Folks in Medicine Lodge are trying to keep the pictures rolling at their little drive-in theatre.
Hollywood is preparing to role the end credits on film, and Pageant Drive-In owner Mike Sill is hoping votes will keep his longtime family business from flickering out.
The Pageant is part of Honda’s Project Drive-In – an effort to keep the lights on at drive-ins across the country that need to switch to digital projection to stay in business.
Amid the transition, industry officials say that the number of movies produced on 35-millimeter film will continue to diminish until the movie reel is obsolete, just like cassette and VHS tape. It’s expected that film won’t last much past this year.
In the 1950s, there were 4,000 drive-ins throughout the country. Then one by one, they began closing as customers waned.
There are only 368 drive-ins left in the United States. Most still need to make the transition to digital, according to the project’s website. The website expects many could face closure by the end of the year if the switch from film to digital isn’t made.
Upgrading to digital costs roughly $80,000.
“We want to preserve this iconic part of American car culture, according to Honda. “So, we’re taking the first step by staring a drive-in fund and donating five digital projects. Your vote decides where they go.”
What drive-ins remain have seen a resurgence in the past few years, including the Pageant. Folks wanting the nostalgic feel of sitting under the stars at the few that still remain.
Sill’s family has been in the drive-in business five decades, so closing it would be tough. He’s hopeful that donations as well as votes will help keep his drive-in open.
First opening in the early 1950s, Sill’s father, Wayne “Frosty” Sill purchased the drive-in and the indoor complex in Medicine Lodge in 1968.
The Pageant, however, suffered the same fate as other drive-ins for a while.
With more people renting or purchasing movies with the advent of VHS in the 1980s, his father closed the Pageant in 1987.
For years, the screen stayed dark. Weeds and trees began to grow in the parking lot. Mike Sill couldn’t take the sight. He and his wife, Amy, reopened the pageant, with the help of his father, who died in 2012.
“It’s basically a hobby,” Sill said of his side business that runs most weekends through the summer. But his goal is to help keep the community of Medicine Lodge thriving, thus the lights on at the Pageant.
He, however, said can’t afford the large investment himself. It would take years to pay off the costly equipment.
I ventured here a few years ago, when Sill’s father was still alive and taking money at the gate. Cars, their headlights on, trickled in at dusk. As fireflies and stars lit the night sky, folks piled into the concessions for popcorn, nachos and drinks before taking to their vehicles or lawn chairs to watch the movie. We watched a couple movies, ate some popcorn then made the trek back to Hutchinson in about 1 1/2 hours.
People can vote daily, Sill said, as well as contribute through the website. The website also asks residents to pledge that they will visit a drive-in soon.
A handful of other Kansas drive-ins are also part of the contest, including drive-ins in El Dorado and Osawatomie.
To vote for the Pageant, go to http://projectdrivein.com/#vote_93. On a phone, text vote 93 to 44499. Sill said visitors can vote daily.
The contest runs through Sept. 9.