Congratulations to the winners of the 2015 Ruralite Calendar Photo Contest. Hover over the images for photo credit and captions.
Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category
Ruralite loves to celebrate storytelling excellence. Stories and pictures are nominated by Ruralite’s team of editors based on overall quality, audience connection, lede strength, creativity, organization, flow, timeliness and quotes. Have a favorite story to tell? Send it to gro.etilarurnull@laicos
Bow hunting season is just an arrow’s fly away in most parts of Ruralite country. That means it is not too soon to start scouting areas to hunt. It is also time to start preparing yourself and your equipment for opening day.
Inspect your bow. Look for cracks or dings that may develop into cracks later. Examine the string. Replace it if there is fraying. Some avid bow hunters replace them every three or four years, whether they need it or not.
Preflight your arrows. Make sure the fletching is uniform and firmly attached. If you use aluminum arrows, check them for bends or dings that can affect accuracy. Examine carbon shafts for splintering.
You know what they say about practice. Take it seriously. Take every shot as if the target is the real thing. Develop a shooting routine that becomes second nature and keeps you in the zone, even when the adrenalin is pumping.
“Down” is the operative word. Slow down and practice your nock, draw and release in a controlled, consistent manner. Keep your head down; just as in baseball or golf, where the head goes, so goes the arrow. Also, dial down the draw weight—there is no need to pull 70 pounds when 50 pounds will do the job.
Shoot all of the angles. Practice shooting targets from different angles. That goes for various distances, too. These exercises are particularly useful if you plan to shoot from a tree stand.
Dress the part. Practice with the gear you will use in the field. That includes the bow, arrows and accessories you will use, and the clothes you will wear. If something doesn’t work right or it’s too heavy or noisy, change it out or make a note to leave it behind on hunting day.
Summer May Demand a Change of Fishing Venue
Fishing at shallow lakes may be superb in spring, but not so much in summer. Water temperatures increase and oxygen levels decrease. Those are not fish-friendly conditions. On the other hand, rivers and streams are prime fishing waters this time of year. They retain their oxygen levels and generally run cooler, which makes fish more active feeders.
Light Sources in a Pinch
Who hasn’t dropped something and fumbled in the dark trying to find it without a flashlight?
Never fear. Many portable, everyday devices make excellent light sources. Here are a few creative light alternatives for use in a pinch:
- Watch backlight
- Cell phone
- GPS unit
How many others can you think of?
Three Outdoor Favorites
Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication in Ruralite magazine, we will send you $25 for one-time use. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to moc.etilarurnull@ofni.
Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.
After helping on the hay wagon all day, 3-year-old Henry wants to beat
his “Uppa” in with the last bale. Photo submitted by grandfather Joe Wing
of Union, Oregon.
Pretty in Pink
6-year-old Hailey, left, and 4-year-old Lily love all things pink. So it was
no surprise when they were drawn to this classic car at the Neon Nights
car show in The Dalles, Oregon. Photo submitted by Jackie Whitesell of
Elk appear on a hill to capture the day’s last warm rays of sunlight.
Photo submitted by Paul Hughes of Manzanita, Oregon.
While out for a horseback ride with her mother, Ashley stops to pick a
dandelion with a giant ball of seeds. They say the bigger the seed head,
the bigger the wish potential. Photo submitted by mother Beth Anderson
of Creswell, Oregon.
Madelyn, left, and Grace show off their new sunglasses and sun dresses for
Grandma and Grandpa. Photo submitted by grandfather Peter Rouzaud
of Dallas, Oregon.
A Dog’s Life
The look on Tank’s face says it all. There is nothing he would rather be
doing on a hot summer day than boating at the lake. Photo submitted by
Kim and Shannon Fox of Prineville, Oregon.
Life is different the farther one gets from a busy interstate.
Last year, while driving across the flat plains and rolling hills of Kansas—one of my favorite states—I pulled off the highway hoping to find traces of a slower past and calmer world.
I visited a small community with only one small store, the post office and the library open. Boarded-up storefronts, overgrown lots and dated signs spoke silently of a more prosperous time. Even at midday, the little town was a quiet shell of what it once was.
Yet, there was something charming about the slow-moving emptiness that quieted my soul, and beckoned me to stay and absorb its past and present.
Dogs trailed behind children who rode bicycles wherever they wished. As is often the case in small towns on the plains, a grain elevator was the iconic centerpiece for the community. I kept looking at the open sky and thinking how stunning the large white structure would be in the warm evening light.
Though I needed to reach another destination that night, I decided to hang around in hopes of making the pictures I anticipated. Several hours later, as evening approached, the library and store closed, and the little community grew silent except for the calls of a few mourning doves and a gentle breeze.
As the blue sky deepened, I noticed a police officer watching me from his parked cruiser. A dome light in his car revealed his shape and his uniform. He was watching me and appeared to be writing something. I’m sure he thought I was casing the place or up to no good. Finally, his curiosity got the better of him and he pulled up beside me.
“What are you doing?” he asked, trying his best not to accuse, but not quite accomplishing it.
“Watching the light,” I said, excitedly, turning my eyes to the soft, golden light bathing the silo with a warm glow.
“What?” he asked, puzzled.
He stuck his head out of his cruiser window and looked around. His bewildered expression conveyed that he didn’t see anything, at least nothing worthy in his opinion of taking a picture.
He didn’t see what I saw. It felt like asking someone to see the face of a dog or an elephant in a passing cloud, when all they see is a cloud.
Seizing the opportunity to teach, I said, “Look at the golden light. I have waited here for hours for it to be like this.”
I told him my name, where I came from and even where I was going. I also told him I was a teacher and photographer.
He looked around again and then back at me. The suspicious frown relaxed a little. I could tell he still didn’t understand and thought I was some kind of “nut” from the city. But at least he accepted I was not up to no good.
Once again my camera was an excuse to do what I love, to observe and appreciate and attempt to put my small signature on God’s big artwork.
Just as weather or financial forecasters try to anticipate the future, I have always loved studying humans and nature, and trying to predict how each might act in given circumstances and climates. Anticipation of this collaboration is an essential ingredient in the recipe for making beautiful and storytelling photographs.
David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He grew up on a frog farm in rural California, roaming the creeks and hills with his coon dogs. Many of the lessons he learned during those magical boyhood years have been applied to photography and teaching the essence of this art form. For more information, visit www.greatpicturehunt.com.
The five Troubadours bring joy to those who grew up with songs from the ’50s and ’60s
By Dianna Troyer
Dressed in a purple shirt, white bowtie and dapper black hat, Mel Pfeifer shuffles, spins and shimmies around wheelchairs as he croons songs of yesteryear.
The 78-year-old holds up a microphone so residents at a southeastern Idaho care center can sing along to “Tulsa Time,” “Bobby Sue” and the “Red River Valley” during a performance of the Troubadours.
“A lot of people remember the lyrics to these songs,” Mel, a retired military contractor, says during an intermission.
Calling themselves the Troubadours, five friends sing country-western and rock ‘n’ roll classics from the ’50s and ’60s—the music of their youth. Every month, they perform hour-long concerts at eight care centers in the Burley, Idaho, area. They also sing at reunions, anniversaries, receptions, birthdays, block parties and other community events.
Care center residents clap, tap their feet and sing along with Mel, who is nicknamed “The Dance Man,” Ned “The Guitar Man” Carter, “Uncle” Bill Jackson, Paul “The Crooner” Brown and Rod “The Sheriff” Draper.
“A lot of times, at the end of our performances, they ask us to stay and sing more songs and wonder when we’ll be back,” Rod, 67, says during a break. “For me, it’s priceless to see the joy they feel. Entertaining them is a way to pay it forward. Who knows, some day I may be in a care center.”
The friends started the Troubadours three years ago. Paul, Rod and Mel had been singing together as members of the Snake River Flats, a local barbershop harmony group, and decided they would like to sing more often. Ned and Bill heard about them through friends and tossed in their talents.
“We each specialize in a certain type of music, so we take turns at the mic,” says Paul, 78, a retired builder. “We have hundreds of songs in our repertoire. One of my favorites is ‘Walk Across Texas.’”
Paul’s deep voice is reminiscent of the late Hank Snow, Don Williams and Jim Reeves. “I do a lot of their songs,” he says.
Paul says Ned is their “guitar man and hummer and strummer” who gets them warmed up.
Before he performs, Ned picks from one of his eight guitars at home.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was 12,” says, Ned, 68, who has performed with bands in Utah and Idaho.
Ned retired from managing a local ranch and now works part time with a local probation department.
“I’m still writing songs and have three CDs,” Ned says. “Music just cheers everyone up year-round. Without it, I don’t know what I’d do.
“I like the music of our era and being able to understand the lyrics. The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison are some of my favorite performers.”
Rod marvels at Orbison’s range.
“He could sing two to three octaves,” says Rod, who retired as a maintenance foreman with the Idaho Transportation Department and is on call part time with the local ambulance service.
Rod practices at home an hour or two before each gig to warm up his vocal cords.
“We put a lot of effort into our performances,” he says.
Bill, 78, never sang until he retired from a plumbing company in 2000. He had stoked his latent musical talents, going to concerts in nearby Jackpot, Nevada, for about 20 years.
“I’d always loved music,” says Bill, a silversmith who made jewelry and gave it to performers after their concerts. “We’ve met a lot of celebrities backstage. Finally, I decided to give singing a try.”
Wearing a cowboy hat and black leather chaps with silver studs running along the seams, Bill sings country-western songs made famous by the late Conway Twitty, Hank Williams, George Jones and Gene Watson.
His recent sidekick is a puppet named Buddy, a 3-foot-tall hound dog he found at a yard sale.
“I named him Buddy, put him in a cowboy outfit and we’ve performed together ever since,” he says.
Audiences sense the camaraderie the Troubadours have with each other.
“People can tell we enjoy being together and complement each other with our different songs and styles,” says Rod.
Big Move to Tiny Libraries
By Dianna Troyer
A grassroots national movement to erect little free libraries is taking root in places as diverse as urban restaurants and rural roadsides.
Instead of browsing shelves at a traditional library, readers now can browse, borrow and return books to tiny weatherproof libraries, some the size of a suitcase.
Many of the tiny libraries have whimsical designs that resemble schoolhouses, castles, covered bridges, school buses or whatever the builder can imagine.
“The libraries create informal gathering places where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories,” says founder Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin.
Todd launched the program in 2009 to honor his mother, who was a teacher and avid reader. Since then, more than 15,000 free little libraries have been built worldwide to promote literacy and the love of reading.
In remote northeastern Nevada, Catherine Wines sponsors the little library recently erected at the community hall in Starr Valley, where she grew up 20 miles from the nearest library.
“Sharing books through the little library helps create a sense of community,” says Catherine. “The hall is a perfect place because there are seasonal events and gatherings there.”
Catherine and her bibliophile mother, Claudia, helped stock the library with books.
“We love books and anytime you can get people of all ages to read, it’s great,” says Catherine. n
To see if a little library is near you, visit www.littlefreelibrary.org.
One Man’s Journey
A grieving father logs thousands of miles to honor the gift of life
By Lorie Palmer
Steve Fugate is on a journey that already has taken him 36,000 miles by foot in 15 years.
He stopped by Big Dan’s Barbershop for a haircut while passing through Grangeville, Idaho, in May and told owner Dan Gautney his story.
“I was on my first walk along the Appalachian Trail when I got the news I lost my son … to suicide,” he says.
Steve, 67, says it all began in 1999 when he left his 26-year-old son, Stevie, to run the family business in Vero Beach, Florida. Steve thought they could reverse roles the following year and his son could walk the Appalachian Trail while Steve took care of the home front.
“Things don’t always work out the way we think they will,” he says, shaking his head.
Steve walks with a sign that proclaims, “Love Life.” It’s a simple message, but it reminds people about something that is often taken for granted.
“Six years after my son died, my daughter died of an accidental drug overdose,” says Steve. He chokes back tears, adding, “I walk to keep my sanity.”
He says his modest message has touched other lives. He has been interviewed by NPR, The Weather Channel and various other media outlets along his routes.
“I was told after one NPR radio segment they got calls and 10 people heard my raspy little voice and made the choice to not end their lives,” he says, smiling. “That’s what it’s all about.”
So he walks—not exactly in memory of or to honor anyone in particular—but rather to prevent others from going through what he has endured.
“You cannot let anyone tell you how to grieve,” he says. “This is my way. Just don’t tell me you’re having a horrible day because you had three flat tires. That’s an inconvenience. A bad day is losing a spouse, a sibling, a child. That’s bad for more than a day. It’s always bad, they’re always gone.”
Steve was in Grangeville to meet with smokejumpers. He was invited by the father of deceased smokejumper Luke Sheehy who was killed in 2013 while fighting a fire in the South Warner Wilderness near Alturas, California.
“He died when he made a jump,” Steve says. “I don’t know what I can say to anyone to make a difference, but I can be there.”
Steve says he plans to continue walking the United States and offering his message to love life.
“Basically, I just want people to stop and think about what a gift life truly is,” he says as he mounts his backpack sign and starts down Main Street on his way out of town.
Happenings Out West
The Pig-N-Ford Races are a 90-year tradition at the Tillamook County Fair in Oregon. At the start of each race, drivers sprint to a set of pens, grab a live pig, carry it back to their Model T Ford, hand crank the starter and drive a lap, all while holding the pig. Drivers must complete three laps, stopping between laps to swap pigs. The winner of the race is the driver who can finish the fastest without losing a pig. Legend has it the race was the brainchild of two farmers who had so much fun trying to catch a runaway pig in their Model T they decided to make it an event at the next county fair.
Just because it’s hot outside, you don’t have to stay out of the kitchen. Think beyond the backyard grill. And don’t limit your summer fare to tossed salad and cold sandwiches when you want to keep the indoors comfortable, the oven off and energy costs down.
With a little time, creativity and a few small appliances, you can save on your utility bill and still stay cool.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking alone accounts for 4 percent of total home energy use. This figure doesn’t include the energy costs associated with refrigeration, hot-water heating and dishwashing.
While the thought of turning on the oven in July can be enough to make you sweat, electric ones can be an advantage during the summer months. Many professional cooks prefer electric ovens to gas for their ability to hold more even heat. Electric stoves also are more energy efficient because they don’t introduce extra moisture into your home when turned on, which can make your air conditioner work harder to cool and drive up energy use and cost.
In winter, the heat and humidity that builds up when cooking in the kitchen also can warm other parts of the home, while reducing the heating load on your furnace or heat pump.
During the summer months, though, there are still ways to use your oven more efficiently. When baking bread, cakes or any foods that require browning and rising, consider limiting the time spent on preheating. If your oven comes with a display that counts down the preheating time, use it.
Try these other kitchen tools and energy-saving tips to keep you cool:
- Turn on the microwave. Microwaves can provide the most efficient way to cook single food items without the heat. They also use lower wattage to operate and can cut cooking time in half.
- Reach for small appliances. Don’t forget about some of summer’s best go-to kitchen appliances: toaster ovens, slow cookers and pressure cookers. These handy appliances use less energy and generate less heat than a standard oven.
- Use fans. Ceiling fans can be useful in the kitchen. They can reduce thermostat settings by 4 degrees and use much less energy than air conditioning. Even placing a ceiling fan in an adjoining dining area will help circulate the air and keep you more comfortable. For maximum cooling using a fan, consider installing a whole-house fan or attic fan to keep the hot air moving up and out of your house.
- Consider the time. In most parts of the country, summer provides a little reprieve in the early morning and late evening. Take advantage of the lower temperatures or a summer breeze during these times to cook, bake, turn on the stove and run the dishwasher.
- Regulate the dishwasher. When your summer meal is done and it is time for cleanup, it is fine to run the dishwasher. Did you know that a dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand? You can save even more money and energy by removing the dishes after the wash cycle and letting them air-dry, and by running the dishwasher later in the evening during off-peak hours.
B. Denise Hawkins writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Virginia-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.
Keep Your Cool Efficiently This Summer
Keeping your home’s heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system in tip-top shape and operating it efficiently can have a sizable impact on your power bills.
To increase the efficiency of your HVAC system:
- Install a programmable thermostat. Set your programmable thermostat to match your weekly schedule. It automatically will raise the temperature in your home while you are away and bring it back into your comfort zone shortly before you return. Used wisely, a programmable thermostat can save you more than $180 in annual energy costs. To maximize savings, set cooling temps at 78 degrees or above.
- Change your air filter regularly. Check your filter monthly. If it looks dirty, change it. Even if not dirty, change it at least every three months. A clogged filter reduces air flow, makes the system work harder and wastes energy. A clean filter keeps dirt from building up in the system, which can lead to expensive HVAC repairs or replacement.
- Have your HVAC system checked yearly. Just as you should see a doctor for an annual checkup, your HVAC system needs a checkup to stay healthy, too. Have maintenance performed by a qualified technician to catch problems before they become major. You will enjoy the benefits of energy savings and cool comfort. Need help finding a reputable HVAC contractor? Ask your friends or neighbors to recommend one.
- Seal your ductwork. Often overlooked, leaky ducts can be big energy wasters. Properly sealing and insulating ducts can improve efficiency by 20 percent or more. Use mastic to seal ductwork seams and connections, then wrap them with insulation for optimal energy savings.
- Consider replacing your HVAC system. If your air conditioner is more than 10 years old or no longer performs efficiently, consider replacing it with an energy-efficient model. By choosing an Energy Star-qualified system, you could save about $200 annually. Before buying, check the unit’s seasonal energy-efficiency ratio rating. The higher the number, the greater your savings will be. Look for a minimum SEER rating of 14.
Getting lost can happen innocently enough. Inattention, unfamiliarity and wrong turns culminate in the panic of not knowing where you are—a realization even more terrifying as darkness approaches.
Most of us will never experience a life-or-death survival situation in the wilds. However, wouldn’t it be nice to improve the odds if it ever did happen?
The 10 essentials is a collection of items you might need if you are ever forced to endure an unexpected night—or longer—in the woods or on the water.
The 10 essentials include:
- First aid
- Sun protection
This is an updated list that may be different than the one you learned as a Boy Scout or Girl Scout. It lists functions, rather than specific items. For example, you can carry a number of different things to make fire, such as waterproof matches, a lighter, or a flint and steel. Likewise, shelter, food, tools and sun protection can take many different forms.
Also, the 10 essentials on a boat may not be the same as those carried while backpacking or hiking. That is because weight and other factors can influence what items you take with you.
One more item to add to the list: a cell phone or smartphone. They can be used to call for help, or access first-aid instructions or other critical information. Most support GPS functions. While they have limitations, such as limited range and battery life, phones can be an essential survival tool.
Get in the habit of taking the 10 essentials wherever you go. Carry the basics when you hike, bike or go backpacking, and put together kits to keep in your car and boat.
The steps you take now could save your life in the future.
Fix It In the Field
Who hasn’t broken a rod tip while out on the water? Unfortunately, it often ends the fishing trip.
It doesn’t have to happen that way. There is a quick, easy fix that will have you back in business in no time.
You need three things for the repair: a spare rod tip, heat-shrink tubing, and a match or lighter. Also, you may need a knife to carefully trim away any rough or splintered rod material where the break occurred.
Simply slide a piece of heat-shrink tubing on the end of the rod, mount the new tip, adjust the tubing so it overlaps the rod and rod tip, and heat the tubing according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Behold! The new rod tip is ready for action.
Shift Into Slow Gear
“Slow and steady wins the race.” That sage advice applies to boots, too.
Begin the break-in process by wearing new boots around the house. Gradually increase the time they are on your feet, as well as the level of activity. Advance to short hikes, then longer ones.
How long the break-in period lasts varies from boot to boot. Heavyweight leather boots take the longest to break in. A good-quality leather conditioner, such as Nikwax, may help speed the process. Lightweight boots may not need a break-in period at all. Let your feet be the judge.
Got a Tip or a Whopper?
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication in Ruralite magazine, we will send you $25 for one-time use.
When sending a photo, identify people, places and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to moc.etilarurnull@ofni.
Oregon Observatory boasts 28 telescopes and more than 10,000 visitors a year
By Craig Reed
“Are there any aliens out there?” That is a question Bob Grossfeld hears repeatedly from visitors to the Oregon Observatory in Sunriver, Oregon.
Bob, manager of the observatory that is part of the Sunriver Nature Center and Observatory, helps those visitors look skyward to see for themselves.
“The alien question always comes up,” Bob says. “Have I ever seen an alien? Do you believe in aliens? No, I haven’t seen any, but I think the potential is huge. I’m a show-me kind of guy.”
The observatory is home to 28 tele-scopes. Some can be used to look at the sun during the day and some are best for looking at the night sky with its stars, galaxies and planets.
What can be seen safely through the solar telescopes on clear days are sun spots, solar flares, solar storms and other surface details of the sun. Bob explains the sun is actually a star and is the closest star to Earth.
At night, the moon can be seen as well as several planets when they are in the sky during the observatory’s open hours. They are Mars, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, and sometimes Neptune and Uranus. International space stations and other satellites also might be seen.
“You never really run out of things to look at,” Bob says. “I think it is an ever-changing universe. Every time I look in a telescope, it fascinates me.
“The observatory is a public education observatory. Our primary goal is to educate people about the universe, how it relates to the earth, what’s out there.
The observatory is registered with the Harvard Minor Planet Center and is the largest nonprofit public viewing facility in the U.S. The Harvard center is an official organization in charge of collecting data on asteroids and comets, calculating their orbits and publishing the information.
When the Oregon Observatory opened in 1991, it drew 50 visitors a night and maybe as many as 100 on a good night. Now with more telescopes—including a 30-inch mirror reflected scope, a donation from a Seattle man—the observatory attracts 150 to 200 people a night during its summer hours. More than 10,000 visitors a year now look skyward through the Sunriver telescopes.
On a night when something special, such as a comet is visible, the observatory might attract up to 400 people.
About a dozen part-time staff and more than 60 volunteers help instruct visitors on use of the telescopes.
One visitor was Erik Anderson of Ashland, Oregon, who has been to the observatory on numerous occasions. The 46-year-old says he has had a lifelong interest in astronomy.
“As a teenager, I spent many long nights squinting through eyepieces to observe the curiosities of the night sky,” he says. “The telescopes available at the Sunriver observatory are large instruments that I could only dream about using when I was growing up.”
Sunriver provides an ideal location for an observatory because of its elevation, distance from the nearest city lights and penchant for dark, clear nights.
Bob says those factors make for optimal, spectacular viewing.
Bob, 53, has worked at the observatory for almost all of its 24-year history, starting as a volunteer, then working part time before getting a full-time position. He remembers looking at Jupiter and Saturn through a telescope as a junior high student.
“I was pretty much hooked,” he says.
Bob says it is a hobby that became a unique job.
Bob moved to Sunriver to start his own lighting and sound company, but gradually his interest in astronomy and the observatory pulled him into that profession full time. He also has taught astronomy classes at Central Oregon Community College in Bend, Oregon, the past seven years.
“I think it’s an ever changing world where generations today will learn more in the next 40 years than we’ve learned in the last 40 because they have better tools and technology,” he says. “They’ll be the first generation to go to Mars.”
In addition to sharing the telescopes and the skies with the public at the observatory, Bob takes some of the smaller, mobile telescopes to elementary and junior high classrooms in the Sunriver, Bend and LaPine areas. He wants to give those students the chance to be as fascinated as he is by what is out in space.
“To see the remnants of a super nova—stars that exploded hundreds of thousands of years ago—just knocks my socks off,” Bob says.
Happenings Out West
Kite Festival, July 19-20
The Southern Oregon Kite Festival has been a West Coast favorite since 1993. People come from across the country to participate and watch the waves of colorful kites perform aerial stunts in the skies above Brookings. This year’s event is July 19-20 along the beach where the Chetco River meets the Pacific Ocean. For more information, visit www.southernoregonkitefestival.com.
Fans flock once again to nostalgic cinematic icons
By Dianna Troyer
Brian Francis still remembers the fascination he felt as a toddler watching the movie “101 Dalmatians” from the back deck of his house at his family’s 99W Drive-In theater.
“Like a lot of the old drive-in families, I grew up in the house on the property,” says Brian, 55, the third generation to own and operate the 99W in Newberg, Oregon. “Watching that movie is my earliest memory. An underground wire ran from the projection booth to the deck, so we could hear the film. Now, our kids watch movies from the deck.”
Brian’s grandfather J.T. Francis built the 300-car slot theater off Highway 99W in 1953, when drive-ins were rising in popularity.
Drive-ins thrived until the late 1970s and 1980s, when attendance waned and thousands of theaters closed nationwide.
The Francis family weathered the downturn and now is enjoying audiences’ renewed interest in the nostalgic entertainment icon.
“There are so few left that fans go to drive-ins because they’re afraid they’ll close,” says Brian. “Plus, people like nostalgia. Drive-ins have come such a long way, with technology changing recently from film reels to digital, but one thing is still the same: They’re a place to make memories.”
Drive-ins had record attendance in 2013, says April Wright, director of an 85-minute movie documentary, “Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie.”
Released last year, her film celebrates the outdoor cinema as an icon of American culture.
“A cultural movement is emerging among drive-in enthusiasts and families who want to return to simpler times and values,” says April, who visited the 99W while making her film. “Although the number of drive-ins has declined, they’re still an integral, vital and cherished part of our culture. Some have as many as 30,000 Facebook fans.”
Last year, Honda also shined a national spotlight on drive-ins. The car company launched Project Drive-In, a campaign to help owners make the costly conversion to new digital technology because studios are phasing out celluloid film.
The project has donated 10 free digital projection systems—each valued at about $80,000—to drive-ins, including the 99W. Fans voted online for the winners.
“We’re blessed and grateful to Honda and everybody who voted for us last summer,” says Brian, who began using the new system in March.
He strives to blend the newest technology with vintage cinema.
“The digital picture is so bright and clear, and the colors are vibrant,” he says. “But for old time’s sake, we still run 20 minutes of vintage intermission reels from our 35mm library we’ve collected for 60 years. The projector we’ve used since 1953 still runs great with a few drops of oil for routine maintenance.”
Like Brian, April appreciates new technology and nostalgia, merging both in her movie to tell why drive-ins peaked in the late 1950s at about 5,000, but declined to fewer than 400 by the 1980s.
“Their shifts in popularity tell the story of how American culture and families evolved during the past 60 years,” says April, who worked on her film for seven years, crisscrossing the continental United States to visit 500 open or abandoned drive-ins.
Her childhood memories watching movies under the stars in Illinois and her admiration of drive-in architecture motivated her.
The completion of her film coincided with the 80th anniversary of the invention of drive-ins.
The Rise and Demise
Compelled to combine his love of cinema and cars, Richard Hollingshead Jr., a Camden, New Jersey, businessman, invented the drive-in. In 1932, he nailed a sheet between trees in his yard and propped a movie projector on his car hood. After receiving a patent in 1933 for an arrangement of tiered ramps for cars at an outdoor theater, Hollingshead opened the first drive-in theater in nearby Pennsauken with 400 car slots.
Other drive-ins soon opened.
Infused with an infatuation for cars and movies as predominant forms of entertainment, Americans flocked to drive-ins from the 1940s through the 1960s.
“A product of post-World War II optimism, the drive-in theater emerged as the perfect blend of entertainment and our car culture,” says April. “Drive-ins became an affordable destination for couples on a date or families with noisy children.”
Tim Delaney, a sociology professor at State University of New York, Oswego, says, “The ’50s was a unique and innocent decade when people felt happy and cherished the freedom and comfort their cars offered. They also loved the inexpensive, safe, relaxing entertainment of watching movies outdoors. Drive-ins reflected our societal values and norms at that time.”
During their heyday in 1958, about 5,000 drive-ins were in business, says April.
But by the late ’60s and ’70s, U.S. culture began to change drastically, causing drive-in attendance to decline.
“By then, televisions were in many homes, influencing how families spent their time,” says April. “During the early ’80s, people began spending their leisure time with computers, video games, cable and home video.”
Economic factors also contributed to drive-in closures.
During the 1980s, big box stores and cinema complexes gained a foothold, replacing mom-and-pop businesses such as drive-ins, Brian says.
“We survived by building a two-screen indoor cinema in 1983 next to the drive-in so we could be in business during winter, when the drive-in was closed,” he says.
Drive-in owners also supplemented their income by renting their grounds from spring through fall for flea markets, craft shows, car shows, film festivals or concerts.
From 1978 to 1988, more than 1,000 drive-in screens closed, according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.
“Closings were common for several reasons,” says D. Edward Vogel, administrative secretary of the association. He grew up with drive-ins. His stepfather, Jack Vogel, an architect-engineer, designed and helped build more than 300 drive-ins, with D. Edward accompanying him on business trips.
“As land values increased, many drive-in owners sold their property because developers offered them more money than they could earn running drive-ins,” D. Edward says. “Also, aging owners wanted to retire. Obtaining first-run product became increasingly difficult, too.”
The number of drive-ins has stabilized at 357 with 604 screens, according to the association.
“Right now, we’re holding on,” says D. Edward, who runs Bengies, a 750-slot drive-in open since 1956 in Baltimore.
It has the largest screen in America at 52 feet by 120 feet.
“I wish there were more drive-ins, but it’s heartening to see renewed enthusiasm for those still in business,” he notes.
Implementation of digital technology “is definitely the biggest change in presentation since the conversion from silent to sound pictures in 1929,” says Brian.
Costs of digital conversion have driven some drive-in owners out of business. In Globe, Arizona, Bobbie Hollis, longtime owner of the Apache Drive-In, closed last September, citing an inability to buy a new system.
Other owners have financed the new systems with lease options, bank loans and creative fundraising. A lease-to-own option on a used projector enabled Jeff Mexico to keep the Motor Vu Drive-In open last summer in Dallas, Oregon.
“I didn’t want to use crowd-funding resources, so I did a gift card digital upgrade promotion for the drive-in and two indoor theaters I was improving in Stayton and Albany,” he says. “It raised about $20,000. The cards were basically a zero-interest loan from a massive amount of people. That amount, along with sales of other businesses, provided cash to buy the digital system.”
The Motor Vu is a destination on warm nights.
“During mid-summer, our 435 slots are usually full,” says Jeff, 50, who quit his corporate job with Hewlett-Packard in Corvallis, Oregon, in 2002 to run theaters. “I’m an average guy who wanted to give this a try, and it’s been worthwhile.”
At the 99W, Brian and his family foresee a bright future and are adding about 40 more car slots this summer.
“The 99W is a beloved local landmark and still attracts people from the region who want a nostalgic evening,” says Brian. “As long as people are passionate about preserving drive-ins and supporting the snack bar, they’ll continue.
“For me, it’s in my family and in my blood. I don’t want to do anything else. My wife and children can come to work with me. My first jobs were here, picking up the trash and working at the snack bar. Who knows, when our kids are grown, they might run it.”
Based on her research, April is optimistic about the future of drive-ins’.
“People still believe this American icon is worth saving for generations to come,” she says.
Drive-ins have a timeless appeal for professor Tim Delaney, who often went to the Finger Lakes Drive-In near his hometown of Auburn, New York, when he was in high school and college.
“They still offer entertainment for all ages,” he says. “What’s better than going to a movie with friends, family or a date while communing with nature? No one shushes you for talking on your cell phone or texting. The kids can be noisy or fall asleep in the car. Drive-ins are still wonderful.”
Spud Drive-In on Idaho Bucket List
With its iconic tan 2-ton potato mounted on a 1946 Chevrolet flatbed truck, the Spud Drive-In ranks high on an Idaho bucket list.
“It’s called Old Murphy,” Manager Dawnelle Mumm says of the truck parked at the drive-in off Highway 33 near Driggs in eastern Idaho. “People stop to take their picture with it year-round.”
Built in 1953 in the rural Teton Valley, the famous drive-in was even referenced in a question on the TV show “Jeopardy:” “What state has a drive-in with a giant potato on a truck?”
Dawnelle, 63, who has operated the Spud since 1987, says tourists and regular patrons keep the nostalgic 170-slot drive-in busy in the summer, when it is open nightly.
“I know exactly what our regular customers want on their burgers,” Dawnelle says. “It’s great to see them every week.”
To pay for a used digital projector in 2012, the owners took out a loan.
“Two-thirds of the loan has been paid off with fund-raisers and T-shirt sales,” Dawnelle says.
Besides showing movies and selling season passes, income is generated from renting the 8-acre grounds for family reunions, concerts, car shows and flea markets. Local businesses also buy advertising space beneath the screen.
“Strong community support will keep it open,” Dawnelle says. “It’s been a popular part of the valley for decades.”
Milton-Freewater Drive-In is Spiess Family Hobby
Costly setbacks have failed to discourage Mike Spiess and his wife, Lorie, owners of the Milton-Freewater Drive-In Theater, in Oregon, 8 miles south of Walla Walla, Washington.
They dealt with every drive-in owner’s nightmare in 2008 when a windstorm blew down their screen tower.
“That was the first year we were in charge of day-to-day operations after my parents semi-retired from running it,” recalls Mike, who teaches sixth grade and coaches high school football. Lorie works full time as an office manager at an eye clinic. “The drive-in is our family hobby.”
In 2011, Oregon drinking water laws required them to drill a new well. Last year, they made the costly conversion to a digital projector and sound system.
“The shift in technology has been challenging, but well worth it,” says Mike. “We have by far the biggest, brightest screen in the area. Being digital has also allowed us to show first-run movies regularly.”
Their customer base extends to Pendleton and Hermiston, Oregon, and the Tri-Cities in Washington.
Built in 1953, the drive-in has been in Mike’s family for 53 years.
“Dad, who’s now 83, and his brother Lowell bought it in 1961,” says Mike. “It supported our family in the 1970s. With our customers’ continued support, we’ll be able to keep the gates open.”
Skyline Celebrates 50 Years
Disastrous twists of fate cannot keep the resilient Skyline Drive-In closed for long. During the past three years, the theater 80 miles southwest of Seattle in Shelton, Washington, has recovered from devastating winds that ripped the roof off the concession stand, floods, fire and a lightning strike that ruined a new digital projection system.
“Drive-ins will always be a good social experience for families,” says Dorothea Mayes, Skyline’s CEO. “Young parents appreciate the reasonable price to see two movies and are often relieved to not have to hire a sitter to enjoy a night out. Grandparents will continue to take kids to the drive-in to tell of how things were when they were growing up.”
Dorothea, 63, began going to drive-ins in the 1970s after she and her husband moved to the Seattle area.
“There were none where I grew up,” she says. “I fell in love with the whole drive-in atmosphere: the big screen, seeing a movie under the stars, the snack bar food, inexpensive admission, the privacy of the car yet the community of patrons around you, the atmosphere on a warm summer night, snuggling under a blanket on a cool night … all of it. I wound up with a job in the film industry and started booking movies for the drive-ins I was so enamored with.”