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    Saving Stone Drive-In Theatre in Mountain View

    10:49 PM, Sep 2, 2013   |    comments
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    MOUNTAIN VIEW, Ark. (KTHV) -- Mountain View is one of the most beautiful places in the state. It's a town of just a couple thousand that attracts tens of thousands each summer. But if you take a drive down Highway 87, make a right on an unmarked gravel road, you'll find one of the town's most treasured secrets: The Stone Drive-In Theatre.

    "There's still a few of those things coming up back here. Right there is one," says Bobby Thompson.

    The nearly 70-year-old man spends most of his summer afternoons digging up a pesty, prickly summer weed that seems to have invaded his home.

    "They're sandburs," he says. "Sure is a job picking these things all the time."

    But the wide open field with a cell tower to the left and an empty white billboard to the right isn't just his home. That's pretty evident when the cordless house phone in his front shirt pocket starts to ring non-stop as the sun starts to set on a hot summer day.

    "Stone Drive In Theatre," Thompson answers. "Smurfs Part 2. Alright, thank you," he replies to the caller's question.

    This rustic, simple down drive-in theatre is his family's legacy.

    "1965 is when it was opened," Thompson says as he gives a tour of his nearly 50-year-old projector room.

    "You get the film in these two thousand foot reels and then I tape it all together and make a continuous run out of it," he explains.

    As he threads nearly twelve thousand feet of the newest Smurfs movie through his 1978 model projector, you can tell he's done it a time or two.

    "When my dad started running the old uptown theatre, these was the projectors that I was running. Been running these things nearly all my life," says Thompson.

    For nearly 40 years, this projector has bounced the newest box office hits off a falling-down screen made of house siding. But like technology often does, it's changing and not necessarily for the better.

    "Next year all this stuff is just junk," says Thompson pointing to his antique projector. "It won't be good for nothing anymore."

    "They've told us for several years that they are going to switch it over to completely digital. We knew it was upcoming. We just didn't know when they were completely going to cut off making the 35 millimeter," says Rachel Rushing, Thompson's youngest daughter.

    By the end of this year, technology will have left Thompson and his family business behind. No longer will film companies produce the 35 millimeter film he knows like the back of his hand. His only hope is a new digital projector with a price tag of more than $55,000. That is an impossible cost for an old drive-in to endure, Thompson says. Then his daughter, Rachel, who grew up on the same counter as his popcorn maker, had an idea.

    "I knew there would be a lot of drive-ins in it. I don't know if we had any chance at all but I thought we had to try," says Rachel.

    Project Drive-In is a national contest giving brand new digital projectors to drive-ins in danger of closing due to the high cost of keeping up with the film companies. The top five drive-ins in the country with the most votes win. So Rachel signed up her father's life's work and took to Facebook to spread the word.

    "My post reached over 5,000 people and that to me is just amazing to see how many people are saying, 'Hey! This is our drive-in we've been to for years' or even people saying, 'I've only been here once in my life but we don't want it to close," says Rachel.

    As the sun goes down and headlights start to creep up the gravel road to the only theatre in town, Thompson takes his post at the ticket booth. Charging only $5 for adults and $2 for kids, it's the cheapest entertainment in town. Now, with only one week left to vote, saving Stone Drive-In Theatre is on every moviegoer's mind.

    "How's your contest going? Do they tell you anything? Is it close?" asks one mom with a van full of kids eager to see the Smurfs.

    "Evidently, I'm getting quite a few votes," Thompson answers.

    "Are they trying to push you into buying a different kind of projector?" asks another. "They haven't pushed me into it. I'm going to have to or close," replies Thompson.

    "I hate that. As a matter of fact, I just got the number to text to vote and sent it out to all my friends and said please text," says Latrina Maez, who comes to the drive-in at least twice a month.

    With the smell of fresh buttered popcorn in the air, that old 35 millimeter film projector starts to roll. Echos of tiny smurf voices can be heard through speakers and radio stations all across that wide open field. Families relax on blankets and lawn chairs, others watch from their tailgates. The only light within half a mile is coming from the silver screen made of house siding and a few twinkles from the concession stand.

    Thompson stands in the doorway of the ticket booth watching the same film he's seen at least seven times this week. It's exactly where he wants to be.

    "I've been here every night it's been open since 1975," says Thompson.

    And just like the show he's playing tonight, it seems no one is ready to see the credits roll on the story of the Stone Drive-In Theatre.

    "We want to be able to keep it open for as long as we can," says his daughter Rachel. "It's just home and that's all it ever will be."

    Voting for Project Drive-In ends September 9. There is still time to vote for Stone Drive-In Theatre to win one of those digital projectors. It takes just a few seconds. You can text the word Vote19 to 444999 or click here.  (http://projectdrivein.com/#vote_19)

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