May 13: Blue Fox Drive-In Theatre, Oak Harbor WA

It’s Day 133 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Oak Harbor WA is only about 13 miles from what was my starting point, Port Townsend, but a lot of that is water. So I took a ferry for the first time this year to Whidbey Island, home of the Blue Fox Drive-In Theatre. The total travel time was almost an hour and a half.

According to an obituary in the Whidbey News-Times, the Blue Fox was built in 1959 by Woodrow “Woody” Cecil and his wife Charlotte. Another article said Woody “partnered with George Dickson” to build it.

A 2006 article said Darrell and Lori Bratt purchased the theater in 1988. In 1990, it switched to FM sound. The screen went down in a 1998 windstorm, but obviously they fixed that.

In 2012, they turned to the community to help raise money for a digital projector. With that success, the projector was installed in time to start the 2013 season.

The Blue Fox also has a go-cart track (video here), and about a year ago in April 2016, they replaced the old tires that lined the edges. To get rid of the tires, they held a tire giveaway. Kelsey Bratt, daughter-in-law of owner Darrell Bratt, told the Whidbey News-Times, “Who doesn’t want a tire swing in the backyard?”

The Blue Fox is just a fun place to be. It’s got an arcade and those go-carts in addition to the classic drive-in experience. On the screen, they showed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 as the second feature so I got to watch something new early – Born In China. And after I ordered my pizza, they gave me a pager shaped like a pizza slice so I’d know when to pick it up. It was busy, and a bit chilly, but it was a great way to spend a Saturday night.

Miles Today / Total:  23 / 14569 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Born In China / 60

Nearby Restaurant: Tamayo’s, just a block away from Flintstone Park (see below), is one of those Thai Asian fusion restaurants. I don’t know what to call it, but I sure enjoyed lunch there. There was pho, there were spring rolls, and the soup was amazing.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Best Western Plus Oak Harbor is a nice place not too far from downtown and the bayside parks. There were cookies in the evening, a nice room with good wifi and a fridge, and an amazing array of choices for breakfast with sausage, bacon, and eggs along with fruit and the usual continental breakfast suspects.

Only in Oak Harbor: There’s a little park on the bay called Flintstone Park. So of course they had to add a concrete replica of Fred Flintstone’s stone-age car. Just in case you ever wanted to get your picture taken while pretending to be Fred or Wilma.

Next stop: Twilight Drive-In Theatre, Langley BC.

May 12: Wheel-In-Motor Movie Drive In, Port Townsend WA

Wheel-In Motor Movie box office at twilight, with the screen in the background

photo from the Wheel-In Motor Movie Facebook page

It’s Day 132 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took about an hour to drive up the Quimper Peninsula from Bremerton WA to the Wheel-In-Motor Movie Drive In outside of Port Townsend.

Ernie and Geneve Thompson carved a viewing area out of the forest and opened the Wheel-In in 1953. Their grandson and current manager Rick Wiley told KIRO radio, “We’re out in the woods of Jefferson County. It is a natural evergreen amphitheater. There is absolutely no ambient light; it’s either the stars or the screen.”

The Wheel-In hasn’t changed much since its opening. The concession stand has booths with picture windows and a small indoor viewing area. (Yet there are no walk-ins allowed, so I guess they’re available if you don’t like whoever you drove in with.) Best of all, it still provides drive-in speakers as well as FM radio sound. Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy hanging one of those on my window.

According to a 2013 article in the Port Townsend Leader, Sharon and Dick Wiley, Rick’s parents and the daughter- and son-in-law of Ernie Thompson, bought the drive-in in 1969. In 2007, Dick Wiley passed away and Rick moved back to town to run the Wheel-In.

In the 1990s, Sunset magazine rated the Wheel-In as the number-one drive-in in the West. “There is a quality and uniqueness that is undeniable,” Wiley said. “It’s an event, it’s a happening. It’s not just about the movie; it’s about the night air and the electricity in the air.”

The Wheel-In launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2014 to raise money toward a digital projector, so it appears to be set for more decades of movies under the stars.

I was really disappointed to find such a historic treasure still closed for the season. Last year, the Wheel-In opened on the last weekend in April. In November, it posted on Facebook, “Due to the worst longest winter in the history of the universe, we have a couple of major projects to complete before we reopen for the 2017 summer season.”

Miles Today / Total:  49 / 14546 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 59

Nearby Restaurant: For the second straight day, the closest restaurant to the drive-in is adjacent to the nearby airport. The Spruce Goose Cafe, next to the Jefferson County International Airport, is home of the Goose Dog, which refers to this hot dog’s extra large size and not (I hope!) its ingredients. Add chili, cheese and onions and you’ve got a lunch that might keep you full for the rest of the day.

Where I Virtually Stayed: The Bishop Victorian Hotel was built in 1891, but it does a great job of straddling the past and present. My suite had a fireplace, but it also had a flat-screen TV and good internet access. Instead of lining up at a breakfast nook, I was greeted with a basket full of continental breakfast just outside my room. It wasn’t the cheapest place to stay, but the Bishop was a relaxing experience.

Only in Port Townsend: In downtown Port Townsend, there’s a wooden 75-foot fire bell tower holding a 3/4-ton brass bell. It was built in 1890 and rang coded signals as to the location and severity of the blaze that it was summoning the community to fight. Over the decades, it persisted with sporadic maintenance, and in 2004 was fully restored by the Jefferson County Historical Society and the City of Port Townsend.

Next stop: Blue Fox Drive-In Theatre, Oak Harbor WA.

May 11: Rodeo Drive-In Theatre, Bremerton WA

Rodeo Drive-In sign and main screen

photo from the Rodeo Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 131 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took less than an hour to drive from Shelton WA to the Rodeo Drive-In Theatre in Bremerton.

According to the Rodeo’s history page, the original “Rodeo Motor Movies” was built in 1949 as a single-screen theater for over 600 cars. In 1977, the Rodeo was sold to Cascade/Seven Gables Cinemas, a small chain with headquarters in Seattle.

In 1978, Cascade logged out the back property of the Rodeo and added two more screens, a new snack bar and a new box-office complex. (There’s a construction photo available if you scroll down here.) In 1986, the Rodeo Drive-In was sold the Ondracek family.

“Today, with 3 screens and a total car capacity of about 1,000, the Rodeo is the largest outdoor theatre complex in Washington State and by far the largest and oldest family owned drive-in in the Northwest.”

As shown by the Facebook photo above and documented by the Kitsap Sun, the Rodeo opened for a couple of weekends in December 2015 to show Star Wars: The Force Awakens. More drive-ins ought to try special event weekends like that, weather permitting.

The Rodeo is open Fridays through Sundays this time of year, leaving me without a movie for another Thursday night.

Miles Today / Total:  35 / 14497 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: dark / 59

Nearby Restaurant: The closest restaurant to the Rodeo is adjacent to the airport that’s right next door. The Airport Diner is known for its fish and chips, but the best part of eating there is the view of the small planes at Bremerton National Airport.

Where I Virtually Stayed: It had been too long since I’d stayed at a Hampton Inn, so I was glad to see one in Bremerton. Great views of the bay and within easy walking distance of the ferry terminal to Seattle, in case I wanted to watch folks throw fish. Great wifi and a fridge in my room, the usual above-average continental breakfast. It was a great place to spend the money I’d saved by staying at less expensive places over the past couple of weeks.

Only in Bremerton: Every year around Labor Day, Bremerton holds a Blackberry Festival. The 2017 schedule features the Berry Fun Run, blackberry wine tasting, the Kitsap County Weight Loss Challenge, and a “Chalk the Block” Art Contest.

Next stop: Wheel-In-Motor Movie Drive In, Port Townsend WA.