June 19: Big Sky Twin Drive-In Theatres, Wisconsin Dells WI

It’s Day 170 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It took an hour of driving two-lane highways through Wisconsin hills and small towns to get from Chilton to the Big Sky Twin Drive-In Theatres in Wisconsin Dells.

According to a 2008 article in the Wisconsin Dells Events, the Big Sky began its life as the single-screen Winnebago Drive-In in 1953. “Owned by Don Deakin, the theater screened a newsreel, two cartoons and the feature film ‘Raiders of the Seven Seas,’ and gave patrons a souvenir ashtray,” wrote the Events.

Don LeGros and his family bought the place in 1980. “When we took it on, it was mostly showing motorcycle pictures and now we’ve brought it up as a family destination,” LeGros said. About that time, the drive-in’s name changed to the Dells. LeGros changed the name again in 1993 to the Big Sky and added a second screen a year later.

It’s great that we get so many opportunities for aerial views of drive-ins these days. Thanks to drones and YouTube, there are many overhead portraits of these great old places. The video I embedded above was posted last year by Ricky7RC.

The Big Sky’s marquee promises that it’s the home of the Mamaburger, made famous by Dorothy “Ma” LeGros. It’s great to be able to rely on dinner at the drive-in.

My choices for the early shows were Wonder Woman, which I’ve seen five times so far, or my second viewing of Cars 3. To be, the best thing about Cars 3 is that it pretends that Cars 2 simply never happened.

Miles Today / Total:  49 / 22019 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 86

Nearby Restaurant: I don’t have many days left in Wisconsin, so I had to search out a good cheese restaurant. Macs Macaroni and Cheese Shop definitely fits that description. They serve great mac and cheese in a skillet, and you get to choose what else you want in there. Hot dogs? Bacon? BBQ sauce? Taco fixin’s? Whatever it is, there will be plenty of cheese with it, and be sure to save room for cheesecake for dessert.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There are so many tourists filling Wisconsin Dells that it rates a Hilton Garden Inn. I feel a little spoiled to wonder whether I should mention the refrigerator, microwave, and coffee maker in my room. Should we all consider them standard like a TV? Anyway, this HGI was as clean and nice as most other HGIs, and I was really happy that it was so close by.

Only in Wisconsin Dells: In this classically kitschy tourist town, there are any number of tourist traps, of which a great example is the upside-down White House at Top Secret. Recent reviews on TripAdvisor include “Worst attraction ever” and “I don’t know why this place exists”, but the folks at Roadside America seem to have had a great time there. Their guide told them, “We’re part of an archaeological dig team sponsored by the government. We just happened to run across an upside down White House in Wisconsin Dells. We have no idea why.” Fun, right?

Next stop: Highway 18 Outdoor Theatre, Jefferson WI.

June 18: Starlite 14 Drive In, Richland Center WI

Starlite 14 marquee with screen in background

Photo from the Starlite 14 Facebook page

It’s Day 169 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I had to add a little zigzagging to catch weekend-only drive-ins when they’re open. In this case, it means driving almost three hours from Chilton WI to the Starlite 14 Drive In just southeast of Richland Center WI.

The Starlite opened as the Highway 14 Drive-In in 1952, owned by Sarah Eskin and Ervin Morris. It was renamed the Starlite 14 in the mid-1980s, and according to Cinema Treasures, Bill and Lisa Muth bought the place in 1988. You can see Bill Muth in this November 2013 YouTube video explaining the need to get money for a digital projector. By early 2014, the new system was in place, and the Starlite 14 keeps rolling.

The 2016 young adult novel The Giant Smugglers features the Starlite 14 by name. It’s the only place where the protagonist can bring his 20-foot friend to watch a movie.

And that’s pretty much all I could find about the Starlite 14. One blogger speculated that the original Highway 14 marquee blew down, possibly explaining the name change. I saw a 1975 photo of the original wooden screen (with room for offices on the ground floor) on the Starlite’s Facebook page, and I wonder whether a storm knocked it out too, or instead, since the current metal screen looks fairly modern.

I love it that the Starlite 14 has both FM radio sound and the classic (original?) in-car speakers. Tonight marked back-to-back viewings of Captain Underpants. I’ve had worse this year.

Miles Today / Total:  154 / 21970 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Captain Underpants / 85

Nearby Restaurant: A couple of places I tried – the Cheese Cellar and the Empire Grill – were closed because it was Sunday. At least the Center Cafe was still open for a late lunch. It’s the kind of comfort food place where I could find a hot turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes. I knew that would keep me going until I could reach the Starlite 14 concession stand.

Where I Virtually Stayed: I was pretty happy with my stay at the Ramada here. The price was great, I had a mini fridge and microwave in my room, and solid wifi. In lieu of breakfast, I got a coupon for the attached Country Kitchen restaurant, but the room rate was low enough that it was still a great deal.

Only in Richland Center: Renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright was born at Richland Center in 1867. The A. D. German Warehouse, completed in 1921, is the only building designed by Wright in the city and is an early example of his Mayan Revival style.

Next stop: Big Sky Twin Drive-In Theatres, Wisconsin Dells WI.

June 16: Field of Scenes, Freedom WI

It’s Day 167 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. I back down Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, circled Green Bay, and continued southwest to the Field of Scenes in Freedom WI. The drive took less than two hours.

Tim and Brenda VandeWettering built the Field of Scenes from the ground up, surrounded by farmland, in 2003. The drive-in switched to digital projection in 2014 and added a second screen just last year. According to the Field of Scenes About Us page, their pictured but unnamed(!) children are taking over operations beginning this summer. (Don’t worry, a story last year in the Appleton Post-Crescent identified them as Taylor VandeWettering and his sister Brittni LeNoble.)

I included a 2013 report from WLUK, Green Bay’s News Leader, which had the questionable idea of doing a live morning-show remote of this drive-in theater. (A recorded segment from the night before would have looked much better!) Owner Tim was game, hauling out a wide sampling of concession stand treats, as you can see in the YouTube video above.

Mini-golf returned this summer, and there are a couple of hoops for patrons who bring their own basketballs. Or you can kill time before the movie the way I did, at the adjacent Fieldhouse Sports Bar.

Cars 3 is a perfect, family-friendly film to show at a drive-in. The original Cars, which features a drive-in at the end, was the last movie I saw at the Cinderella Twin, which was the closest drive-in to Carload World Headquarters in Denver. I wonder how many times I’ll be seeing it again over the next couple of weeks.

Miles Today / Total:  93 / 21785 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Cars 3 / 83

Nearby Restaurant: I took advantage of the Friday night fish fry and grand buffet at the Colonial House Supper Club. There were frog legs (yes, I know, technically not a fish) and perch and crab-stuffed mushrooms and so much more. I even ate some vegetables first so I could feel self-righteously healthy as I plowed through all the meats.

Where I Virtually Stayed: As Kris Kristofferson almost put it, Freedom’s just another word for nowhere left to stay. With no hotels in town, I drove nine miles to Kimberly for my first Hilton Garden Inn in a while. The price was particularly nice for an HGI, the amenities were their typically comfortable standard, and breakfast was free for me as a Hilton Gold member. Woohoo!

Only in Freedom: Just eight miles south of the Field of Scenes, you’ll find the authentic Dutch Little Chute Windmill. Authentic as in, it was built in the Netherlands from an 1850s design, then disassembled and shipped to its new home in Little Chute WI. A local nonprofit operates the windmill “as a tribute to Midwest’s Dutch heritage”.

Next stop: Chilton Twilight Drive-In Theater, Chilton WI.