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Ol Smoke

Running a movie projector in the old days....

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In the summer of 1964, I was 13 years old and I lived in Bly, Oregon.  That summer I took on the
job of running the theater projectors.  Back then the movies came on 20" reels and each reel
lasted about 20 minutes. The theater had two welding rod type projectors.  The welding rods were
brought into contact with each and after adjusting them, then a time driven motor would keep them
at the right connection for the length of the reel.  The light from these welding rods was used to
project through the movie onto the screen.  So that was how they worked, but this is how you made
the movie run continuously without a glitch.  
When I would go upstairs to get things ready, the first thing you did was sweep up the rods from the
previous showing.  Then you opened the welding rod box and placed 6 rods by each projector.
You took one and inserted it into the drive motor holder and you put another into the ground holder.
Then you ran the drive back to it's start point.  You did this for both projectors.  Then you cleaned the
lenses on both systems.  That got you ready for the evening.
Now you go over to the work desk and read any notes on the reel cans, that were written by the last
person that ran them.  These notes might contain notes about a broken area or a patched area.
They would also contain exact running times for each reel, and the number of seconds between the
splash dots.  Splash dots are places on the end of the spool that have a round circle and a dot.
The round circle is the point at which you start the second projector and the dot is the point at which
you close the first projector's window.  Knowing the time between them helps to make the transition
smooth from one to the other.
Now you load the film and make sure each cannister has been run back to the start.  You load up
#1 and thread the film to the yellow mark on the film.  This lets you set the clock to zero and thus
lets the clock run with the film so you know when it is time to get ready to switch projectors.  You then
bring the power up on both projectors and set the welding rods into the start position.  You bring the
rods together until they spark and burn. Then you shut off the power.  You are ready to start the
movie.  At this point I would go down and help Marvin get the snack bar ready and start the popcorn
machine.  While he is doing that I would go into the theater and make a quick check of the clean-
liness and make sure there isnt water or pop on the floor or seats.  Then I would take the giant
dry mop down to the screen and get the spider webs off and dust the screen.
Once all that is done, we would have a coke and some popcorn and then open the doors.  We
had one showing on Saturday nights at 7pm.  Marvin and I worked from 5pm to 10 pm for $5 each.
Plus Cokes and one candy bar and a small popcorn.  Then on Mondays, we worked another 2 hours
cleaning the building again.  We got $2.50 for that.  That was good money in 1964.
So now the crowd is seated and I am ready to start the show.  I turn the sound up to 8 and open the
lighting door on #1 and start the blower motor.  I close the welding glass door and push the power
button and the rods light up, and I flip the roll film button and start the clock.  I look out the little
window and see if it is running okay and it is.  So then I go back and get the rewinder ready.  Let's
say the reel has a running time of 22 minutes before the first circle.  At 21 minutes, I power the #2
projector and close the window.  I am now looking out the center window with my left hand on the
start button of #2 and my right hand on the lense cover for #1.  When I see the circle, I count 1 - 2
3 hit the power button and drive button on #2, then close the lense cover on #1.  I look out to see if
everything is going, and it is.  If the crowd is quiet then it went like clock work.
Now I stop #1 and remove the back and front reels, and sit them on the desk, then I open the side
and remove both welding rods, and let it cool down.  I go to the bench and put the reels on the
rewinder and let it go.  I grab the 3rd reel and load it onto #1, then I put in new welding rods and
reset the drive motor.  I then bring the rods into contact and set them to run and turn off the power.
I now go back to the bench and turn off the rewinder and grab the cannister for that reel.  I initial
the run slip and rewind slip and put the red tape on the outside of the cannister.  I close and lock
that cannister and set it in the rack.  By now I have about 5 minutes before I do it all again.
When the last reel is over and the movie is done, I turn on the auditorium lights and the outside
parking lot lights.  I rewind the last reel and the put it into the big shipping cannister, and pull out
the shipping tag for the next theater.  I slide it into the plastic sleeve and seal the shipping box.
I then clean up the projection area and close the lense covers and put the covers over the two
projectors, and then pick up the coffee can full of used rods and go down stairs.  Marvin is
selling the last of the popcorn.  Some people get cokes to go for their whiskey.  When everyone is
gone we clean the candy case and wash the popcorn machine.  Then we box up the candy and
the popcorn kernels and put them into the locked storage vault along with the money and
receipts from that night.  We take $5 each and write that down, then shut off the heaters or A/C
and all the lights, close and lock the front doors.  I go across the street and drop the keys into
the owners door slot.  Then go home.
I did all of that for about 3 months, and I was only 13.  Mom and dad wouldnt let me do it during
school days.  But that is what it took to show a movie in the old days.  Today it is all done from a
computer in the office.
This is what they looked like.  This is exactly like the one I ran.


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Nice story ...I know about those of course..not running them..just times spent at movies,where wonderful days.. to spend a Saturday is my memory..original James Bond...Carry grant ...maybe some Peter Sellers..popcorn...and later teen years ..drive ins yes..don't remember much about the movies seen there..lol. drink and making out with girls mostly ;)

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