Thursday, January 13, 2011

My Dad Joe Decker built the root beer barrel.

My Dad Joe Decker built the root beer barrel.

My Dad and a friend of his Harold Kelly, I think Kelly worked for him, they got this idea that they would make their fortunes selling foot log hot dogs and sacks of popcorn and root beer to people going out to Oval Beach. So they built the barrel, and they built that barrel over in Flint. As you probably well know it was built just like a barrel, it was all tongue and grooved and they made the staves and all that stuff. They actually did all the work on those staves themselves, got the wood, they turned it, made it to the shape to form the staves, tongue and grooved it, steamed it and did all that stuff. They assembled that thing in Flint, in our back yard. They erected that whole thing right in the back yard and then took it down, put it on a flat bed truck and had it transported over to Douglas. They took it over there and erected it. This was by 1950, when I was about 6 years old. My sister would have been 4. (We have photos which were developed in September of that year showing the Barrel in operation.)

Now the original barrel had a canvas roof on it which acted like a gigantic funnel so when it rained, the water came right down through the center of that barrel and exited somewhere outside or underneath it.. The first year they put it up, they would go over there on the weekends to run it. At that point in time my Dad was the Director of Purchasing for AC Spark Plug, which was part of General Motors. He and Harold Kelly would go over on weekends and that got to be pretty old very fast. So they hired a manager and that didn't work out because they weren't there. So then Harold Kelly and his wife Paula, they put her over there to run it. The second year they actually built a building there which was like a one room cottage, one big room and a bathroom, so she'd have a place to stay.  It was back begin the barrel.

As I recall, being a little kid, there wasn't much around there at that point in time. Way down the way, they had some storage barns for the boats.

How my Dad got this idea was that my uncle Carl Decker also built one of these. Actually he built two, down in Olney, Illinois, and the other in Westport, Illinois, about 15 miles away. Olney is about 100 miles south of Champaign, and probably about 15 miles from the border. So there ended up being three of those barrels that I know of.

I know that my Dad and Harold Kelly ran the barrel for 3 or 4 years, probably closer to 3 before they realized that because of the distance, this was not a good idea. My uncle Carl  ran his two for quite a few years. He had a restaurant business like an old fashion drive in with the counter and the stools and that kind of stuff,  and on that property he built the barrel and did the same thing, he was selling foot long hot dogs and root beer, and the same way with the one over in Robinson. He ran the one in Olney and my aunt went over and ran the one in Robinson.

The Douglas barrel did operate for a few more years after my Dad sold it. Somebody said that some bikers took it over, the bikers had it for a while. When we moved over here to the Grand Rapids area about 1990 we went over there and saw it and were out taking pictures.  At that time, there was nothing there. The second time we went over,  there was a guy that had it and he called it "The Rain Barrel" or "pickle barrel", I think "the Rain Barrel", set up as a little museum.  We stopped in and introduced ourselves to the guy, told him my dad built it, and so forth. Then we were over a few years ago and it looked pretty dilapidated.

Chuck  Decker

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