,’ which is a little incorrect. It’s actually original. It’s not recreated 50s, it is from 1953.”

The 99W caught a break in 2013 when it was one of the first five winners of a digital projector in Honda’s Project Drive-In contest. Last year, USA Today readers voted it the Best Drive-In in the USA.

A March 2016 article in The Newberg Graphic said that 2015 was was the highest-grossing season that Francis had ever seen. Despite similar weather, he said that crowds before Memorial Day tend to be better than after Labor Day. “There’s a gene in people and the idea of going to a drive-in switches off with them.”

The folks who run the 99W have a nice sense of humor. Check out their rules page, which tells patrons not to start barbecue fires and also addresses the questions that so many FAQs overlook, such as “Are you conveniently located from the Las Vegas Strip?” and “I think the moon is staring at me.” (The answer: “The moon IS staring at you. And it is JUDGING you.”)

Too bad such an historic, top-notch place was closed on a Tuesday night. The 99W is open Fridays through Sundays this time of year.

Miles Today / Total:  263 / 14314 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 59

Nearby Restaurant: There are a lot of excellent, upscale, expensive restaurants in Newberg. Then there’s Burgerville USA, which is a lot easier on the wallet and with food that’s a much better match to the 99W’s retro 50s-original vibe. Burgerville is part of a regional chain boasting great cheeseburgers using nearby Tillimook cheese. Great milkshakes too.

Where I Virtually Stayed: My choice for the night was the Best Western Newberg Inn for a good combination of nice and not too expensive. My king bed room had a coffee maker and a fridge. The wifi worked fine, and breakfast included biscuits and gravy and hard-boiled eggs. This place was just what I needed.

Only in Newberg: Just a few miles northwest of Newberg, Bruce Campbell has been converting a 727 airplane into his place to live.since 1999. What’s more remarkable is that the plane is on a forested hill far from any tarmac. To read about it from an outsider’s perspective, check Roadside America. To read Campbell’s perspective, along with updates, check

Next stop: Skyline Drive-In Theater, Shelton WA.

May 8: Milton-Freewater Drive-In Theater, Milton-Freewater OR

It’s Day 128 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. The fastest way to get from La Grande OR to Milton-Freewater wasn’t the shortest way, but an hour and a half later I arrived at the Milton-Freewater Drive-In Theater.

I was fortunate to find another drive-in video profile, this time for the M-F. (It’s sometimes called the Milton-Freewater, sometimes the M-F, and I’ve got to admit that three characters are a lot easier to type.)

The M-F was built in 1953 and was bought by the Spiess family in 1961. Big bills came in a cluster about 50 years later. The M-F sustained terrible damage (as seen here) during a windstorm in January 2008. “That was the first year we were in charge of day-to-day operations after my parents semi-retired from running it,” Mike Spiess told Ruralite. In 2011, Oregon drinking water laws required them to drill a new well, and they bought a digital projector in 2013.

In 2014, at that time of the Ruralite article, Mike and his wife Lorie owned the M-F and also held down day jobs. “The drive-in is our family hobby,” he said.

The M-F is open Fridays through Sundays this time of year, so I was on my own on a Monday night.

Miles Today / Total:  77 / 14051 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 59

Nearby Restaurant: I’m glad I got to Wee bit O’Heathers in time for lunch. They serve the kind of thin hash browns that mix well with other vegetables, and the cinnamon rolls were amazing. It was kind of crowded, but you know that’s always a good sign for a small-town restaurant.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are some chain hotels across the border in Walla Walla WA, but I wanted to stay in town and same money, so I spent the night at the Out West Motel. Clean, if not fancy, with a fridge and a coffee maker in my room. Sometimes that’s all I need.

Only in Milton-Freewater: There aren’t that many cities with hyphenated names, although there are plenty of newspapers with hyphenated names. In Milton-Freewater’s case, the reason was the same as it typically was for newspapers – a merger. In 1951, the neighboring rival cities of Milton and Freewater voted to merge.

Next stop: 99W Drive-in, Newberg OR.

May 7: La Grande Drive In, La Grande OR

La Grande drive-in marquee

photo from the La Grande Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 127 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took only two hours of I-84 driving to go from Parma ID across the border to the La Grande Drive In in La Grande OR.

The La Grange Drive-In was built in the early 1950s. According to their history page, the current owners bought the La Grande in 1953.

A 2008 article in the Baker City Herald talked with La Grande manager Edna Henderson about the damage it took from a windstorm during the previous off-season. “We rebuilt three-fourths of it,” she said, adding that it took about four weeks to rebuild because workers had to work around the weather. Back then, the La Grange hosted an average of 225 cars per weekend.

The Observer of La Grande wrote about the drive-in at the opening of the 2013 season with its new digital projector. “For some moviegoers like Theresa Curtiss, the drive-in is one of the only ways to pass the time in La Grande, but is a good way to have a relaxing night. ‘There’s just nothing else to do except the drive-in now,’ she said.”

It was great to chalk up another movie experience on a Sunday night, and I also got a break after three straight viewings of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. On the other hand, the movie was one I’d already seen, the latest Smurfs installment. Oh well!

Miles Today / Total:  131 / 13974 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Smurfs: The Lost Village / 59

Nearby Restaurant: After checking out several interesting restaurants in La Grande, only to find them closed on Sundays, I settled for Denny’s. This one had a bar attached, which is pretty unusual, and pushed a variety of hamburgers for lunch, which is pretty standard. I like being able to get a full breakfast in the middle of the day, especially when my previous hotel’s continental version was a bit light. What can I say? Denny’s worked.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I didn’t have breakfast problems at Sunday night’s hotel, the Best Western Plus Rama Inn. First came soup and cookies in the evening, followed by sausage, bacon, and scrambled eggs with breakfast the next morning. In between, I had a comfy room with good wifi and a fridge. I was happy with my choice for the night.

Only in La Grande: According to Wikipedia, La Grande was home to a huge sugar beet refinery built by Oregon Sugar Company in 1898. The region was never very productive for sugar beets; in 1908, the factory only operated on 28 days due to low yields. The factory, “a mistake from the beginning and soon recognized as such”, was shuttered in 1912.

Next stop: Milton-Freewater Drive-In Theater, Milton-Freewater OR.