The Drive-In Theater Project


I attended the first Z Scale convention in Columbus, and while touring layouts, I seen a Z Scale Drive In Theater made by Miller Engineering that caught my eye. It was beautiful, had lit up signs, a concession stand with projection booth, A ticket booth, and an LCD Screen built into an Art-Deco styled housing that was playing Gone With the Wind.

Later that week, while attending the NTS in Cincinnati, I stumbled across another Drive-In theater, this time it was on an N Trak module, and this time the screen was made with a CRT set behind a well painted sky board. This module was not as lit up as the Z Scale model was, but the scene was quite convincing, and I really liked it.


Well, I knew I simply had to get one of the Miller Engineering Drive-In's, but after fruitless searching it was determined that they are out of production, and long sold out. Well, all is not lost, as I discovered that I could build one myself. Maybe not as nice as an etched brass with EL lighting, but I'll give it a go and see what I come up with.

I decided to go with an LCD screen because I want to put my Drive-In on a small 2' x 2' turnaround module, and there is not a lot of room for a CRT. Well it turns out that suitable screens are fairly inexpensive on ebay. I picked up a 7" diagonal 16:9 aspect ratio screen, which was sold as a headrest monitor for car video systems, and it runs off 12 volts. So far so good, it cost under $100 with shipping. I tested it, then promptly took the screen apart to see how I can fit it into a movie screen.

I'm only 2 hours into the project at this point, but this is what I have so far:

I spray painted the front of the screen frame white, and popped in the flat screen to see how it looks so far. I'm playing on a 50's caricature theme, exaggerated to the point of just plain fun with this one. 

I found another gadget on ebay, it's a small gizmo slightly larger than a deck of playing cards, and it plays movies, as well as all other media you can think of. It only cost $50, but you need to add a laptop hard drive in it. I put a 40 Gig notebook drive in it, and it will hold about 70 movies in Divx format. It also has AC3 sound output if you want to hook it to a high quality stereo/tv setup. Amazing what you can find on ebay. It runs off 5 volts, so I need to build a power supply for it.

I am working on this project a bit every night after work, so progress is slower than I normally model, but today I started butting up the backside. I had to make new mounts for the speakers, and do a little wiring to eliminate the pc-board wired to the speakers. I ended up just using the tiny 3 wire plug after determining which positive and negative terminals. If I had wired the speakers wrong, the speakers might cancel out each other's sound. Tested the sound just fine!

So, I made a few more panels to the frame that will give a more 3D appearance to the screen, and had to give my Drive-In a name. In going with the  50's caricature theme, I named it The Orbit Drive-In, using an exaggerated font that might be found back in the day. I'm still thinking what else to do to the screen housing, but I'm happy with where it is so far.