The Tors Drive-In started construction in 1965 as the result of a bet that a fellow exhibitor had with the late Jack Feldt, owner and general manager of Feldt's Theatres Townsville and Charters Towers. Feldt's operated the local theatres in Charters Towers at the time - they were the Regent Theatre (cinema), Olympia Theatre (open-air cinema and roller skating) and the Royal Theatre (live performances). The drive-in's purpose was to offer patrons an alternative to indoor theatres as well as to compete with television, which was slowly killing off the theatres in town.
The Tors Drive-In was built with almost everything being second hand - bricks, iron, timber, cafe counter and the railway line used to construct the screen tower, which is why it hasn't fallen down yet! The name for the drive-in had to be different, as everything in town was called Towers or Gold City, so after much thought the name Tors was used (noun: meaning hilltop), as the drive-in is built on a hill. Charters Tors (due to all the hills) was the name of the town until tall buildings started to form due to the gold rush days. The town was then called Charters Towers and is full of history visible today and well worth a visit.
On St. Patrick's Day 1966, the Tors Drive-In Cinema was officially opened by the Mayor Alderman Arthur Titley. Only that morning at 4.30am were Jack Feldt and Harry Bucklar (Theatre Manager) still trying to line up the carbon-arc lamphouses for that big night! All went well until about interval, then the Tors was struck by a hail storm. The dents are still in the roof today! Once the Tors was up and running, the Olympia and Royal Theatres eventually closed down, leaving the Regent Theatre and Tors Drive-In as the main theatres servicing the town, both owned and operated by Feldts' Theatres.
After the death of Jack Feldt in 1972, on the night cyclone Althea hit Townsville, Harry Bucklar, manager of the theatres resigned and Jack's son John Feldt, who still operated the Range Drive-In in Townsville, took over theatre operations with Mrs Ann Forno as manager of the Charters Towers theatres. With the arrival of home video cassettes in the early 1980's, the two theatres were up against a massive tidal wave. The Regent Theatre was down to Saturday night only and skating. The Tors continued as the main cinema with screening on Friday, Saturday and Tuesdays, however things were getting worse.
In 1982, John Feldt sold the Tors Drive-In to the Blackburn family who were graziers, on the condition that the Regent was to be closed down as a cinema, as there was no room for competition between the two. The deal was set, Tors was under new ownership and the Regent Theatre was closed. The Blackburns pushed the Drive-In hard with nightly screenings, Western Ranch Nights, Horror Late Nights and Dusk to Dawn Shows. After a year, the Regent was leased and re-opened for skating and movies. This was breach of the sale contract and therefore the Blackburn's took Feldt to court. The judge ruled the Regent be de-licensed and closed! A final farewell screening for the Regent was held on Saturday night 25th June 1983 at 7.00pm. "Gone With The Wind" was the last film to ever screen. 500 patrons who wanted to enjoy the last screening of Charters Towers' biggest movie house packed into the theatre. Les Bagley was the projectionist on the night. His wife Betty ran the box office. Les operated part time at the Regent and Olympia as well as rampman and cafe assistant at the Tors. Les worked for the Tors up to 2008.
In 1990, the Tors Drive-In was sold again to the Snell family from Bowen. Steven and Debra Snell still own and operate it today. After many challenges from competition such as DVD, daylight savings, drought and rain, the Tors still survives to this day and celebrates it's 44th year of operation in 2010 due to the support of it's wonderful patrons who enjoy the alternative to indoor cinema and sitting at home. Double features, great food and low prices is what keeps people and their families interested in the Tors Drive-In.
Below are some photos from various points in the history of the Tors Drive-In. Click on each photo for a larger version.