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Life in a Barrel


Pickles come in barrels and so does herring and whiskey but could you imagine living in one. Ardell Hagen was one of many soldiers who returned home from World War II and found that there was no housing available. His parents had moved to Seattle, Washington but his wife and daughter remained in Devils Lake and finding a place to live was a priority for the young couple and their eighteen-month old baby. He discovered that the Barrel, a drive-in diner, had closed and was offered for sale by the owner, W.H. Muzzy, of Crookston, Minnesota.

The Barrel was part of a chain of unique, fast-food diners established during the late 1920's and early ‘30's by Mr. Muzzy in eight cities in the northern Midwest. These were principally hamburger and soft drink stands which capitalized on cheaper meals to feed the cash-strapped people during the depression, especially the traveling public. Designed as a huge barrel, the structure was meant to standout among the other fast-food diners of the day.

Mr. Hagen purchased the property in late 1945 and immediately went about refurbishing the building. The Barrel was approximately 16 feet wide and 20 feet tall and being barrel-shaped, the rooms were circular. A stove for heating the building was located in the lower half of the structure, which was mostly used for storage and Mr. Hagen converted the upper portion into suitable living quarters. The top floor was equipped with an electric stove, running water, a sink and built-in cupboards along with some furnishings to aid in the comforts of life. Panels of insulation board were used on the upstairs wall and ceiling to add some protection from the cold during the winter.

For eighteen months they lived in the Barrel and life was no end of going around in circles. Mr. Hagen worked for the Ferris Grocery store and, shortly after they moved in, Mrs. Hagen resumed operating the sandwich and soft drink stand in the lower half for which the building was designed. It was on this date in 1947 that their circular housekeeping days would end and they began the move into a five-room apartment each with four walls, an environment which would take some adjustment for the family.

For over fifty years the Barrel acted as a hangout for teens in the Devils Lake area and most Lake residents can recall the delicious homemade hamburgers, fries and bakery goods. The icon stood until 1984 serving as a quick stop for thousands of people, with the exception of one unique family who learned what it was like to live life in a barrel.

By Jim Davis


Devils Lake World March 6, 1946

Devils Lake World July 30, 1947

Devils Lake Daily Journal Jun 30, 2008