Friday, February 25, 2011
I Own The Barrel in Olney, Illinois
The Olney, Ill Barrel Today
The brother of Joe Decker, the man who built our Saugatuck Barrel, built two matching ones in Olney and Westport, Illinois and operated them for a number of years. The one in Olney, still exists, and has been moved to the property of Mike Doll. Mr. Doll Tells his story below:
Glenn Decker and C. D. (Carl) Decker built the root beer barrel in Olney, Illinois in 1948. And then their father was still alive when they built it. Mr. Decker started out with the barrel and then he built a restaurant in the same lot-- it was a drive-in type restaurant. When he closed that down he turned it into a trailer park and after a number of years he contacted my father, Leo Doll, about demolishing it. And my father went and looked at it and decided he could move it. So he jacked it up and he put it on a low boy and at 5:30- 6 o'clock in the morning he drove it right down Main Street. We live on the east side of town and the barrel was on the west side of town so he had to come right down Main Street, but he did it early in the morning before there was any traffic. My father owned some acreage with a cabin on it that an old MD named Dr King had bought back in the 40s. Dr. King used to wake up in the middle of the night and be lonely and get the operator onto the phone to talk to him. No one lived in the cabin when my dad moved the barrel there, and he made kind of a park out of the property and moved the barrel up there.
We've tried to maintain it over the years. My father passed away when he was 67, so he didn't get to enjoy it too long, but I've tried to keep it going. It's just kind of a private picnic area, and we use it for storage.
I know a little about the building of it, I was told the two brothers and their father built it and they did this particular barrel all by hand. They used the type of planes you see in antique shops that make a tongue and groove board. The bought tongue and grooved boards, but then they took those hand planes and tapered the boards to where they were narrower on each end. I think it's roughly 12 to 14 feet tall. They built it then like a barrel and they put some stainless steel bands around it, and it's still standing.
There was another one that they built a little later over on the Illinois side of the Wabash River near Vincennes, Indiana and they used a router when they built that one. Machined to make the tongue and groove narrow and they didn't do that one by hand. I've not been by that one recently, but they built a building up around that one where it didn't stand out as much because of the building. I'm not sure if it's still standing or not. It about 30 miles away from the original one, I feel like the one I have was the original one. With mine I had to rebuild the inside with wood because the bottom of it had deteriorated and then it kept leaning and I had a lot of electrical lines come and go into it and I wanted to maintain it, I put a post up behind it, an "I" beam post, and pulled it over and put a cable around the top and anchored it to the post, and it's setting more or less behind it so you don't notice it. Then the roof was getting in terrible shape. It drained in the middle, they made the roof slope to the middle and mine is in a woods area so the drain was always plugging up and finally the wood totally deteriorated so I think 6 or so years ago, I just removed the roof and put a flat roof that drained all the way to the back. It originally drained in the middle and had a pipe that came down and went over the side and went out of the thing, and I made it more like a conventional roof and made it drain out the back.
I'm going to say it was probably in the late 50s or early 60s when we moved it and I think it was built either in the late 40s to early 50s. A friend of mine who is 5 to 6 years older than I am talked about going out there and buying a root beer and talking to the curb hops, the girls that served it back when he was in high school. I graduated from high school in 55, and I think he graduated from high school in 1950 so that's what makes me think it was built in the late 40s. The same fellow that I know that I said went there in high school, he was a good friend of the original owner and he opened a bar here and they wanted to have draft beer and they ended up getting the glass mugs from the barrel and they used them in their bar to serve beer. I didn't get any of the mugs, or also the metal trays that you roll up the window and set on the door. I wish I had thought to get some at the time.
The two they had down here they called them Wally's Root Beer Barrel, because Carl Decker's wife was named Wally. When my father moved it, it was no longer being used and it was sitting in the corner of a trailer park. My father had moved some small buildings and homes and small houses, so he just jacked it up and slid it on a low boy and moved it out. At the time I didn't live here, but I built a new home here in 73-74, so today I live basically across the driveway from the barrel. We are back off the highway about 5-600 feet and there's still the little white cabin that Dr. King used in the 40s.