June 3: Midway Drive-in Theatre, Miller SD

Midway Drive-In marquee

photo from the Midway Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 154 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Once again I was fortunate enough to have a fairly short drive, less than an hour from the Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre just north of Redfield to the Midway Drive-in Theatre north of Miller.

According to a photo on the Midway’s Facebook page, Ernest Schweigerdt and John Kirschenman built the drive-in in 1953, midway between the towns of Miller and St. Lawrence. The original projector lasted until the Midway switched to digital projection in 2012.

In 1963, Schweigerdt’s son-in-law and daughter, Marvin and Alyce Oligmueller, purchased the drive-in. On an August evening in 1968, a violent storm blew down the wooden screen in the middle of a movie. Within a week and a half, a new metal screen was erected and movies were shown throughout the rest of the summer.

In 2004, Midway Drive-In came under the ownership of Sally and Duane Resel, Stephan and Lori Resel, Sarah Resel, Mike and Nan Donlin and Stephanie and the late Jim Bonebright.

In 2014, Mike Donlin told the Rapid City Journal that the Midway Drive-in was still getting by financially. “We’re sitting fine,” he said. “I’ve never really figured out what we make in wages, but we pay all our bills and everything and people have a good time. That’s all I really care about.”

Even though the latest Wimpy Kid entry has been out for a while, I hadn’t run into it yet. I suppose it kept my eyes occupied while my mouth worked on popcorn and a bar-b-dog. I’m always thankful for another night at the movies.

Miles Today / Total:  49 / 19765 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul / 70

Nearby Restaurant: Funny how one word can change everything. The Hi-Lite Bar and Lounge sounds like a smoky dive, but the Hi-Lite Steakhouse and Lounge sounds more like a restaurant. Good thing they made that change, because the menu’s got something for everyone. I had the mushroom, onion, and provolone burger. And beer, of course.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Another small town in South Dakota, another Super 8, but this time there was an alternative. The Dew Drop Inn Motel is one of those mom and pop motels that take care of the rooms personally. Mine had a microwave, a fridge, and decent wifi.

Only in Miller: On Thursday, I saw the pheasant statue in Gregory SD. On Friday, I saw the pheasant statue in Redfield. Today I saw two statues, but they weren’t pheasants. As related in Roadside America, at the intersection of the two main highways in Miller, there are statues of cattle on 8-foot poles – a Hereford on the north side, an Angus to the south.

Next stop: TK-Starlite Drive-In, Neligh NE.

June 2: Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre, Redfield SD

Aerial photo of the entire Pheasant City Drive-in lot

photo from the Pheasant City Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 153 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. As I zigzag to find open drive-ins, I headed north from Gregory SD for a three-hour drive to the Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre just north of Redfield.

According to the Pheasant City’s history page, it opened in August 1953 as the Sioux Drive-In. It was the fourth Sioux of Dan Peterson’s State Theatre Company, joining its brothers in Brookings, Pierre, and Rapid City.

Don and Kay Archer bought Redfield’s Sioux in 1963. Kay’s parents had operated the drive-in, and the Rainbow Drive-In in Gettysburg SD, for many years. Don was teaching in Tulare SD, so the Sioux was a good summer job.

About 1970, the Archers moved to Chamberlain. In 1972, they sold the Sioux to Tom and Letha Gallup, who renamed it Pheasant City.

According to the Rapid City Journal, the drive-in was “on the brink of closure” when Dave and Stacey Marlow and her parents bought it in 2014 and installed a digital projector. “We just didn’t want to see it close,” Stacey Marlow said. “If it was closed, our community would lose something pretty great.”

It’s a good movie and a great drive-in movie, but I’m not sure I would recommend watching Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 for a sixth time in four weeks as I did here. I hope something else is showing Saturday night.

Miles Today / Total:  174 / 19716 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 / 69

Nearby Restaurant: Leo’s Good Food is a Redfield tradition, right down to its slogan “Family dining you can bank on”. Because it’s in a former bank building, you see. It started across the street in 1964, then moved to the bank in 1983. The salad bar is in the vault. My steak was prepared just right, and the lemon meringue pie topped off a great meal.

Where I Virtually Stayed: This is another one of those times when the Super 8 stands out in a small town. My room was comfy, had a fridge and microwave, and the classic Super 8 continental breakfast was there to get me on the road again.

Only in Redfield: On Thursday, I saw the pheasant statue in Gregory SD. Redfield has a taller pheasant statue, as part of the town’s claim to be Pheasant Capital of the World. As reported by Roadside America, pheasants were first released into the wild in North America near Redfield.

Next stop: Midway Drive-in Theatre, Miller SD.

June 1: Hilltop Drive-Inn Theatre, Gregory SD

It’s Day 152 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. This was my shortest drive in months – less than a half hour on US 18 from Winner SD to the Hilltop Drive-Inn Theatre west of Gregory.

The Hilltop is the oldest drive-in in South Dakota. It was built in 1946 and has the biggest screen, 72 by 40 feet.

Cecil Harsin started part-time as a projectionist at the Hilltop in 1954. He bought the place in 1989 and still runs it with his family. Louie Harsin told the Rapid City Journal in 2010 that drive-ins are “slowly making a comeback.”

And there was big news just a couple of weeks ago. The Daily Republic of Mitchell reported that the Hilltop had finally acquired a digital projector to keep operating. In a great story with a nice video, it wrote that the Gregory community had raised enough money for a down payment, and that fundraising would continue over the summer to pay it off.

The Daily Republic wrote, “Between 40 and 50 people attend shows each night the theater is open, Harsin said, and he hopes that number increases with the installation of the new projector.”

Even with the new projector, the Hilltop will probably just open on weekends. In any event, it was dark on this Thursday night.

Miles Today / Total:  22 / 19542 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 68

Nearby Restaurant: I’ve had great pizza at a bowling alley before, and with the drive-in closed for the night, I needed something to do. Gregory Lanes provides the food, the beer, and the entertainment for a good time in this small town.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Now there’s something you don’t see every day – a TripAdvisor listing with 18 reviews, every one of them 5 out of 5. That probably tells you all you need to know about the Gray House Motel, but I’ll also point out the fridge and microwave, the free wifi, and the mom and pop friendliness you would expect with reviews like that.

Only in Gregory: I was going to mention the South Dakota Outhouse Museum, but it recently moved out of Gregory. Instead I’ll point out the large pheasant statue that’s still there, with a plaque quoting Fortune magazine calling Gregory “The ground-zero of pheasantdom.”

Next stop: Pheasant City Drive-In Theatre, Redfield SD.