The second screen at Hummel’s Drive-In is nearly complete, and should be ready to show movies by mid-July. “If the weather co-operates, we’ll have the projection building up soon, then we have to wait for someone from either Columbus, Ohio or Texas to install the projection equipment,” said Drive-In owner Shawn Hummel.
In 1947, land was purchased from Charles Hale by the Make family. The Make’s, a family of Greek origins, then contracted the Crumrine Construction Company from Dayton to build a state of the art drive-in theater. On Friday, August 13, 1948 the Airline Auto Theatre had its grand opening. Located three miles East of Winchester on Route 32, just across from Coxy’s Winchester Airport, you could be the first to “Park ‘Neath the Stars in the Comfort of Your Cars” as an ad in the newspaper at the time stated. The feature attraction that night was “Nite in Paradise” starring Merle Oberon and Turan Bey (in gorgeous color) also on the bill was Variety News and a Woody Woodpecker cartoon. They planned “excellent and varied” movie fare from week to week as single features with a news reel and cartoon. They had Hi Fidelity “Autocraft” speakers which could be hung or placed inside each car and the volume could be adjusted to your taste.
Refreshments were served right to your car. A light controlled by each car’s occupants would signal a car-hop who would return with your snacks. Families would also appreciate the reduction of expense and the elimination of the need of a babysitter, they would even furnish a bottle warmer if needed. Admission was 50 cents for adults 20 cents for children and under 12 was free.
The original capacity of the theater was 500 cars. in 1952, the screen was enlarged to allow the showing of Cinemascope movies. During their operation of the Drive- In, the Make family gave away five jalopy cars and many sets of dishes to customers. Their biggest grossing movie was “The Ten Commandments.” Elvis Presley, Walt Disney, and westerns were among the most popular movies. Randolph Scott was also very popular.
Minor changes were made through the years, the addition of a playground for children to enjoy while waiting for the movie to start among them.
In 1986, fearing that the Drive-In would be closed as many others in the country had been, the Shannon Family purchased the theater. They did some extensive renovations on the projection equipment, and concession area, added a second screen, and planted several trees around the theater some of which would become Christmas trees. The Drive-In continued to operate on weekends for several years.
The Drive-In, eventually, closed for several years and fell into a state of disrepair. In 2015, Shawn and Paulletta Hummel purchased the theater at a tax sale. After extensive renovations including an all-new sound system, the couple re-opened the Drive-In in August of 2016.
A local landmark, the theater is one of about 300 such drive-in theaters remaining in the U.S., 13 of which are in Indiana. The nearest drive-in theaters are in either Shelbyville or Van Wert, Ohio. “We get lots of people that come from Richmond, Muncie, and New Castle,” said employee Dustin Shannon. “One of the things that makes us different is that we have mostly grass surfaces, where many of the remaining drive-ins are gravel,” he added. Shannon continues, “This is a fun work environment, most of our concession employees are high school students or early college age. We have eight employees and all of the food is made-to-order.”
On this beautiful Friday evening guests flowed steadily into the theater to watch “The Secret Lives of Pets 2” and the second feature “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Children and their parents enjoyed the playground as they awaited the evening’s entertainment. Weather plays a big role in the drive-in theater business. “On a nice night, like tonight, we can easily get over a hundred cars. But, if it’s rainy, we’re lucky to get twenty cars,” said Hummel.
While many things have changed through the years at the Drive-In. It now costs $8 for adults and $4 for children ages 5 to 10, children ages 4 and under are free. Gone are the car-hops and speakers, you simply tune your car’s radio to the indicated frequency, and carry your snacks from the concession area back to your vehicle yourself. Many things are also very similar. The playground is still popular, as is Disney. “ ‘Toy Story 4’ begins next weekend and we will have 'The Lion King' on July 19 both of which are sure to be popular,” said Hummel. “We also plan to have fireworks on July 6 to celebrate Independence Day,” He added.
Hummel’s Drive-In will be open Fridays and Saturdays through September and will be open Friday through Monday on Labor Day weekend. The ticket booth and concessions open at 8PM and the movies begin at dusk. “With Daylight Saving Time, it is usually 9 or 9:30 before it’s dark enough to start the movie, but I start them as early as I can,” said Hummel.