Ground Hopping: Shankweilers Drive In Cinema: Orefield, PA 22nd May 2011

Ever since I first travelled on part of Route 66 and saw the outside of a Drive In Cinema, I have wanted to attend one. Unfortunately everytime I have been near a drive In, it has been closed or gone dark (closed for good).

This trip to the USA, I decided that I would try to plan my route so that I could get to an open cinema. At this time of year, most Drive Ins are only open on weekends. This would limit my options. I also knew that I would have to drive the 400 or so miles from Hudson Ohio to Newark and did not want to do all that on the day I was due to catch my flight. So, using the internet to find Drive In cinemas and Google maps to locate them, I came across several cinemas between Hudson and Newark. Take into account the fact Philadelphia Union were at home on 21st May and I set on the Shankweilers Drive In @ Orefield in Pennsylvania. This was apparently  the 2nd Drive In in the USA and is the oldest still in operation.

The hotel I booked was only 4 miles from the cinema and 80 miles from Newark Airport, so ideal location. Excited, you bet I was.

The first sign of the cinema was the classic neon road sign


This pointed towards the entrance which again had the neon sign.


As the weather was not so good, the cinema was not very busy- no more than around 30 vehicles. It cost $8 per person to get in. Cheaper than the UK for a normal cinema. There was a double bill, Pirates of the Caribbean : On Stranger Tides and Soul Surfer.

I parked up and took a wander around and got to meet Paul the owner of the site. He kindly told me about the history of the site. It originally started with someone showing film from a table onto a screen, all in the open. Nowadays there is a central projection hut that also serves as the toilets and the snack bar. The cinema and all drive ins face an uncertain future as films move from 35mm film to digital film. It will cost $85,000 to purchase the necessary equipment. Drive ins generally only open daily at the height of summer and weekends only in spring and autumn. I can understand Paul’s dilemma but it would be sad to see drive ins die out. They are an iconic part of the image of America. This cinema is now some approximately 80 years old.

The cars park next to poles, 4x$s and larger vehicles next to yellow poles and others next to white poles. I was surprised to see some vehicles parked facing away from the screen. Was that a reflection of the quality of the film? The truth soon became apparent. It was part of the American tradition of tailgating. People had food etc. at the back of their vehicle and some sat in the boot of their 4×4 to watch the film. Other people sat in fold away chairs in front of their vehicle.


The latter picture shows the hut that is the projection hut,toilet block and refreshment hut.

The first film was not listed to start until 20:40, a bit late I thought, but of course they need to wait for it to be dark before they can show the film. No turning down the lights here.



The sound for the films is obtained by tuning your vehicle stereo into the relevant FM frequency. Not sure how us cyclists would cope here!

One big issue is keeping all vehicle lights off, not just headlights. This is not as easy with modern vehicles where lights come on automatically when you open a door and stay on for 10 seconds or so after door is opened. On older cars it was easier to turn lights off, but I was not sure how to do this. So, I no doubt caused disruption to others when I went to the toilet.

What was the experience like? Well I can report that I did not fall asleep in this cinema, so it must have been a better experience than a normal cinema. Would I attend a drive in again – definitely. I’d rather go to a drive in than a normal cinema.

Here’s hoping that Paul and other drive in owners can find a solution to the cost of the new digital equipment.


Admission $8 – very reasonable in my opinion

Food – range of food and drinks including burgers, pop and of course buckets of popcorn – again very reasonably priced

Sound – via FM radio and excellent quality

Film Quality – As its my first time at a drive in, I didn’t know what to expect, but it was excellent

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