Hoping for movies on the big screen this summer

Killarney’s Shamrock Drive-In theatre could re-open gates in 2021


If the stars align, fresh-air movies might soon be illuminating the night at the old drive-in theatre.

Owners of the 1950s Shamrock Drive-In, Joanne and Darren Struss, have been forging ahead this past year to bring the theatre back to life, including the erection of four shipping containers to create a tornado-proof screen.

“It makes me happy to see the new screen up,” said Joanne Struss. “Our kids absolutely love it. But I won’t be going up the ladder again to paint the top one with another coat of white paint. That was pretty hairy. What would our first movie be? Wouldn’t it be cool to show Gone with the Wind? We will play whatever is available.”

The last new release film shown at the theatre, just south on town on Hwy. #18, was ‘Cinderella,’ said Struss, and that was five years ago. 

“We ran some older films on our old 35mm projector that year too, sometimes on just a partial screen,” said Struss. “In July 2015 half the screen blew off in a tornado, and one big support post came down, after being hit by lightning and igniting. That summer we had around 300 people come in to the drive-in to help us as we shot a video that we were making for fundraising.”

Fundraising had been keen during 2015 and 2016 to help the Struss family find a way to purchase a modern digital format projector for the theatre, an expensive but integral upgrade needed in order to stay in the movie business. 

“We raised just around $9,400 over the two years, through FundRazr, and  including a cash pay-out made by our insurance company for the lost screen, and all of that went into the new projector,” said Struss. “And while we were doing that FundRazr drive, we were giving out ‘perks’ to the donors. I still have these perks to give out; they are kind of like gift certificates. There are maybe 20 to 50 of them that we still have here. I will be putting the names of these recipients out on Facebook and Instragram soon, and people will be able to come in and pick them up, or we can hold them here at the drive-in for them, or I could mail them out.”

One savoury must-have item the couple are seeking at the moment is a newer popcorn popper for moviegoers’ takeaway treat.

“It would be great to replace the old popcorn machine, if we can find one,” said Joanne Struss. “This one overheats pretty quick and burns the popcorn. When we are showing movies, the vintage popcorn machine goes non-stop all night. We are looking for a good used one, because this one is on its last legs. A new one would be even better.”

Finding a modern-day solution to replace the old screen of the past took years to solve. Darren Struss was determined to find one that would withstand hurricane force winds, and the power of a tornado. 

And last October, in unseasonably fine weather, a quartet of enormous sea shipping containers began arriving at the highway location.

“If we get another tornado, we want something we can run toward, not away from,” he said last fall.

But the move to provide movies came with a high personal price.

“We bought the four shipping containers ourselves,” said Joanne Struss. “They were around $5,200 each, and site prep was $3,500. The crane guy, Gordon Reimer, who moved them into position, charged us next to nothing, which was wonderful. How did we pay for it? That was my basement money. We had $35,000 set aside in savings for finishing the basement in our new house, so that will have to wait. It’s just a rough basement; the first step would have been to pour a cement floor in it. Why did we do that? We just really wanted to, to follow through on our promise to open the drive-in. We had given the community our word that we would do it, and it feels like such a relief now to have finished the job, and replace the screen.”

The Shamrock Drive-In has room for 185 cars, which can be safely socially distanced during pandemic restrictions, she added. 

And, with good luck, movie-goers will be lining up for their spot this summer, under a clear Prairie sky, the whiff of popcorn in the air, for a chance to once again enjoy the pleasure of watching a movie under the stars.

BIG PLANS FOR THE SUMMER – Now that their newly painted big screen (created using four shipping containers) is up and ready, Joanne Struss (above), co-owner of the Shamrock Drive-In, has high hopes that movies under the stars will be coming back this summer.

TORNADO AFTERMATH – Below: Husband Darren Struss grimaces amongst the June 2015 tornado wreckage, after a violent storm ripped a large portion of the old screen down. 

POPCORN MACHINE WANTED! – There’s a callout from the Struss family for a good, used popcorn maker for the Shamrock Drive-In theatre. Above, the vintage one, which was still popping perfectly when this photo was taken back in 2015, is now overheating. Can’t enjoy a movie without popcorn!


IS IT A SIGN? – Yes it is, and it hasn’t been seen since the storm of 2016 that toppled the last section of Killarney’s Shamrock Drive-in screen. Carter Struss (6) and his sister Makayla (9) found the sign from their family’s drive-in theatre while they were exploring (back in May of 2020). It had been blown about 500 yards away from where it was attached to the screen, landing face down near a pile of rocks. The Struss family would love to reopen their drive-in, and Emily Struss thinks that this sign could possibly be a sign from above. But only time will tell. The lovely Shamrock Drive-in sign was created by the late Lloyd Nelson of Killarney.


What’s in store for the Shamrock Drive-In?