Historic drive-in goes digital

People of all ages are still drawn to the magic of movies under the night sky

People of all ages are still drawn to the magic of movies under the night sky

By Melissa Smith

Owner Lanita Price helps fill orders at the concession stand.

Owner Lanita Price helps fill orders at the concession stand.

A brindle Boxer named Lucy greets patrons as they drive up to the neon-lit stand to purchase tickets at the Henagar Drive-In. Cars, trucks and minivans then slowly make their way to find the prime viewing spots as children blow bubbles and play with glow sticks, waiting for the double-feature to begin.

Owner Lanita Price programs the movie to play before going down to the concession stand to help out as people begin to line up out the door and down the ramp.

Price built the Henagar Drive-In from the ground up in 1999. And, for the last five years, she has operated the theater with her daughter, Kayla Foote.

Even though it started sprinkling rain on this particular April Friday, moviegoers weren’t hindered by the elements. “We still roll in the rain,” Price says, laughing. That’s what they say when storms come in: The movies will keep playing as long as customers are comfortable staying. In fact, the only element the projector can’t shoot through is fog.

But while rain is no challenge for the outdoor movie show, time and technological changes within the industry have proven to be a different matter.

Tradition in transition

The Henagar Drive-In is beaming movies with an advanced digital projector that was purchased in 2014.

The Henagar Drive-In is beaming movies with an advanced digital projector that was purchased in 2014.

After 15 years of running a 35 mm projector, the drive-in faced a tough, and expensive, reality. Price decided it was time for an upgrade, and last year she purchased a digital projector for the drive-in. Now, instead of the giant rolls of film, movies come in the form of hard drives. “We ingest it in the projector,” Price says. “It’s date-coded, so once it’s done, you can’t view it anymore.” The movies can even be set up on a timer, so they basically run themselves.

According to Price, there are 373 drive-ins left in the country, and many of them still run on 35 mm, unlike their indoor cinema competitors. By the end of 2015, drive-in theaters will have to make a choice: convert to digital or shut down. “They’re going to have to shut down because they are doing away with film,” Price says.

“This is my livelihood. It’s like my baby. We’ve been hit twice by tornados, and our regulars wanted us to build back,” Price says. “It was a choice of shutting down or taking a chance and keeping it going. It’s been a year since we’ve been digital.”

Moviegoers have remained true to the Henagar Drive-In, and Price says she doesn’t feel like the digital conversion necessarily brought in more business, but it certainly improves the quality of the movies.

Timeless Experience
The Henagar Drive-In is open year-round on weekends, but in the summer months, you can come enjoy a movie on Wednesday and Thursday as well.

Although business is steady throughout the year, in the colder months, there is a great opportunity for football fans who wish they could watch football on the big screen.

Last season, the drive-in showed the college football playoff and National Championship games on the big screen. “We had a good turnout,” Price says. “We opened the concession stand and charged $5 per car. It was a lot of fun.”

Well, sometimes wishes come true. And, it happens to be one of the biggest screens around. “Hopefully, by football season, we’ll be able to show more games,” Price says.

Regular shows will cost $5 per person. But if you have three or more people in a car, the cost is $15. Period. “We’ve had church vans come through, people crammed in the back of a truck, and they still just pay $15 for a double-feature,” Price says.

But, what’s the most unique form of transportation? “We’ve had a man come in on a horse,” Price says.
Moviegoers have certainly developed some creative — and comfortable — ways to enjoy the shows. During peak season, many people get out of their vehicles and sit in camping chairs, while others blow up air mattresses or lay in the beds of their trucks. “One time, we had a little boy who wanted to set up his tent. It wasn’t a really busy night, so we let him,” Price says.

Speaking of busy nights, the biggest movie crowd was the showing of the “Cars” movies. “We packed out three weekends in a row,” Price says. Following closely behind was attendance for the “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Twilight” series. The drive-in can accommodate 250 vehicles, but they have never closed the gate or turned people away.

A Rainsville family — Lasha, Jayla, Kelci and Jacoby Guthrie — sit in the truck bed while enjoying a movie at the Henagar Drive-In.

A Rainsville family — Lasha, Jayla, Kelci and Jacoby Guthrie — sit in the truck bed while enjoying a movie at the Henagar Drive-In.

Charlene Smothers has worked at the drive-in for four years. She lives in Henagar, not far from the drive-in. “I’m a substitute teacher, and this is my secondary job,” Smothers says. She is usually running the cash register at the concession stand and says the drive-in employees feel like her own family.

Here’s something else to know about the Henagar Drive-In: Don’t make dinner plans before going.
They have hamburgers, chicken fingers, nachos, chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and fries. But, if you’re in the mood for just a snack, they’ve got hot, buttery popcorn, candy and even snow cones.

In fact, the food is so good, many people come through just to eat. But, be sure to get some caffeine because the movies sometimes end late. “I’ve had to wake people up before in their cars when it was time to go home,” Smothers says, laughing.

Standing the test of time

Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

Andrew and Whitney Meeks take their first dance as husband and wife in a farm building that was specifically revitalized for their wedding. Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

By Matt Ledger

Eight weeks before wedding bells would ring in 2014, Andrew Meeks and his fiancee, Whitney, faced a tough reality. The new barn for their perfect farm wedding wouldn’t be ready.

“We went over our choices, and while many ideas were given, it was my uncle, Brian Maxwell, who said, ‘You have the perfect place at the gin,’” Whitney says.

They faced, however, one daunting problem. The gin was the heart of the Meeks Grain and Gin Company, a building in disrepair.

“Looking at the gin, I had no hope,” Whitney says. Putting the rust in rustic, “the building had basically become a storage building filled with spare parts,” she says.

With only weeks remaining, the family went to work in a race against the calendar.

The new Meeks Grain and Gin Company sign hangs upon the old ‘gin’ building.

The new Meeks Grain and Gin Company sign hangs upon the old ‘gin’ building. Photos by Mandy Owens Weddings.

A family story
In 1947, a wedding began a lasting legacy. After their marriage ceremony, Lloyd and Ruby Meeks started the Meeks Grain and Gin Company, building many of the structures on their homestead. The Pisgah-based farm prospered for many years — an additional 640-acre lot was located 5 miles away — until cotton lost value and farmers sought new crops to survive. Ruby ran the office and even tagged the cotton bales, while Lloyd primarily worked at the cotton gin, which closed in 1975. Their two children, Myra and Nacey, helped their folks on the farm, selling seed and fertilizer.

Switching to potatoes kept the farm going until it too lost value. Nacey continued running the grainery, growing corn, potatoes, wheat and soybeans from 1985 until 1993.

The farm was passed down to another generation in 2011, as Lloyd’s grandson Andrew began to manage the operation. He and his father, Nacey, have left the spuds behind, but still tend fields with the other three crops.

Finding a new purpose
In 2014, the farm’s next generation was waiting. Andrew may have grown up in Pisgah, but his heart found a Henagar girl named Whitney. Both went to Pisgah High School a few years apart, but they first met in 2012 while out with mutual friends in Scottsboro. Whitney also grew up on a farm; however, it raised cattle and horses. “The transition from the farm I grew up on to what Andrew does was difficult at times, but we made it work,” Whitney says.

“Andrew and I started out wanting his farm to be included in our wedding,” Whitney recalls. “After getting engaged in September, he planned to build a barn for us to have our wedding reception in.” However, contractor delays led to an anxious family meeting in March 2014.

Nearly 20 members of the Meeks’ family — ranging in age from 8 to 72 — emptied the overloaded barn, cleaning floors and pressure washing walls. Many farm implements dot the landscape, adding a vintage feel with industrial equipment that isn’t commonly found today.

Andrew and Whitney married on May 24, 2014, before 260 guests. “The location was a complete surprise to many people,” Whitney says. “While traveling on our honeymoon, we decided Meeks Grain & Gin would be the perfect event venue.”

Growing a new business
Soon the corn and soybeans would take a back seat to white rice on weekends, as bridal parties throw the good luck grain on newlyweds. The 50-by-110-foot cotton gin sits on the original 10 acres and is suitable for as many as 300 guests. Reservations fill each weekend of spring, and the gin is nearly booked for fall. The Meekses are already taking dates for 2016.

Andrew and Whitney will begin a new chapter for the Meeks family when their first child, Truitt, is born in July. “This has been a very big year for us and our new business,” Whitney says.

 

2015 Annual Meeting

2015 Annual Meeting

2015 Annual Meeting

Saturday, August 1
DeKalb County Schools Coliseum
Highway 35, Rainsville

Registration begins at 8 a.m.
Entertainment starts at 9 a.m.
Business meeting begins at 11 a.m.

Election for the Board of Trustees
Vote for Board of Trustees representing Bryant, Geraldine and Pisgah.

Enjoy refreshments during the event and make sure to stick around for the fantastic prizes and drawings. The Chris Roberts School of Music will perform, along with other local artists.

FTC is hosting a car and truck show from 8-11 a.m., allowing vehicles of any vintage to participate. Every registered entry will be entered for a chance to win great prizes. For more information, call Kim Williams or Kristie Bailey at 256-638-2144.

 

 

 

 

 

Career Enrichment Day

Artist8931On May 13, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative co-sponsored the 2015 Career Enrichment Day with Northeast Alabama Community College, which is celebrating its 50th year in post-secondary education. The event provides high school seniors with an opportunity to hear from professionals in a variety of vocations.

Chalk artist and motivational speaker Sam Glenn shared his personal story of overcoming adversity and how others can empower themselves to make transformational changes in their lives. He also displayed his artistic abilities completing an abstract sketch of an eagle.

FRS trip

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Two students in FTC’s service area recently made the annual trip hosted by Foundation for Rural Service. Kaelin Butts and Ben Coots joined the 2015 FRS Youth Tour of Washington D. C. Kaelin is the daughter of Tracy and Tony Butts, and a student at Plainview High School where she is involved with Bear Theatre, Senior Beta Club, Science Club and the Improv Troupe. Ben is the son of Tracy and Donald Coots, and a Plainview High School student, where he is a member of the Science Club, FCA, FFA, Beta Club and Tennis and Fishing teams.

Kaelin Butts and Ben Coots toured the National Mall and visited several historical locations during their five-day visit, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Lincoln Memorial and Ford’s Theater.

FTC Scholarships

Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative awards two college scholarships to deserving students within its service area each year. One scholarship is awarded to a high school senior and the other to a student enrolled in college. The $2,000 scholarships help students with college tuition, fees and books.

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Chasody Lynn Reed is a 2015 graduate of North Sand Mountain High School. She was a member of the Beta Club, Fellowship of Christian Students and Family, Career and Community Leaders of America. She was a Science Club officer and participated in the Personal Responsibility in Daily Excellence (P.R.I.D.E) club, and she was also the Youth Tour speech competition winner for the Foundation of Rural Services. She attended the Creative Writing Conference at Chattanooga State. Reed also worked as an assistant coach of a Bryant Elementary School basketball team. After attending Northeast Alabama Community College, Reed plans to transfer to Jacksonville State University to study psychology.

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Miranda Ward is a University of Alabama graduate and currently in the top 10 percent in the Physician Assistant program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is also a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the Alabama Society of Physician Assistants and a Fyffe High School graduate. She has volunteered her time fundraising with the Children’s Miracle Network, the National Eating Disorders Association, American Cancer Society and Relay for Life. She worked spreading awareness about eating disorders and founded www.unseenobsession.weebly.com. Ward was also a member of The University of Alabama Million Dollar Band trumpet line. After graduation, she plans to work as a surgical or primary care physician assistant in rural Alabama in addition to volunteering in free medical clinics providing health care to those who do not have insurance.

He made a difference

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

By Fred Johnson
Executive Vice President and General Manager

Though I try to avoid doing so strictly for personal reasons, it is not uncommon for me to pay tribute in this column to people who’ve made a significant difference in my life. I do this because I feel strongly that the reason for their influence speaks to a much larger community. Such is the case as I offer my thoughts on the passing of a leading citizen of DeKalb County.

March 17, 2015, marked the passing from this life of Max Cash of Mentone. It did not mark the end of his influence. Max was an active and productive citizen. This was evident by his service to his country during WWII; by his devotion to his community as a town council member, mayor and general advocate; by his lifelong support of his church and its ministries; and by countless other ways as well (e.g. his love and conservancy of nature). It would be somewhat easy to lump Max into a larger class of people from “The Greatest Generation” who made similar contributions. After all, Max didn’t consider himself all that special. He would have told you everything he did was something he should have done. He would have also told you he expected the same of you. What made him uncommon to me was that I got to see him up close. Max and his wonderful wife of 67 years, Roberta, had a large family, 7 children to be exact, but anyone who knew them would probably tell you there were few times when their home was occupied only by family. It would be impossible to count the times when Max and Roberta hosted kids at their home. It was truly a gathering place. Make no mistake about it, whether then or now, that only happens when young people FEEL cared for and welcome. Theirs was such a place.

It was in this environment that I most saw in Max the type of person we so desperately need in society today. Max and Roberta have always cared deeply about the things they thought important. They once committed to pray for a matter concerning my wife until such time as the prayer was answered. They did, it was, and we still have their note of promise. In short, people mattered to them. It is obvious their children were paying attention. Each one has in their own way demonstrated evidence of this character passed on.
Unfortunately, Max and Roberta also experienced their share of tragedy when a son died in a car crash. It was an understandably difficult time. Their grief was clearly evident, but if their faith ever waivered, it was not obvious to me. In fact I still remember their testimony, both spoken and unspoken. That’s living your faith in the toughest of times and even more evidence of rock-solid character.

By now you should see clearly that I held Max Cash in high esteem. The way he loved his family, his support of his church and all those in it, his service to town, county and country — all these things spoke of who he was and how he lived his faith and commitment. When men of this obvious character and influence actually take time to care about others, it makes a huge difference. Despite his many responsibilities, there was never a time when I did not feel that this man also genuinely cared about me and my family. That both made and continues to make a difference in my life today. For that I am truly grateful. However, I will repeat something I said earlier. If I could say this to Max today, I have no doubt he would say “thank you” and then tell me clearly that he expected the same thing out of me. Society needs more people like this. May we all learn from his example and from that of those like him. It is our best way of showing gratitude for lives well-lived.