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Farmer builds drive-in theater amid lockdown

Ed Hanzel John and Susan Nelson's, who farm near Monroe, drive-in movie theater
DO IT YOURSELF: Some farmers have taken the opportunity to showcase their creativity. For John and Susan Nelson, who farm near Monroe, Neb., this involved building their own drive-in movie theater.
With some creativity and ingenuity, a farmer and his friends built a theater for the community to use.

COVID-19 has changed the game for how people entertain themselves. Closed movie theaters, bars and restaurants, and canceled sports events have put countless outings on hold this year — including in rural America.

However, farmers and ranchers are known for their ingenuity, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought that ingenuity to light in some unique ways.

Take, for example, John and Susan Nelson, a husband and wife who raise corn and soybeans on their farm near Monroe in Platte County. This summer, along with some friends, they built a home drive-in movie theater.

"With COVID-19, there isn't a lot to do," Susan says. "My husband and his friend were thinking, what can we do? They got the wild idea to build a movie theater. We have a 10-acre pasture in our backyard. The first idea was just to use tarp put up against bales. Then they thought, why not build it out of steel?

"They built a screen, 24 by 16 feet, and mounted it to the three-point hitch of a tractor. It folds in half, so if we need to take it to a neighboring city or anything, we can do that and let the city use it."

"A lot of things come to my mind when I sit in the tractor," John says. "When I was planting this spring, I thought we've got to find something to do during COVID. It just took some time and research to figure out what kind of projector we needed. First, we did it on a tarp. That didn't work well because of the wind, so we decided to use something portable yet solid."

After searching online, they bought a projector that projects 100 feet out, which they use to project on a 24-by-16-foot screen. The projector also has an input feed, allowing them to play movies from a VCR or DVD player.

"One of our friends has a radio transmitter, so you can actually sit in your car and listen to it on your car," John says. "It's kind of neat the way it all came together."

John's friend, Ed Hanzel, works for Behlen in Columbus, and he was able to prepare the steel for the screen. Meanwhile, his friend Scotty Andreasen is an engineer at the Nebraska Public Power District, and he helped with the audio setup.

"The three of us together put our minds together to see what we could do," John says. "One of the coolest things is the people that at first didn't realize they could sit in their vehicle and listen — that caught people by surprise."

This summer, the Nelsons have hosted several movie nights in their pasture, mostly for friends and family. Most recently, the local Family, Career and Community Leaders of America chapter hosted a movie night to watch the 2020 movie "The Call Of The Wild."

"I have had people ask what we're planning next," John adds. "I don't know. I'm just taking suggestions and requests at this point. I don't charge anything to use it. I'd like to put wheels under it. Ed and I have sat and talked about ways to put the screen on a trailer, so we can take it somewhere else and fold it out. We've got a design going right now."

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