It started out as a story idea.
It turned into much more than that.
When I heard about drive-in movie theaters celebrating their 80th birthday, I was intrigued.
I had never been to a drive in before. I knew they were incredibly popular in the “good ol days,” but I hadn’t experienced one.
So I decided to send an email.
And that email led me to quite the experience.
I talked with the owner of the Verne Drive-In theater in Luverne. I talked with the former owner. The stories they had and the love of movies they showed was incredible.
I documented their story in an article earlier this month.
But there is another theater in our area, just south of Jackson.
Gaylord Kemp owns the Superior 71 Drive-In, which is on Highway 71 just across the Iowa border.
“As a kid, we used to go to the drive ins all the time, all the way through the 60s and 70s,” Kemp said. “Even when I six or seven years old, going to the drive in with my parents or my grandparents or aunts and uncles, I always thought this would be a cool thing. Why would anybody want to go watch a movie inside if you can sit outside? I grew up and all the drive ins went away. Me and my wife, we used to date a lot and we’d go to the drive-in theaters and the one we went to the most was in Worthington, the Gay Drive In. We used to go to that one all the time.”
Eventually, Kemp built a drive in of his own.
“For years, we were raising a family and for years, we talked about it, ‘You know what? We should build a drive-in theater,’” he said. “I ain’t kidding you, for 30 years, I bet I talked about it. Finally, my wife must have gotten tired of listening to me, she said, ‘If you’re going to do this thing, you better get going.’ I don’t know if I had to wait for some permission or what, but I started laying it all out. I managed to get it done. I also worked a full-time job at AGCO, I’ve worked there for over 25 years, and I still do. While I’m putting this thing together, I’m putting in 10 or 12 hour days and then I’m going down to the drive in and putting in another 10 hours in or more.”
Even though there are late nights and long hours, it’s worth it for Kemp.
“It’s one of the most fun jobs in the world, it really is,” he said. “Everybody that comes into the drive in is happy because they get to sit and relax for a few hours. Everybody is in a good mood.
“It is absolutely a part of America. It’s been around for 80 years. There had to be close to 5,000 drive ins in the United States, now there’s only about 400 worldwide. There isn’t too many left.”
I recently found out my parents’ first date was at a drive in. They saw Trinity, which my mom described as “a funny cowboy movie, kind of stupid, but dad loved it.”
My girlfriend, Kelsey, and I drove over to Luverne to see what a drive-in was all about.
It turned out to be a great night. We saw Monster’s University and the Lone Ranger.
The movies were good, but the experience was excellent.
We arrived early, not really knowing what to expect.
We found our spot and situated the car on the humps, which angle the car to allow for easier viewing. We made a trip to the concession stand and awaited the movie to start.
As the sun went down, the movies began. The sound came through the car stereo, so we were able to sit and enjoy the movie in the comfort of our own car. The screen was huge, giving us a great view of the movies.
Some at the theater sat in chairs in front of their car. Others sat in the back of trucks. But it seemed like everyone enjoyed it.
I have to say, it was a great first experience.
I know drive ins have been disappearing, but I sure hope these in our area stick around.
Even though it was my first experience at a drive in, I sure hope it won’t be my last.