Sounds of Vermont: the drive-in movie theater

Print More

(Host) Five-dollar double features under the stars aren’t yet a thing of the past. You’ll find them every summer weekend at the Randall Drive-In in Bethel. The Randall is one of only four drive-in theaters left in Vermont.

For our series, “Sounds of Vermont”, VPR’s Steve Zind visited this reminder of a bygone era.

(Ticket taker) “Hello there. How many do we have tonight?”
(Mom) “We have two adults, three kids.”
(Ticket taker) “Alright, that’s going to be $10, please. The radio frequencies for the sound are 540 AM. “

(Zind) It’s not even dusk when the first vehicles pull onto the grassy humps of the Randall Drive-In. SUV’s and pickups back in. Pillows and blankets are thrown over the folded down seats. A local farmer’s been known to drive his tractor here so his kids can watch from the raised bucket. Couples set up lawn chairs. Families break out picnic baskets. Children play with balls and frisbees. The youngest are in pajamas. Katy Waters and Nathan Bump and their baby Lilly Ann are among the earliest to arrive.

(Katy Waters) “Because we have a particular place we like to park. We like parking right in front of the booth because it’s right in the middle and you’re not too far away and you’re not too close.”

(Sound of popcorn popping.)

(Zind) The Randall snack bar is an old converted bus parked under the trees.

(Snack bar worker) “Joe, can I get a hot dog with no bun? Kelsey, can I get a tub with butter? And I’ll make the apple juice. Three dollars even. Thanks, hon. Now, what’s this Scooby Doo? Is that an adult movie or not?”

(Sounds from the movie) “Scrappy dappy do!”

(Zind) Tonight’s double feature is Scooby Doo, followed by Ya Ya Sisterhood.

(Movie goer) “We’d don’t usually make it through the second show. Yada Yada Sisterhood, isn’t it?”

(Zind) The films aren’t the only reason people come to the drive-in. Dave and Carla Benson say an evening at the Randall is like taking their kids to the movies and the park.

(Carla Benson) “So that they can run around. So that we don’t have to have them sitting still if they don’t want to sit still through the movie. It’s kind of a relaxed family atmosphere.”

(Sound of screen announcement) “Boing! This drive-in theatre is radio active! Now you can (film skips) tonight’s show on your AM car radio.”

(Zind) A low cinderblock bunker houses the drive-in’s two original 1950s projectors. They’re basically welding torches inside big steel boxes. The light is focused out the front and through the film that spills off big reels and over chattering gears and sprockets.

Dale Williams is the Randall’s projectionist. During the course of every film, Williams has to change reels seven or eight times.

(Williams) “Well, people don’t like it when you get the reels out of order. That’s never good. Last year I ran a perfect year and never screwed up any reels. Get one out of order and I get them honking at me occasionally.”

(Zind) If anything, these minor inconveniences add to the authenticity of the experience. The drive-in’s nostalgic quality is one of its appeals. The Bensons have been coming here all their lives.

(Dave Benson) “One of the first times I can remember coming is in my parent’s motor home. We’d park in the back row and lay up on the top bunk, which had a window in it, and we’d watch the movie through the window in the top bunk.”

(Carla Benson) “Of course, the first dates in the car. A whole group of us would come in pick-ups. We’d all sit in the back of the pick-ups.”

(Sound of screen announcement) “Now you can join me at the snack bar for your favorite refreshments!”

(Zind) Scott Corse owns the Randall. He makes his living as Manager of the Morrisville Water and Light Department. He grew up in Randolph. For him, owning the drive-in is a form of summer recreation. He calls it his “sailboat”.

Corse says the drive-in still draws teenagers on dates, but mainly it’s families. Across the country, drive-ins have all but disappeared as property values have gone up. Staying in business is even more difficult in Vermont because of the short season and the vagaries of the weather. But Corse says in spite of it all, Vermont is a great place to take in a drive-in movie.

(Corse) “I personally think that’s a very attractive entertainment option. Just being able to sit outside watching a movie four stories high.” (Laughs)

(Sound of screen announcement) “We thank you for coming tonight and we hope to see you next weekend.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind at the Randall Drive-In in Bethel.

(Host) Our series, “Sounds of Vermont,” explores everyday sounds and what they mean to us. Tell us your favorite Sound of Vermont and why it’s special to you by visiting the Sounds of Vermont feedback page.

Comments are closed.