Designed in the 1950s at the height of America’s drive-in theater trend, the Spud provided residents of Teton County, Idaho, with an exciting cinematic experience. It has gained national attention for its service and its mascot “Old Murphy,” an oversized fake potato.
A.C. “Ace” Wood started drafting plans for the construction of a drive-in theater in 1950. Wood was the owner of an indoor theater in Driggs known as “The Orpheum,” but the automobile culture of the 1950s inspired him to re-envision the cinema experience. He began the Spud Drive-in in 1953 and newspapers dutifully covered the development for their readers. In the 1950s, Teton County during was a very small, rural community home to only about 3,000 citizens and limited entertainment options, but a drive-in promised excitement, especially for families. Residents were also car enthusiasts and became thrilled about the novelty of enjoying films from their favorite automobiles. The drive-in could hold up to 170 cars at one time and included features such as individual speakers for each car. The Spud sold a variety of refreshments, including sandwiches and soda-pop, at a concession stand located in the center of the site. Finally, Ace Wood added a local touch to the drive-in that drew visitors from all over the county: a large, fake potato parked in the bed of a 1946 Chevy truck. Wood and early visitors nicknamed the potato “Old Murphy,” and it quickly became a popular tourist site.
Upon his retirement in 1968, Ace Wood sold the drive-in to Leo and Gladys Davis. They added the “Gladys Burger” to the concession stand menu, but later changed the name to the “Spud Burger.” The burger became a local favorite, drawing more tourism to the drive-in. The Davises owned and operated the Spud for eighteen years before selling the property back to the Wood family. In 1986, Ace Wood’s great nephew Richard and his wife Dawnell purchased the drive-in. They quickly made technological improvements that were both necessary cost-effective. The couple switched the old carbon arc light system in their projectors to the Xenon bulb in 1986, making it possible to show movies without dedicated projectionists or segmented film.
The Spud drew steady crowds throughout its history and appealed to families and teens at the height of the American automobile fascination. While the Spud remains a local treasure, it has also received national attention. Joe Bob Briggs, a popular drive-in movie critic, published a positive review in the July, 1992 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle which listed The Spud in his list of the top three drive-in movie theaters in the country. The Spud Drive-in remains open and is a popular spot for local Teton County residents and visitors alike.