Drive-In Theater

How To build an actual working drive-in theater for your model railroad...

Talk about special effects, this one is really special!  Geoffrey Plumb, an avid model railroader in California, sent me an email recently about how he made an actual working drive-in theater for his layout.  This really got my attention because I'm always looking for new ways to enhance realism in model railroading through automation and animation.  If you modeling in the era of the 1950's and 60's, this would be a great way to get some "Ooh"s and Ahh"s out of your visitors. 

Although Geoff made this for his N-scale layout, I think it could be adapted to larger scales through some magnification of the screen.  

Geoff is a master of creating small N scale layouts containing a lot of scenery and operation in a small space.  He has built 3 N scale layouts so far, 3' x 4', 4' x 4' and 3' x6'. The 4'x4' is the one containing the drive-in theater.  "Collectively", he says, "they come under the name of Sage County and are served by the AE&SC RR (loosely based on the PRR).  As I am primarily a steam enthusiast going back to the 1950's and early 1960's growing up in London, England, all three layouts are from the 'transition period in the United States', and there is nothing past 1959."  He never received a train set from his parents, so he made up for it by making 3 layouts after he moved to the US.

The scene was created with a Blair Lines LLC kit at the entrance. The screen was incorporated from a "doll's house" video, which he purchased from a Dolls/Train store in Northern California.  He then attached it to his small $22 DVD player that he got from Amazon.  He likes to run John Wayne (Fort Apache) movies and others from that era.

All he needed after that was to make the parking lot and put in a few scale-model cars. He scratchbuilt a few small buildings to serve as the snack bar, restroom area and ticket booth and then put a fence around it all.  It is very well-detailed with small rocks defining grassy areas, decals, people, speaker posts and a few well-placed trees. The last picture shows how the scene is placed on his layout.

It's amazing what you can do with old memories and little imagination.  

hey come nder the name of Sage County and are served by the A E & S C RR (loosely based on  

Drive-In Theater in a model railroad layoutDrive-In Theater in Geoff Plumb's Sage County model railroad layout
A classic 1950's movie is playing at the Starlight Drive-In while a customer orders an evening snack.A classic 1950's movie is playing at the Starlight Drive-In while a customer orders an evening snack. Note the cars are all from that era as well.
Doll's house video incorporated into the scenery for Geoff's layout.Doll's house video incorporated into the scenery for Geoff's layout.
Wider view of Geoff's 4x4' model railroad layout showing how the Drive-In is placed.Wider view of Geoff's 4x4' model railroad layout showing how the Drive-In is placed.

You might also like these pages:

  • Railroad Signals

    How to set up a system of railroad signals on your model railroad layout.

  • 3D Printing

    3D printing is a great way to create unique 3D models or parts for your miniature model railroad in any scale.

  • Train Brain: Computerizing Your Layout

    Using the Train Brain modules from CTI Electronics to achieve state-of-the-art computerized train, signal, turnout and lighting control.

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