This brought back a host of memories about drive-in theaters because my paternal grandparents owned "The West Drive-in" in Buckhannon, WV, for many years.
My dad and his siblings all worked at the drive-in, in some capacity, while they were growing up. My dad actually ran the projector to support his growing family all through his college years. Most everyone in the family, at one time or other, worked in the snack bar, sold tickets, or did upkeep on the grounds. (I won't go into the fact that some in the family were never allowed to work in the snack bar...that is another story all by itself.)
I thought it was really cool back then that we were allowed to go into the snack bar and eat just about anything we wanted, but we always had to "mark down" what we ate so my grandfather would be able "to do his books."
I always thought I was so special as a kid because my grandparents owned the drive-in, the only indoor theater in town, AND the town public swimming pool. My dad used to tell stories about the indoor theater and how "Shirley Temple kept my dad in business during the depression" and how "we used to have a Christmas show where Santa Claus came to distribute toys on the stage in front of the screen at the theater." (Sorry, I digress ....back to the drive-in story....)
Anyway, my grandfather was pretty forward thinking and had his house built up on the hill behind the drive-in movie screen. He actually had those horrible speakerphones in his bedroom with a huge window so anyone in the house could watch the movie from the porch, his bedroom, and a family room that was located on that side of the house. I guess at the time it was what you would call his own "surround home movie theater." Granted, the sound really sucked in those speakers but still pretty ahead of his time.
I remember that as kids we were not allowed to go in the projectionist's area while the movie was running because my grandmother was afraid the projectionist would get sidetracked and miss the correct time to "change reels." When this happened, it was a white screen and most of the cars would honk their horns until the movie started again.
When I look back now, I think of all the hard work it took to run the drive-in. My grandparents always started working early in the evening to get ready for the nightly movie/s. The phone at their house was also the business phone so it would start ringing early afternoon so people could listen to the nightly features for the week and see what was playing. There was always a double feature on the weekends and they held special events on holidays.
On July 4th, they always had fireworks and my grandfather, dad, and other friends and family would "set off the fireworks". It was a tradition that the last big finale firework would have a little parachute guy in it and anyone who found the parachute got a free admission to the drive-in.
When I think of my grandmother, I always remember her in her little ticket booth. She was the main ticket seller for as long as I can remember. I can't even imagine how many tickets she sold over her lifetime but she continued running the drive-in for many years even after my grandfather died.
One of her jobs was at the end of the night when she had to drive around the movie yard and wake up patrons that had fallen asleep in their cars. I would be dosing in her car and can remember the stops and window knocks. At the time, I didn't realize the significance that most of her window knocks were for cars in the last two rows of the movie yard. Thinking back on that, I later understood the "fogged windows" and why she never let any of the grandkids do the window knocking.
After my grandmother died, my aunt ran the drive-in. When drive-ins slowly went out of fashion and she stopped running the drive-in completely, she let the locals hold flea markets on the property.
When my kids were younger, there was a drive-in located in the town where my parents lived in WVa. We always tried to have a drive-in movie night when we went to visit. All the aunts and uncles and cousins that lived in the area, would go. I forget how much it cost to get in, but it was usually by the carload. We would take stuff to sit on, blankets to wrap up in, snacks to eat, and bug spray. The kids would usually run around and play at the playground until it turned dark. Most of the kids would be asleep before the movies were over. It was always fun and very nostalgic for me. That drive-in has been out of business for many years now.
I was surprised about the number of drive-ins during their peak. 4,000 in the nation, with 388 located in Texas. I thought it might have been more nationwide but Texas dropped down to 11 drive-ins in 2000. That number is now 21 drive-ins in Texas. I have such fond memories of drive-ins that I wish everyone had the opportunity to give them a try.If you get a chance don't pass it up to go to a drive-in!
As they say: Come to the snack bar for delicious snacks...and 2 minutes until the movie!