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Root beer ‘barrel’ served DL in 1930s & 1940s

The Barrel root beer stand in Detroit Lakes was located along Highway 10 where the Minnesota Department of Transportation building is now located, near Perkins Restaurant. Submitted Photo

Years ago the landscape of Detroit Lakes looked much different than it does today. In the 1940s, it included a large barrel and plenty of root beer.

Steve Hoffbeck, a history professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead will be speaking at the Detroit Lakes Library on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

He has researched root beer barrels in Minnesota and has published a book on the subject.

The event is free and there will be root beer floats served after Hoffbeck’s presentation.

During his presentation, Hoffbeck will talk about the start of the barrel in Minnesota.

Harry Muzzy of Crookston entered the world of curbside service by building a two-story root beer barrel in Great Falls, Mont., in 1929.

With a franchise from the Texas-based Triple XXX Root Beer Company, retired railway engineer Muzzy sold the drink and sandwiches on the outskirts of Great Falls.

Not even the Stock Market Crash of 1929 did in the plucky Muzzy and his wife Martha. He lowered the cost per glass from a dime to a nickel and still made money.

In 1931, he started a new barrel in his old hometown of Minot. In 1932, he went back to Crookston and built the first Minnesota barrel. From there he went to Grand Forks, Detroit Lakes, Dilworth, and Wadena, and Devils Lake in North Dakota and Minnesota.

In 1939, Muzzy’s nephew Lloyd Eagan — a Western Union telegraph agent in Grand Forks, who with his wife Lillian worked part-time for Uncle Harry — saved up his money and built a barrel in St. Cloud which didn’t work out, just as Harry had said.

Too many people preferred real beer to root beer there. Lloyd and Lillian looked around for a better spot. This time they chose wisely — Sioux Falls, S.D. After building, they were down to $3 for supplies. It was enough to start the money rolling in. The Barrels, which stood from Great Falls to Sioux Falls, continued in business through the 1940s in spite of sugar and gas rationing. After World War II, business boomed.

The Barrel in Wadena was moved to Grand Forks next to the one already there, and the Kegs came into being. Owner Ford Dickerson remodeled them in 1958 with California bamboo — “hula skirts” around the Barrels.

Muzzy’s Barrels were not the first root beer stands in the nation, but they were the first drive-ins in his region. The menus expanded from root beer to sandwiches, cigars, Black Cows and barbecues, and eventually Moose Juice and Super Slop.

Specializing in the regional history of the Upper Midwest, Hoffbeck has written about topics such as the history of aviation, baseball, street pavements and fishing.

A book that he wrote about farming in Minnesota, “The Haymakers: A Chronicle of Five Farm Families,” won a Minnesota Book Award in 2001.

Hoffbeck’s second book, “Swinging For The Fences: Black Baseball in

Minnesota,” won the Sporting News/SABR Baseball Research Award for 2005. Both a chronicle of forgotten baseball teams and a repository of crisp baseball biographies, “Swinging For The Fences” traces the stories of 16 ballplayers and stretches over the past 150 years.

Hoffbeck and a team of writers told the stories of black athletes who tried to overcome the “color line” or their own weaknesses to find fulfillment on the baseball diamonds of Minnesota.