All for a buck!
One of the highlights of the summer, back when I was growing up, was Buck Night — every Wednesday — at the Ranch Drive-In theater west of Ames. Not only did it offer a cool way to watch a movie, it also allowed a whole car load of kids to get in for just a dollar. And when I say “car load” I mean a car with a dozen or so kids hanging out of it.
Kids weren’t the only ones who took advantage of Buck Night. It wasn’t unusual to run into your parents and their friends at the refreshment stand during intermission.
One of the main reasons people chose watching a movie from their car rather than in a theater was simple: they could wear (or not wear) just about anything they wanted.
Today’s world is much different. Many people could care less about how they look when they go out in public. In fact, it looks to me like some try to look a little weird when they’re out and about.
Then, for those who do not wish to go out in public yet would like to enjoy a movie, there’s everything from cable television and satellite movie networks to Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. Like I say, back in the 1950s things were a whole lot different.
Television was here but most of the programming was live. There was maybe a real movie about once a week on each of the major networks. Most of those movies were so old and used you’d swear you were looking at them through a screen door.
Naturally, that meant that the parents would often tough it out at home and watch television while the kids would head for the movies.
The main problem with going to a movie theater back in my teenage years could be summed up in one word: QUIET. Anyone caught talking would be asked politely to SHUT UP! The next time you were caught talking it was “good-bye Charlie.”
That was the beauty of the Ranch Drive-In! We could all gather in one area and talk all night. Truth is, many was the time we’d talk through the entire movie and not know what movie was playing when we got home.
The Ranch would normally open about the same time as the swimming pools each year — Memorial Day. That was the traditional time for school to end and summer vacation to begin. (My how times have changed!)
As I said earlier, Wednesday night was always a big night because it was Buck Night. I believe we once had 16 people jammed into Jim Young’s dad’s 1949 Dodge 2-door.
Others would borrow their dad’s pickup and cram kids into the box until their feet were hanging out over the edges.
Not only were there car loads of boys in regular attendance at the Ranch during the nights of summer, girls were equally well represented.
It became more-or-less a tradition to meet and greet each other at the drive-in. Chicks from certain towns were parked in certain locations. Others would cruise by and talk for awhile and then retreat to their own area.
If ever the convertible was designed for something special it had to be for a drive-in theater. The coolest of the cool would drive through with their tops down, bulging with bodies hanging out all over while their radios screamed out an Elvis tune.
Sure, sometimes noise became a problem. Warnings were issued and tempers sometimes got hot, but it was different from an inside theater. By the time you came back next week, they’d forgotten all about it.
There was one thing you’d have be on guard for, however. To listen to the movie — which sometimes we actually did — meant you had to place a speaker in your car.
This was easy enough but if you forgot the speaker during a quick departure, it meant either a broken speaker cable or a chipped car window — or both.
Yep, those were the good old days all right. The movies might not have been exactly new, and the mosquitoes might have been extra hungry, but it was still a great place to hang out.
And back then, that was what it was all about!
Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.