Drive In and Drive On

Hocking Hills Drive-In Logan OH 01-24-2013

After we left Athens, Ohio, I wanted to pass through some of my old haunts, so we headed north toward Nelsonville, Logan and Old Man’s Cave. Just past the 595 exit on Rt. 33, I looked to the right and spotted the remains of the Hocking Theater. I was going too fast to stop, so I blew right past it. Knowing that there are a couple of readers who are drive-in nuts, I  drove five miles to the next exit to turn around and head back to it.

I probably should have gotten off at the 595 exit and gone exploring like this guy did in 2003, but we had miles to go, so I made do with a shot from the main road. (You can click on it to make it larger.)

It’s in both better AND worse shape than the drive-in at Bloymeyer.

Bad vibes at No-Tell Motel

I’ll write about some of our other Ohio stops, but I’ll jump ahead to our search for a motel in Louisville, Ky.

Friend and passenger Jan Norris told me before we left on our grand journey that she likes to plan where she’s going to stay. I said that my plans change on a whim, so I drive until I get tired, then start looking for the best place at the lowest price. We agreed to be flexible.

When it became obvious that we weren’t going to make it into Cape before midnight, and because the weather forecasts all called for ugly stuff to start falling out of the sky around midnight and to continue on through the night, I told her to set her sights on Louisville. She pulled out her computer and, with much pecking and pausing, announced that she had found us two inexpensive, highly-reviewed, non-smoking rooms in a chain hotel that had been recently remodeled.

Jan’s going to check it out

When we pulled into the parking lot, I noticed several things: the parking lot was almost empty; the curtains had that “old” look, and the metal-clad doors had an awful lot of dents and dings in them. Jan said she’d ask to look at a room before we committed.

My bad vibes multiplied when a sign on the lobby directed us to another door where we had to talk to the clerk through a slit in what looked like bulletproof glass. She wouldn’t give us a key to inspect a room unless I left my driver’s license as security. I don’t know if she thought we were a couple of AARP members in search of a free spot to unleash our passions or if she was afraid we were going to steal the towels. Given our wrung-out, road-worn looks, I’m going to put my money on the latter.

The room was about half a block away, give or take, and on the third floor reachable by an elevator that had graffiti scratches on the walls. The rooms all opened to the outside, so it was a cold, windy walk. The room itself was clean, but so small you couldn’t have swung a bob-tailed cat in it.

We both reached the same conclusion: it was time to move on. I told Jan I’d get the car and warm it up while she got my license back. I only regret that she didn’t return the key to the desk clerk smoking a cigarette and sporting a glow and a big smile. Maybe then she wouldn’t have been strip-searched for hidden towels.


Blomeyer Drive-in Theater

Reader Toni Eftink asked, “Wasn’t there a drive in right outside of Cape near Blomeyer? I think the screen is even still up…has a lot of vines covering it, but I drive past it on my way home to Leopold.”

Toni is a decade or two too young to have ever seen a movie at the Montgomery Drive-in Theater just south of the Diversion Channel on Hwy 25, but the old concrete screen is still there. She’s right, too, that it’s being devoured by creepy-looking vines like something out of one of the sci-fi movies shown ON that screen.

1960s Montgomery Drive-in aerial

That’s the drive-in in the lower left portion of the picture. The screen is the bright, square object. The Diversion Channel is on the right. Click on any photo to make it larger.

I’m not sure I ever saw a full movie there. Wife Lila and I went there one night when we were dating, but the mosquitoes were so bad that we bailed early.

Montgomery Drive-In aerial in 2010

Used mobile homes and other structures have replaced the movie parking area, and thick brush has grown up around the screen. The screen is at the lower right part of the photo.

No popcorn available here

The roof of the projection / concession stand building has collapsed.

Building used for storage

It looks like the building had been used for miscellaneous storage of parts by the mobile home folks along the highway.

Screen made of concrete

Morris Montgomery, owner of the drive-in, said the original screen was made of redwood shipped in from Oregon. A Missourian story said a windstorm blew it down Sept. 22, 1965. Morris said the wooden screen was replaced with one made of concrete panels cast locally and supported by heavy steel I-beams.

Concrete and I-Beams look sturdy

The screen and its supports have held up well for being nearly half a century old.

Theater showed few first-run movies

Morris said the drive-in showed very few first-run movies. “The big movie theaters in Cape had contracts that embargoed those kinds of shows for at least 14 days.” TV and air conditioning took its toll, too.

A dollar per carload

Morris said they experimented with different ways to make the drive-in appealing to the cost-conscious.

They tried free Monday nights for awhile, counting on the $100-$150 in concession sales to carry the freight. That’s a lot of hamburgers at 25 cents each and hot dogs priced at 15 cents.

In 1958, you could bring in a whole carload for a buck. “Dad laughed about the night he saw a car coming in with just the driver, but the car’s rearend was dragging the ground. He stopped the car and said, ‘Get ’em out of the trunk. It’s a dollar a carload. I don’t care how many people you stuff in it.'”

I’m not sure when the last movie was shown. Morris said his mother and son tried to re-open the theater two nights a week – Friday and Saturday – in June 1980, but decided very quickly to close it for good.

New Blomeyer roundabout

While we’re talking about the Blomeyer area, the state just finished construction of a new roundabout at the intersection of Hwys 25 and 77. Some locals have said that the only problem is that it’s not big enough to accommodate the big grain trucks common to the area. The trucks have to drive up on the red brick area to make the turn.

The theater is located slightly to the north of this intersection.