Monthly Archives: April 2014

Gold but by Who’s Standard

Everyone has their favorite Drive In era.  For some it may be the late 60s early 70s bikers, babes, and bad aces. Others enjoy the nebulous era of postage stamp screens, bumpy clunky concession carts and uniformed running board attendants.  A new breed of PG-13 comedies, Sci Fi , horror, and brat pack movies make the 80s memorable for some. The Drive In moment we live today is no slouch either offering some great technology, A list films, and opportunities never before possible.

However the late fifties era has a lot going for it.  (FYI- my favorite drive in period is the early sixties but  who cares , it ‘s industry related anyway)   Although the petal was beginning to fall from post war attendance records, a person would be hard pressed not to believe that around 1958 drive ins had reached the Gold Standard in pop culture.

Achieved without an unfortunate plating accident

Achieved without an unfortunate plating accident

Fact is that drive ins were at their collective zenith totaling  4,063 outlets serving thousands of patrons.  Big cars, big families, and big screens to take it all in with, how could that formula fail?  It didn’t; gross receipts in 1958 dollars were $230,417,000 an all time high up to that point.

Looks like we have a visitor, oh yea

Looks like we have  visitors, oh yea

The suppliers to the motion picture industry were fully aware of this and tended to their own audience, the drive in theater owners.  In 1958 a plethora of equipment and notions we ready at the mark.


Lets take a peak inside the 1958 edition of the Theatre Catalog and sample just a bit of those offerings.

marq showmanship

Signs signs everywhere a sign.   Good looking and tough it made a sweet drive in that much better.

attraction panels

And a word from the panel.

alder letters

Adler letters to the rescue if you already have the marquee.


ballyntine product line

Turnkey drive in from Ballantyne.  Take two minutes, reverse molecular movement, then go back to 1958 and drop Ballantyne a line that you are planning a new drive in.



Survivor of the drive in suppliers.  Neat structures to see when your’e out and about traveling.


century projector

Carbon arcs, reel to reel, magnetic sound heads all were ancient history by the time the 21st century rolled around.  Not so with many of these hardy projectors.  Built like tanks with a little maintenance they lasted on and on.  Even a multiplex slick on the outside might have had some of these old beast feeding film through the gauntlet.   They would have continued to last for years come if digital projection hadn’t arrived with a forceful mandate.  Within the last few years they are quickly becoming yet another museum piece.



An old timer told me that it wasn’t the platter system ( film reels spliced together to form a continuous full movie loop) but the conversion to xenon from carbon arc lighting that broke the back of projectionist.   In 58′ the Projectionist Union was going strong and Strong Electric sold some mighty products.  I missed out on using this equipment but a co-worker said that you could light your cigarettes off the arc between reel changeovers.  Very hot and it took a whole lot of energy to get that brightness.


sound head

Where has this good name gone?



Build capacity patronage…for better than ever profits… by giving your patrons the world’s most satisfying screen image.  I thought my ad copy didn’t jive, but then again, how do you promote a lens.  Good lenses though, built to last.


eprad speaker

Speaker of the house yo’



Here car heaters are being touted as the “of course” item  to be found on speaker post.  Great for 58,that assemblage calls out the tech geek in anyone.


snack bar


Who doesn’t want extra profits, Brewster Millions?  A good article about cafeteria vs the old style station snack bar.  The cafeteria wins in the article and proves itself out over time as the best method from the operators standpoint.  To this day it depends on the size and type of drive in.


There’s no turning back now hahahahahaha



New for 1958!  The introduction of a classic.


vending machines

An effective way to suck up to your worthy and youngest patrons.  Not only do kids like vending machines, but it frees the concession line of the most discriminating and time consuming customers.                                                                                                    Machine……  good.



The space race wasn’t the only contest budding in those years, playgrounds were catching on like wildfire. Drive ins competed with that feature which also served to induce big appetites at the snack bar.

playground train

Need I say more about playground wars?



Good ole DIT-MCO was not to be out done and had a full page ad of their products.  Some may be surprised (or at least I was) that they were still operating right up into the 21st century.


bumper car

Boost those revenues with this “small’ investment. If anyone still has these cars today, I would say that investment has paid off.  A flurry of  Plymouth Furys.

And for those who subscribe to the go big or don’t go at all theory…


When I was a kid I dreamed of this.  My 10 year old classmate  claimed that he was a go cart national champion, pictured on the cover of Time magazine.  He was known to tell a whopper or two.

1958 was a good year for Coca Cola fans too.  Today’s collectors snap up any offering of equipment or advertising from this era at a premium.   How about this ad right on page  #1 –

What did I say about big

What did I say about big

walk in patron article

As crazy  as this concept is, it could really make a lot of sense.  Think of today’s local places of amusement like arcades, mini golf, go carts and water parks,  then tie in the idea.  A fun place to take some time and get together for all types of entertainment.

Back to the heart of the drive in and our selected era, we see in 1957 the first drive in movie world premiered with this hot number…


but 1958 flung the gates wide open and gave us…







And host of other blue chips ~




OK, so it’s an acquired taste.


But lets not forget that this  golden year was in the mist of the Westerns craze.   1958 had its own meta theme song… .                                                                                                                                        Sing it…..!

If ya don’t know the song partner you’re born too late

If ya don’t know the song partner you’re born too late

Ridin’ across the drive in shootin’ up the land, uh huh (that’s what the lyrics sound  like ; )

1958 Sheepman, The (1958)_02

Yes indeed, 1958 had it all (and a cluster of bad things which we don’t like to speak of).      

 But through rose colored glasses, and for the drive in enthusiast, 1958 stands tall.

Jobs not complete till the paperwork's done yuk yuk yuk

Jobs not complete till the paperwork’s done yuk yuk yuk




Still here?  Well that was the end of my pitch.  How about the one and only Shelly Fabares of the Donna Reed Show, who with other actors in this video sum up an era.

Show debuting in………………… 1958.

farb 1

( I know the song’s from 62’ but hey I did say that was MY own favorite Drive In era )