Drive-in movie theaters are a summer-time treat in Wisconsin. According to a recent national poll, only ten drive-ins remain open in the badger state and 321 throughout the United States—a staggering 50% decrease from 1995. However, the past two years have seen an uptick in move-goers, which is mainly attributed to Covid-19 and social distancing regulations. During the pandemic drive-ins were creatively used as concert venues and vintage movies were also featured, as Hollywood releases ceased and many traditional indoor theaters were completely closed. Current industry projections expect continued revenue growth trend until 2025. The unique “experience” of the drive-in has stood the test of time and served patrons well, even in the toughest of times. Learn about an engineer’s mission to keep drive-in’s relevant in the road ahead.
Dave Weston, President of Drive-In Re-Creations strives to create modern version of classic Drive-In theatre equipment for the remaining drive-in theaters – they have had to adapt to survive. Many theaters have converted from film projectors to digital projection and have also converted from traditional junction box sound speakers to FM Radio broadcasting. Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theater in Jefferson, Wisconsin provides its customers with upgraded options but also opted to offer a more authentic speaker sound option from the original junction boxes. Drive-in owner, Lee Burgess, explains how the working speakers are a piece of history and many customers crave the nostalgic sound. In addition, he adds that the speakers and poles still provide functionality as parking stall indicators for vehicles.
Providing a mechanical design for replica recasting of the classic junction box which also incorporates a new LED lighting ring with backwards compatible electronic design that works with the original sound components. Dave took his design plan to Pro-Active Engineering, Inc. to assist with mechanical engineering, electronic circuit board design and prototyping for his project.
Weston was a part of the design process at Pro-Active Engineering, Inc. Through testing and prototype Weston was able to approve a design and begin manufacturing his junction box. The boxes are set to be installed in batches near the end of the busy 2021 summer season at Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theatre in Jefferson, Wisconsin. Weston hopes his functional upgraded design will become a popular add-on for drive-ins across the country.
Replica Junction Box Design
Pro-Active engineers, Brett Hay and Tyler Hintz, used a Design for Manufacturing (DFM) process, which included close collaboration with cast aluminum experts at Elk Heart Lake’s Bremer Manufacturing. Brett Hay explains, “It was an iterative process, but within weeks we had a successful prototype
LED Ring Design and Backwards Compatibility
3D Printers were used to create prototypes to test fit and functionality. Engineers worked closely with Weston in the design phase to maintain the authenticity of the junction box, while updating the design. RFID cards were selected as a cost-effective solution to provide color selectable remote- control options. The different colored lighting options were designed to specifically for this use case to be utilized in three ways, as safety lighting, specific parking sections indicators and for decorative purposes.
IMPACT – STANDING OUT
Hi-Way 18 Outdoor Theatre is able to advertise their authentic sound quality to customers and differentiate themselves from the other 9 theaters in the state, whilst providing a unique lighting option that is functional and fun.
RESULTS – SAFETY & AMBIENCE
The lighted junction boxes provide a solution of added visibility for those walking to and from their cars in the dark (without being a distraction), as well as making the speaker poles themselves more visible, reducing the possibility of hitting one when exiting the theater. “The multiple color option is also nice” says Weston “and can add to the ambiance of the experience!”
BENEFITS – FORM AND FUNCTION
Getting to step back in time and experience the drive-in sound through the junction boxes at the Highway 18 Outdoor Theater was already authentic experience for Wisconsin movie goers. Weston’s upgraded lighting design is sure to please guests and theater owners by adding improved functionality and with a sustainable LED lighting solution that is a fraction of the cost of standard bulbs.
“Pro-Active Engineering is a pleasure to work with. Every once in a while, I may have a question, or come up with an option that I may have previously overlooked, and they’re always ready to meet with me, and brainstorm the best way to proceed.”
Dave Weston, President, Drive-In Re-Creations