GRANGEVILLE — Winds clocked as high as 55 mph last week flattened a 65-year-old landmark.

Chris Wagner, owner of the Sunset Auto Vue drive-in theater, said a friend of his drove by the 32-by-72-foot outdoor screen, located about 1 mile east of Grangeville, at 2 p.m. last Monday and everything was fine, despite heavy winds.

When Wagner drove past the site an hour later, “It was on the ground. It just didn’t make it through that windstorm. … There’s just a lot of twisted metal that is up in the air and bent. It’s going to be a challenge just to get it taken down.”

This is the second time the movie screen — built in 1955 by Wagner’s father and grandfather, Al Wagner Jr. and Al Wagner Sr., respectively — has succumbed to heavy winds blasting across the Camas Prairie. In 2007, the screen was blown down in a storm that produced winds as high as 80 mph.

Chris Wagner rebuilt from that debacle with a modern design that was intended to withstand gusts as high as 110 mph.

“I took an engineer out there (Monday), and he immediately found the problem, what had failed,” Wagner said. “Some of the bolts had sheared off — real critical bolts — and once they gave, then it just stressed everything out. A couple of them snapped off, and once that happened it was a domino effect.”

Wagner said he has insurance, but he’s not sure if it will be enough to cover the damage. Paying for the repairs, however, may be the least of his problems. Because there are so few outdoor drive-in theaters in the country these days, finding someone who can work on them can be difficult.

“I’ll be making a call to the manufacturer, but he was 75 years old when he showed up the last time (in 2007) to do it,” Wagner said. “That’s a huge concern of mine. We’ll rebuild, but the biggest issue is there’s not a lot of people that do this. It’s not like it’s a thriving industry. There’s just not a lot of screen builders out there.”

If all goes well, Wagner hopes to have the screen rebuilt and ready to open for business in May. The drive-in is a popular destination for locals as well as people from out of town who come to enjoy a movie in the twilight of the warm summer months.

“It does OK,” Wagner said of the drive-in. He also owns Blue Fox Theater in downtown Grangeville.

“The people from the valley support it. They come up once in awhile. It’s nice to see out-of-county license plates. Of course, the locals support it awfully well, and the surrounding towns do, as well. So I’ve always been thankful for the support that they’ve shown.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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