What was once 14 acres of farmland has become a gathering place for families and friends in Decatur, Ohio, a small town 5 miles east of Russellville, Ohio.

The East Bend Twin Drive-In, located at 9897 Ohio 125, in Decatur, opened for business in 2000 and is just one of five "new" drive-ins built in the United States since 2000.

According to its owner, Dave "Doc" Schwarberg, he began the pursuit of opening his own drive-in movie theater in 1988 when he purchased the screen and projectors from the former Park Drive-In located on Kentucky 11 in Maysville.

"Since I was a kid, I loved the drive-in," Dave said of his nostalgic business venture, adding that for every new drive-in that's built, at least two go out of business each year.

Drive-in movies were at the height of their popularity in the 1940s and 50s, with more than 6,000 in existence in America. Today, there are only 500 drive-in theaters left, with Ohio, Pennsylvania and California leading the way.

"There are 54 drive-ins in Ohio," said Dave.

Ironically, his new business isn't so very different than his full-time job with television station Channel 9 WCPO in Cincinnati as a transmitter engineer.

Dave laughs and says the only difference between the two occupations is that one projects images onto a screen and the other has "pictures flying through the air."

At the time he purchased the projectors and screen from the Park Drive-In, Dave's initial thoughts were to revive the drive-in, but that plan fell through and he began his search for land to house a new drive-in.

That search lead him to the community of Frogtown, which is located outside Brooksville in Bracken County. But that deal also fell through and he had to continue his search. In 1998, after 10 years of waiting, Dave finally located 14 acres of land in Decatur, a rural community tucked into the northeastern corner of Brown County.

Unfortunately, the screen he had purchased 10 years earlier from the Park Drive-In had by then gotten lost in the shuffle and wound up in the landfill. Dave had to start from scratch for his two screens at East Bend and set about restoring the projectors from the Park Drive-In.

Dave said he decided to erect two screens at the drive-in "because of changing tastes (of customers) its pretty much necessary." He also decided to stay with a grass field instead of paving with concrete or blacktop, which is unusual because most drive-ins are now are paved.

Wally Kemmeter, East Bend's general manager said there are only three drive-ins in America that are situated on a grass field instead of concrete.

"They (customers) love it," Wally said.

"I kept it on a grass field because its better for blankets and chaise lounges," Dave said of his decision to stick with the old-time drive-in style.

East Bend's season starts in mid-April each year and runs through the end of September. Movies are shown Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, with the only exception being holiday weekends. In that instance, the drive-in opens on Wednesday night and runs through Sunday. Admission prices are $5 per adult and $2 per child and cover a double feature.

East Bend has its own personality that comes with its rural setting — customers pay admission at an old tobacco barn and are greeted by Runner, a rooster who lives there and is considered by owner and visitors to be the theater's pet. The joke with Runner is that he's asleep by dark, so he misses all the movies.

East Bend is also the only drive-in in America that has a marquee house. The reason is simple, the farm house at the front of the property has the marquee attached to the roof.

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Dave takes a lot of pride in the fact that he plays first run movies and admits "he pays a lot" for them, but he also knows that's what people want to see.

With the 4th of July holiday coming up, Dave's lineup includes the new Steven Spielberg-produced "Transformers" movie and "Ratatouille".

East Bend Twin Drive-In can accommodate 800 cars between the two screens, offers a full-service concession stand and is known for its pulled pork barbecue, which takes Dave two days to make.

East Bend also offers homemade vanilla ice cream, and popcorn covered in coconut butter, something unique to the theater.

Dave said despite no restrictions on customers bringing in their own drinks and snacks, less than 10 percent bring their own food, preferring instead to eat at the drive-in.

"It's taken seven years for it to catch on. But now its everything I hoped it would be," Dave said of his drive-in movie success.

"My customer base is very loyal. People like it and it's growing."

To learn more about the history of drive-in theaters in America, or to locate a drive-in theater, visit http://www.drive-ins.com.

For East Bend Twin Drive-In, call 937-373-1307.


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