The Barrel in Minot
The Great Depression was a time of dust storms, heat waves, and crop failures. But in Minot, alongside Highway 2, there was a roadside oasis in the summer swelter of the 1930s - a root beer stand called "The Barrel." The Barrel looked like a giant, wooden, root beer barrel - two stories tall, with dark, varnished wood.
Built in 1931, the Barrel in Minot was part of a chain of eight barrel-shaped root beer stands built by Harry Muzzy of Crookston, Minnesota, in the 1930s. Muzzy built the Barrel opposite the Roosevelt Park zoo entrance, right by the Minot Ballpark, using 117 pieces of 1" X 6" fir lumber sixteen feet long for its outer shell.
Muzzy then sold lots of soft drinks, ham sandwiches, and hot dogs with sauerkraut, and the Barrel was a financial success, despite the Depression. Customers came because it was such a novelty at first - but kept coming back for the quality food and the friendly carhop service.
Harry Muzzy then hired Cecile (Menard) Kerns to manage the business and he moved back to Crookston. Cecile Kerns sold root beer at five cents per mug for adults, and children got a free, small mug. On nights of a baseball game, Cecile opened the windows at the Barrel while she fried onions, letting the delectable aroma drift to the grandstand next-door. Cecile said that after the games, baseball fans would order "six, eight, or twelve hamburgers to go." Cecile was called the "Hamburger Queen" for her skill at the grill.
After closing up the root beer stand late on summer nights, the Hamburger Queen and helpers went dancing to "Big Bands" music. When the Barrel people arrived, the band played "Roll Out The Barrel" just for them.
World War II brought changes to the Barrel. During the war, Ruth Sethen bought the business from Harry Muzzy and painted the Barrel white. Wartime rationing of gasoline reduced traffic to the Barrel and it received less sugar for root beer making. Still the Barrel gave refreshment to regular patrons and to soldiers home on leave.
After the war, the Minot Barrel grew in popularity. Ruth Sethen sold the Barrel to her brother, Robert Sethen, in 1949. Bob Sethen ran it until 1955, then sold it to employee Rodney Lovdahl.
Lovdahl re-named it as "the Keg," and operated it until 1968. A Minot resident said the Keg served "the best hamburgers I've ever tasted." Sadly, when the Mouse River flooded in 1969, the Barrel was damaged and then demolished in 1971.
The Minot Barrel served up memories as well as root beer. Many romances and marriages in Minot began with a date at the drive-in for a root beer or a burger.
The Barrel root beer stand in 1931 brought a little fun to Minot during the Depression for very little money - a nickel bought a root beer, a dime bought a toasted ham sandwich. The smiles were free.
Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department.
Sources of information: Steven R. Hoffbeck, "The Barrels: Root Beer Stands of the Upper Midwest," Minnesota History 53, no. 7, Fall 1993. I have transcriptions of interviews, letters, and articles from local Minot sources, as well.