Video: Goochland Gets A Logo On I-64

Thanks to a friend in the Virginia state legislature, Goochland Drive-In Theater will have its logo placed on an “Attractions” sign on Interstate 64, according to a report yesterday by WTVR, Richmond’s News Leader.

Owner John Heidel had been trying for eight years to get on the official highway sign since out-of-state visitors “routinely drive past exit 152.” The Virginia Department of Transportation has a policy against movie theaters on interstate attraction signs.

This year, after a request from Heidel, state delegate John McGuire submitted a bill to exempt drive-ins from that policy. WTVR reported, “However, before the legislation went to a committee, McGuire set up a meeting with Heidel and state representatives who regulate the interstate signs. Following the meeting, VDOT said they would allow Goochland Drive-In to put their logo on the sign and McGuire withdrew the bill.”

Maybe that wouldn’t make sense for urban drive-ins, but many others are true tourist attractions. It would be great to see more mentions on the interstate, both to direct the rookies and to tell the unaware what a great opportunity they have to experience some live Americana.

Nov. 27: Central Drive-In Theatre, Norton VA

It’s Day 331 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. After watching movies for five nights straight, I had a long drive before an evening off. It took me 4½ hours to drive from the Auto 25 Drive In in Greenwood SC to the Central Drive-In Theatre, a few miles west of Norton VA.

The Central opened in 1952 in the middle of Jefferson National Forest near Blackwood, a tiny coal town. The Theatre Catalog said its owners were H. Kiser and R. Lodge. The Motion Picture Almanacs listed only Russell Large. Was its first co-owner named Lodge or Large? (Actually, I just heard via the Central’s Facebook page that it was Large. Thanks!)

That’s the last we’ll hear of Russell Large, for the next half-century of the Central’s history is the Kiser family. The Kingsport Times-News wrote that “Buddy and Paula (Herron) bought the Central in 2005 from Jeff Kiser following the death of his mother, Agnes Kiser Lay, the Kiser family’s much loved drive-in darling who operated the Central for many if not most of those years since it opened in 1952.” They live in a house adjacent to the drive-in, which is also where the Kisers used to live.

In 2013, the Herrons turned to social media to try to win enough votes to win a free digital projector from Honda’s Project Drive-In contest. “We are a family-run business,” buddy told the Bristol Herald Courier. “We got into drive-ins because it was part of our childhood, part of something we thought would be a good, economical night out for a family. But if you talk about getting a loan for a digital projector and other equipment, a bank might look at you funny, and they’re not lending much these days.”

The Central was not one of the contest winners, yet they must have found a way to acquire a digital projector. Their subsequent GoFundMe page raised less than $7000, but somehow it worked out.

So the Herrons are the latest to run this little jewel, which holds probably fewer than 200 cars. The remote setting is great for reducing ambient light; it only comes from cars on the road and trains that pass across the street from the screen. And the stars, of course.

The Central also has a very nice arcade with a plethora of machines and good burgers at the concession stand. So they tell me. This evening was quite pleasant, but there was no way the Central was going to be open on the Monday after Thanksgiving. It closed for the season almost a month ago.

The embedded YouTube video of the day was uploaded earlier this year by Raven Aerial Imaging. It includes nice drone footage of the misty forest surrounding the Central, plus enough ground-level info to put it in perspective. For a news report from 2013 about the need for a digital projector, you might try this video.

Miles Today / Total: 259 / 38205 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 199

Nearby Restaurant: Who knew there were so many regional restaurant chains? In Norton, I was attracted by the name to visit Pal’s Sudden Service. The cuisine is fast-food basic, not that there’s anything wrong with that, with interesting extensions such as the grilled cheese sandwich on inverted buns. Add “frenchie” fries and a large iced tea, and by the end of the meal I felt like a local.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Norton is one of those towns where, according to TripAdvisor, the best hotel in town is a Super 8. Thank goodness that this again meant that the Super 8 was especially good. There was coffee in the lobby. My comfortable room had all the modern amenities. Breakfast was free and enough to get me back on the road. Best of all, the price was great.

Only in Norton: Just a half hour south of town is an amazing sight at Natural Tunnel State Park. The name gives it away; more than 850 feet long and as tall as a 10-story building, Natural Tunnel was naturally carved through a limestone ridge over thousands of years. William Jennings Bryan called it the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” They’ll be adding Christmas lights again this weekend.

Next stop: Twin City Drive-in, Bristol TN.

Nov. 17: Family Drive-In Theatre, Stephens City VA

It’s Day 321 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Even with some interstate highway assistance, it still took me four hours to drive from the Dependable Drive-In in Moon PA across the Appalachian Mountains to the Family Drive-In Theatre southwest of Stephens City VA.

The Family was built by William F. Dalke Jr. and opened as a single screen on June 14, 1956. His son, his son, Tim Dalke, told The Washington Post in 2013, “Our drive-in was mostly a family affair from the beginning. I think that’s the same case today.”

Tim and his three brothers worked at the drive-in, and in time Tim took over the Family. “I twinned the screen in 1989 because we could double the product we were offering the public,” he said.

Remember James Kopp, the guy who used to run the Raleigh Road Outdoor Theater, profiled just a few days ago? Since 2009, Kopp has leased Family Drive-In from Tim Dalke.

Among other things, Kopp has made sure to keep the in-car speakers on their poles, which include the original lighted markers at their rows’ ends. “A lot of people don’t get to experience the speakers at the drive-in anymore,” he told WTOP. “If you’re like me, I put the car speaker in the window and I also turn my radio on, so I’m getting a stereo-type event.” He converted both screens to digital projection in 2013.

The embedded YouTube video of the day is a nice mix of aerial and ground coverage, and some of the shots pointing almost straight down provide a nice perspective. I also like the way it shows the grassy playground area in front of the main screen.

I was so glad that the Family was still open that I didn’t mind watching Justice League for the second straight night.

Miles Today / Total: 215 / 36464 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Justice League / 192

Nearby Restaurant: The name pulled me in. Granny’s Pancake Cottage is just up US Highway 11 from the Family, and my only question was whether it would still be open when I got there for lunch. Yes, it was. I love eating breakfast for lunch, and it was great to find another restaurant that serves scrapple. Add a bowl of grits and plenty of coffee, and I was happy to have been lured to Granny’s.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Less than two miles away, I found a good old Comfort Inn. It’s not new and pretty, but it was clean and comfortable. My room had all the modern amenities. Breakfast was typical Comfort Inn with a waffle maker and omelettes as well as the continental standards. It was just what I needed at a good price.

Only in Stephens City: Just five miles south of the Family is where the Battle of Cedar Creek took place in 1864. Wikipedia calls it the culminating battle of the Valley Campaigns near the end of the Civil War. Southern Spaces wrote that “General Philip Sheridan’s ride south from Winchester to rally retreating Union forces passed directly over the drive-in’s grounds.”

Next stop: Hound’s Drive-In, Kings Mountain NC.