Spud Drive-In

2175 S. Highway 33,
Driggs, ID 83422

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Spud Drive-In

The Spud Drive-In is an old fashion drive-in theater where you can watch a movie in the shadow of the Teton Mountains. The theater opened on July 3, 1953 with a capacity of 76 cars. The current owners, Richard and Dawnelle Wood, bought it from Leo and Gladys Davis in 1987.

The drive-in theater, which has always been known as the Spud, has a unique marquee - a giant potato on a flatbed truck. The Woods had seen postcards with the a huge potato on a semi and thought it would be fun to duplicate it, only smaller – since they raise seed potatoes in Teton Valley and seed potatoes are small. They looked for rocks that would work, but there was the problem of accessing and moving it. Then Richard found an ad in the paper that read Ugly Old Truck, runs well. Sure enough it was ugly. They brought it home and gave it a new paint job. A friend, Larry Hull, helped build the spud. They blew insulation on a wood frame and then covered it in cement. It’s unbelievable how many pictures are taken of that ugly old truck and its potato.

Contributed by Grant Smith

Recent comments (view all 20 comments)

SteveSwanson on May 16, 2012 at 8:16 am

Interesting that the website is down, but the phone message is current. Running first run films on a 2-day schedule.

jwmovies on December 4, 2012 at 5:05 pm

The above address is incorrect. The address for this drive-in is 2175 South Highway 33.

Chris1982 on November 20, 2014 at 5:12 pm

A article from PreservationNationBlog: Anyone who owns — or has tried to buy — a camera any time in the past 10 years knows that digital photography has replaced film almost entirely. This transformation has not been limited to still pictures; digital is now king at the movies, too, which has created challenges at many older movie theaters.

The Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho, is no exception. The theater, which opened in 1953 (and celebrates its 60th birthday this week) has long been a beloved part of the community, but has faced closure twice in recent years — first from management changes, and then from the transition to digital projection.

Local fans rallied with Facebook outreach that reached thousands, and to date enough “Save the Spud” t-shirts have been sold to cover half the cost of a new digital projector. (They’re still available — get ‘em while they’re hot!)

When asked about the transition, the Spud’s manager (and former co-owner) Dawnelle Mangum found both pluses and minuses to the change. On the upside, the new projector’s bulb, at 6,000 watts, is twice as powerful as its predecessor, allowing them to start movies 10 minutes earlier. She says that “10 minutes is big — 9:40 as opposed to 9:50 for our longest day.”

The trade-off, Mangum says, is in the frequent updates the projector requires (which she says are fairly equivalent to a typical computer) and the life expectancy of the new machine.

“The projector we replaced for hummed along for well over 60 years,” she says. “It was purchased used in 1953. No digital projector has that kind of life expectancy.”

Saving the Spud as a drive-in theater has also preserved one of its most beloved attractions: a giant potato on the back of a truck, which Roadside America calls “a novelty postcard come to life in three dimensions.” And indeed, Mangum and her former husband — who designed and built the potato and set it on the back of a 1946 flat bed truck in 1990 — were inspired by classic postcards.

She takes great pride in its ongoing appeal: “People in the valley claim that more pictures are taken of the truck with the potato on it than the Teton Mountains here on the west of our valley.”

Mangum and fans of the Spud are planning a big celebration for the drive-in’s birthday this week, featuring hula hoops and slinkies (two other American icons that arrived on the scene in 1953). And thanks to those devoted fans, the Spud has many more birthdays to come.

StanMalone on April 16, 2015 at 4:24 pm

I have been to this drive in. 1994, September. This area is on the western side of the Tetons (in the appropriately named Teton County) and is not as spectacular as the eastern side above Jackson Hole. Still, it was a very nice town and included a drug store with an old fashioned soda fountain where they served hand made milk shakes. Going into the drug store as well as the drive in had a going back to the 50’s feel.

At the time of my visit the schools were out on a two week “spud break.” In fact, the entire town seemed to be focused on getting the potato crop in so it definitely had a different feel to things. The only thing that did not seem to be affected was the high school football team with the courageously politically incorrect name of the “Bombers.” Their practice and game schedule continued on uninterrupted.

As for the drive in, it was a nice little well run establishment. Driggs sits in something of a flat valley so while you were parked on the field it seemed like you could see for miles. The snack bar had a lot of character and the people were friendly.

I am glad to see that they were able to make the transition to digital, although as the article mentioned there is a lot more to it than just installing a new projector. The expense of upkeep, updates, and bulb changes will be much greater than with the film projector and they will go on forever.

Good luck to them.

MichaelKilgore on May 2, 2017 at 10:02 am

A 2013 article in the Jackson Hole (WY) News & Guide listed the ownership timeline as:

“Ace Wood” built the Spud and ran it from 1953 to 1967.

Gladys and Leo Davis ran the business from 1967 to 1987. (That’s when it had the “Gladys burger”.)

Wydaho Group LLC ran the Spud for a single season in 2010 and announced in May 2011 that the business would close.

“Dawnelle Mangum, who with former husband Richard Wood ran the drive-in from 1987 to 2009, negotiated to lease the theater from Wydaho Group and operate it with partner Tyler Hammond, co-owner of a towing company and auto body shop in Driggs.”

Also, the Spud is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and the Idaho State Historic Registry.

MichaelKilgore on May 2, 2017 at 10:18 am

Uh oh! The Spud has been for sale since late 2016. Great photo though. Got a spare $675k?

Also, a March 2015 article in the Teton Valley News said that when the folks who raised money for a digital projector left the Spud, they took the projector with them. A new one was on its way, but that speaks to unsettled management.

MichaelKilgore on May 2, 2017 at 12:13 pm

One more note. The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal wrote in April 2011 that “The very first drive-in to go digital was the Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho — opening Despicable Me and Robin Hood as its first digital features in July 2010.” It quoted interviews with “Keith Zednick, Spud chief operating officer” in BoxOffice and at DriveInFilmFestival.com.

That lines up with the year that Wydaho Group ran the Spud, but came before 2013’s Save The Spud fundraisers to get a digital projector. If the Spud currently has the projector that was on its way in March 2015, that would mean it has used three different digital projectors in the past seven years. Pretty wild for a tiny little drive-in!

StanMalone on September 27, 2018 at 4:58 pm

Yesterday I made my second visit to this drive in. Ownership has changed and the condition of the facility has declined some, but it is much the same as it was when I first visited here 24 years ago. Most of the theaters that I was working in during 1994 are closed and in the landfill. I did not get to see a movie since they are weekend only this time of year and will be closing for the season in a couple of weeks.

Jay, the person in charge, was busy with other duties around the property that did not concern movies as they offer rental cabins to tourists who come to this pretty fishing and skiing area on the west side of the Grand Tetons. We did not have much time to talk, but he was very friendly and let me into the Snack Bar for a close up look at the operation. He said they run a full time schedule during the summer so hopefully this place will continue to entertain the residents and visitors to Teton County Idaho for years to come.

There are many pictures already in the photo section here but I added a couple of better shots of the interesting Snack Bar decoration plus a couple showing areas not in the previous pictures.

davidcoppock on September 27, 2018 at 10:16 pm

There is also a Big Potato in Robertson, New South Wales, Australia.

davidcoppock on September 29, 2018 at 10:27 am

Do they serve potato chips in the snack bar(lol)?

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