Road Trips

Movies on the Michigan Road: The Skyline Drive-in in Shelbyville

You might be surprised to know that 20 drive-in theaters still operate in Indiana. One of them, the Skyline, is on the Michigan Road, in Shelbyville. And it’s expanding.

Skyline Drive-In

Things didn’t look so good for the Skyline in 2008 when I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end. I photographed its sign then — and noticed the For Sale sign posted nearby. I figured the Skyline’s days were numbered.

Skyline Drive-In

Joe Gaudin, an independent filmmaker in Shelbyville, bought the struggling venue. Audiences were thin for the first few years, but in time he turned it around. It thrives today. Gaudin told me that his theater draws devoted drive-in fans from a 75-mile radius.

I won’t tell Gaudin’s whole story here — look for an article on the Historic Michigan Road Association’s Web site soon that does. My wife, Margaret, has become our marketing director, and she plans to profile interesting businesses and their owners all along the Michigan Road. Shelbyville was our first stop on that tour.

Skyline Drive-In

But I will say that Gaudin believes adding a second screen will secure his drive-in’s future. He’s working now to make it real, and he hopes to open it during 2020.

Skyline Drive-In

The season hadn’t begun yet when Gaudin met us, and of course work was beginning on the expansion. This is what a drive-in looks like under those conditions!

Skyline Drive-In

Gaudin showed us the projection room. We got to see the modern digital projector, critical to the drive-in’s ability to show first-run movies. But next to it stood the film projector and its lighthouse. This is vintage equipment. RCA manufactured the projector in 1948. I didn’t find a manufacturer label on the lighthouse, but Gaudin said it dates to the 1930s.

Skyline Drive-In

The vintage equipment lets him run old monster and exploitation movies that never made the leap to digital. Those movies create some of the most popular weekends at the Skyline!

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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18 thoughts on “Movies on the Michigan Road: The Skyline Drive-in in Shelbyville

  1. Wow, this could be one of the few businesses whose expansion is rewarded by the Coronavirus and our need for distancing. This actually sounds like fun, I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie at a drive in.

    • I can. 1985. Freshman in college. A bunch of us piled into a friend’s ’62 Chevy and saw some movie at the one that operated in Terre Haute then. I think I remember it mostly because I got to ride in a ’62 Chevy.

  2. Almost a decade ago I took my kids to see the movie Super 8 at New Jersey’s only remaining drive-in movie theatre, The Delsea Drive-In in Vineland. I had fond childhood memories of my dad taking us to the drive-in theatre in St. Vincent. I wanted to create some of those memories for my kids.

    They hated it. The sound, transmitted over FM to the car stereo, was terrible due to FM radio interferance. The screen was tiny and too far away and colours lacked the dynamic punch of HD. And I was not a fan of the long walk to the concession stand.

  3. Christopher May says:

    Carl Weese did a large format project documenting remaining drive ins several years ago. I thought it was a great idea. His images captured the uniqueness of these fascinating places. These images do so, too. I especially liked the last image of the two projection systems. Fun comparison between two eras of technology trying to accomplish the same end result.

    • The owner told us he’s one of a handful who kept the old film projection system. It enables him to show a bunch of films that never got digitized. I can’t imagine now why anyone would have gotten rid of the film systems.

      • Christopher May says:

        I think the decision to keep film projection systems has certainly helped the theaters that did likewise. Alamo Drafthouse is a chain of movie theaters that specialize I showing movies on film. While it remains to be seen how they will be affected by current circumstances, I know that they were very popular pre-Covid. As JP said, this might be an opportunity for drive-ins. That must be even more true for places like this with dual projection options.

  4. Ahhh…that’s an old carbon-arc projector. When I was in high school, one of my friends worked at the local drive-in part time on weekends. He was learning to be a projectionist, which was quite an art back in those days. The light in those projectors was created by bringing two energized carbon rods together creating sort of a bridge of light. There were cranks that you had to turn to keep the two carbon rods close enough to each other to maintain the light. It was hot and gave off fumes and all seemed pretty scary to me.

    • I thiiiink I remember the owner telling us that this was converted from carbon-arc to a big bulb of some sort. But it’s definitely from the carbon-arc era!

      My first job was in a movie theater and if I remember right the projectionists were unionized! It was almost a trade in those days.

  5. Michael says:

    That’s really cool to have the old and new side by side. Sadly the virus has shut down even the drive-ins because of restrooms and potential liability according to the drive-in here in TH.

    • Were you along in 1985 or 1986 when we went to that drive-in with one of the SAs on our floor? He was the one who drove the ’62 Chevy. A bunch of us piled in and we went to see some movie, I forget which one.

      • Michael says:

        I don’t believe so. I don’t think I’d ever been to that drive-in until it reopened a couple years ago. It seems like I did go to a drive-in with LD (?) down south somewhere. It seemed like it was in some well forested hills. I never really understood the location of the one on 63 north of Clinton.

        • Michael says:

          I bet you did and just forgot. Just a bunch of trees now though on some satellite views you can still see the old sign near the entrance. Look up 13150 S Kanizer Dr, Clinton, IN 47842 on Google.

  6. No such thing as a drive in theatre where I come from. Never visited one either, but have seen them in movies of course. I might even like the experience for all I know.

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