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Walthers makes movie magic

By Steven Otte
Published: April 14, 2015

Product: A drive-in theater can be an eye-catching feature on a model train layout. Over the years, modelers have tried a lot of methods to bring motion to their motion pictures. Now Walthers is rolling out its Skyview Drive-In, a styrene structure kit that lets you use a tablet computer to bring true video to your HO-scale world.

This kit wouldn’t have been possible even just a few years ago. Sure, there’s nothing groundbreaking in the plastic structure kit itself; the new part is what you can do with it. The screen, designed to resemble a concrete structure, has a removable cap. There’s a slot inside that lets you put a tablet computer in the screen opening to display video. A nice touch is the inclusion of a choice of back panels for the screen to ac-commodate tablets of different thicknesses.

If you don’t want to leave your tablet on the layout—or if you don’t have one—­Walthers provides three cardstock inserts with black-and-white images reminiscent of the cheesy B-movies of yesteryear. These match the fictitious movie titles on the provided marquee sign inserts.

Features: The kit’s styrene parts come molded in three colors: light concrete, white and gray. They’re well designed, having no flash and assembling easily into four separate structures: the screen, the snack bar/projection building, a covered entrance/ticket booth and a free-standing sign. The kit includes a couple of wood fences and 24 double-sided speaker stands to serve up to 48 vehicle spots. Clear window material is also included.

The screen is the largest piece of the set, measuring 7 x 11 inches overall, with the screen opening being 413⁄16" x 63⁄8". This isn’t the proportion of an actual movie screen, but is made to match the format of a tablet computer screen in landscape orientation. The slot inside can accept a tablet up to 55⁄16" x 77⁄8", the size of an iPad Mini. De-pending on which back panel you choose when assembling the screen, it will accommodate tablets up to 9⁄32" thick. Both back panels include screw slots to keep the screen from tipping over.

According to literature included with the instructions, the first drive-in theater opened in the U.S. in 1933. The kit’s movie screen is designed in an Art Deco style appropriate for theaters built in that era through the 1950s. The stand-alone marquee sign, though, is in a Googie architectural style more typical of the post-World War II era. The ticket booth, though simple in design, has a Googie vibe, too.

The square main building, incorporating a snack bar, projection booth and restrooms, has a molded cinder block texture. A bracket is included for mounting a flashing grain-of-wheat lamp or light-emitting diode behind one of the square projector windows. Interior partitions let the modeler isolate and illuminate the three sections separately. There are openings in the structure’s base to accommodate wiring.

For copyright reasons, the kit can’t in-clude images or names of real movies, so instead, there are three generic movie images: a Wild West scene with stiffly rendered figures, an attack of odd-shaped UFOs, and a submarine menaced by tentacles. They’re printed in black and white, and have scratches and flaws meant to evoke poorly preserved film, both of which are incongruous for a theater charging admission in the era of Technicolor. I imagine most modelers not going the iPad route will want to print their own color screen shots from movies released in their layout’s modeled year.

The color inserts for the marquee sign— including not just movie titles and legends like “Swap Meet This Weekend,” but also the theater name and arrow—are printed on the same cardstock as the movie screen images. I would have preferred decals.

Marketing: Walthers’ Skyview Drive-In kit is big enough to look realistic without being too large for most layouts. It has the potential to be a fun signature scene on a model railroad, especially if a tablet is used to provide moving video. The kit is fast and simple to put together, and only takes a little paint and weathering (and an assortment of scale vehicles) to turn it into a cool scene. 

Product: Skyview Drive-In

Maker: Walthers

Scale: HO (1:87.1)

Stock number: 933-3478

MSRP: $49.98

Availability: Walthers


• Simple assembly

• Can be used with 5 x 7 tablet for moving video

• Has bracket for mounting bulb to simulate projector

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