New $60K digital projector headed for Elizabethton's iconic State Line Drive-In

John Thompson • Sep 24, 2013 at 8:57 AM

ELIZABETHTON — Andrew Wetzel missed one of the most important phone calls of his life on Monday morning.

Fortunately the directors of the Honda Project Drive-In called him back 10 minutes later to tell him his State Line Drive-In was one of the four theaters to be awarded a $60,000 digital projector in its effort to keep theaters open when Hollywood makes the transition to all digital prints next year.

Andrew is a professional fire fighter with the Elizabethton Fire Department in addition to being the proprietor of State Line. He said he and all other contestants had recently been sent an email letting them know that the winners would be receiving a phone call sometime after 8 a.m.

“I was sitting in the fire station when 8 o’clock rolled around. I told the guys it was after 8 and I haven’t had a call, so I guess I am not one of the winners.”

What Andrew didn’t realize was that his phone was on vibrate and he didn’t feel the vibration when the call did come. At 8:10, he did feel the vibration and when he checked he saw it was a call from California.

“There was a conference call and everyone was telling me congratulations, you’re a winner,” Andrew said. “It was amazing, it was only 5 in the morning out there.”

Andrew said they congratulated him on having such a strong support base that kept voting for him.

As soon as he got off the phone with the people from Project Drive-In, Andrew made another important phone call, this time to his wife, Jenny, who works at Harold McCormick Elementary School.

“I thought he was joking,” Jenny said. When she realized he was not joking, she started crying because she was so happy.’

Everyone in the school, even students and their parents had been voting and working to help State Line win, Principal Candace Patai told her that she could make a school-wide announcement if State Line won. Now, she was so shocked and thrilled that she couldn’t talk. Patai made the announcement to loud cheers from all the classrooms.

It was like that all over Elizabethton and beyond as the news spread. By mid morning, Andrew’s phone was constantly ringing, not vibrating, with people calling to congratulate him.

Andrew said it was that kind of support that won the contest for State Line.

The support came from the top. Elizabethton City Manager Jerome Kitchens sent out emails encouraging city employees to vote in the contest. When State Line did not finish in the top 5 in the original contest, he reminded city employees there was a second chance and they could still vote for State Line. “Don’t give up on the home team,” Kitchen emailed.

“It’s just crazy,” Jenny said of all the support. “We have an awesome town for people to stand behind us like that.”

Andrew said the support went well beyond Elizabethton. He had support from his contacts as a member of the Marine Corps Reserves. Jenny said Elizabehton High School alumni from as far away as Florida and California kept voting.

“What I was worried about was whether they could maintain the commitment,” Andrew said. “I thought they might vote for a day or two and just quit. But everyone just continued to vote, day after day.

Joe Penza of the Elizabethton Public Library said he would encourage people who had come to the library to use computers and still had a few minutes left on their machine to use the time to cast votes for State Line.

Winning the projector is just the first part of the upgrades the theater will need to stay in business, Andrew said.

“It will take at least $25,000 to upgrade the electrical wiring, adding a heating and air conditioning system, installing a dust control system, and an airflow system to keep the projector from overheating, He will also have to install two high speed Internet lines. Finally, he will have to do some sheetrock work in the booth.

He said it will be much easier to justify the expense now that the projector is going to be free. He will also be able to make needed repairs, painting and touch ups now that he knows he will be in business for years to come.

The Wetzels will be offering a free movie night this Thursday to thank everyone for their support. Andrew said the show will be Cloudy with Meatballs 2, which was just released last week. The show is part of the last weekend of shows for this year, as State Line closes, but just for the winter.

Related articles:

Elizabethton's State Line Drive-In wins new digital projector

State Line gets another chance to win new digital projector

State Line Drive-In owner hopes he's a winner

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