Cheyenne hosts legit indoor drive-in

Drive-in directions, as posted on the Laramie County Events web page

Normally, when I hear the phrase “indoor drive-in” as part of a community event, my lip curls as I think, “Isn’t that cute?” Are they using carboard boxes for kids? Is it just a drive-in theme for a movie in a gymnasium?

Now I’ll pause before thinking that way. Last weekend, the Laramie County Event Center, just east of Cheyenne WY, held a different kind of indoor drive-in. It included privately owned vehicles that drove inside to watch the movie. According to their Facebook page, they’ve been holding these holiday-season indoor drive-ins since at least 2019.

The Wyoming Tribune Eagle ran a nice collection of photos from last Saturday’s event, which is how I learned about it. There were more than a few pickup trucks among the 60 vehicles allowed inside, along with plenty of faux “lawn” space for walk-in patrons. The organizers provided a free movie, free popcorn and sodas, and collected coat donations. It all sounds like a great way to spend a cold wintry evening.

Since the only permanent drive-in, Powell WY’s American Dream, is on the other side of the state, I hope that someone in Cheyenne can figure out how to build something outdoors for starry summer nights. Till then, at least they have this.

May 20: American Dream Drive-In, Powell WY

Drive-In screen showing an advertisement for the American Dream Drive-In

photo from the American Dream Drive-In Facebook page

It’s Day 140 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. Driving to my fifth state / province in as many days, it was another hour and a half hours to go from the Silver Bow Drive In just west of Butte MT to the only active drive-in in Wyoming, the American Dream Drive-In just south of Powell.

According to Cinema Treasures, the American Dream opened as Paul’s Drive-In in 1948, probably built by Paul McCalmon. It was renamed Vali Drive-In in 1976, and renamed American Dream Drive-In in 2004.

The Casper Star Tribune profiled the American Dream in 2013, just after it installed a digital projector. Scott and Kathleen Heny bought the drive-in in 2004, “fearing the property it stands on would be bought and the screen torn down.” Paul’s was the first drive-in in Wyoming, and now the American Dream is the last.

Kathleen Heny said of running her drive-in, “I call it a hobby. It has to be a hobby, because if you think you’re going to get rich on it, you’re not. To me, I guess this is my childhood. Part of my childhood is lost if this goes away.”

A Los Angeles Times story, picked up by the Las Vegas Sun, explained why the Henys renamed the Vali.  “It really is the American dream to be your own boss,” Kathleen said. “And there aren’t that many female small-business owners in Wyoming.”

It had been almost a month since I last saw Beauty and the Beast, so seeing it for the third time this year wasn’t so bad. I was just glad that the drive-in was open for me.

Miles Today / Total:  286 / 16551 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Beauty and the Beast / 63

Nearby Restaurant: I’m glad that Uncommon Grounds stayed open long enough for me to drop by for a late lunch after all that driving. I find that local coffee shops in smaller towns like this often offer interesting food choices as well as a welcoming atmosphere and most importantly, plenty of coffee. A bagel sandwich had me ready to face the afternoon and get ready for the American Dream’s concession stand at night.

Where I Virtually Stayed: There’s not a lot to choose from in Powell, and I chose the Super 8. My room had a fridge and microwave, a comfy bed, and pretty good wifi. The breakfast was pretty good for a Super 8, with biscuits and gravy along with all the coffee and juice I wanted. After that, I was ready to return to Montana.

Only in Powell: Just west of Powell, halfway to Cody, are the ruins of the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, an World War II Japanese-American internment camp. The Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation runs the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, which includes photographs, artifacts, oral histories and interactive exhibits about the wartime relocation of Japanese Americans, anti-Asian prejudice in America and the factors leading to their enforced relocation and confinement.

Next stop: Amusement Park Drive-in Theatre, Billings MT.

First and last Wyoming drive-in endures

Snack bar at the American Dream Drive-InThe Los Angeles Times gave us quite a gift this week with its profile of the American Dream Drive-In of Powell WY. There’s a great video (too bad I can’t embed it here) plus a lengthy story of the history of the American Dream, which opened in 1949 as Wyoming’s first drive-in theater and is now the state’s last one in operation. There’s also a good slide show on the side, although most of those photos show up in the video.

The article profiles Pokey Heny, the owner of the American Dream. Earlier this year, Heny faced the same decision that so many drive-in owners had to make – whether to buy digital projection equipment or close down. According to the Times, “The digital projector cost $80,000, what she paid for the place in 2004, but against her husband’s advice, she borrowed the money this year and took the plunge.”

“I’m investing in the town’s future,” Heny said. “So many businesses have closed, the bowling alley and video store. If I let this one go, it wasn’t ever coming back.”

You really need to read the article to get the full history of the place, from it’s beginnings as Paul’s Drive-In, then the Vali Drive-In, and now the American Dream, a name Heny chose when she bought it. “It really is the American dream to be your own boss,” she said. “And there aren’t that many female small-business owners in Wyoming.” So you know what to do. Go read it!