One day in 1965 I learned that By Blanchard, a teacher in Osceola, had a root beer stand for sale. I read the Richardson drive-in advertisements as a kid, and always wanted to own a root beer stand. I contacted Byron and learned that his son and daughter had outgrown their carhop aprons. His ledger showed me that it was possible for our three boys to go to college, too. I was teaching in St. Croix Falls at that time.
By showed us the ropes and we were off on a new venture with son Randy and two local girls as car hops. My wife, Sofia, had been a secretary to the CEO of Columbia Records of Mexico, wore fancy clothes and heels, and met recording stars such as Liberace. I was pleasantly surprised when she put on an apron and jumped into the swing of things, faster than I.
A hopping joint
I think our burgers were delicious because of the fresh made buns from Wally’s Bakery, fresh ground hamburger from Dehmer’s Store, and the old cast iron grill. Blanchard thought that hamburger grease soaked into the pores of the iron, creating some magic. Sofie had a formula for making delicious barbecue (Sloppy-Joe). She also made the root beer at home.
Our triple spindle malt machine always got a work out on busy weekends. One hot busy Sunday someone didn’t secure a malt cup properly and we had a shake tornado.
We usually needed extra help for warm evenings and weekends. Barbara, next door, was a convenient helper. I couldn’t remember the name of the pretty blond carhop. I asked Mark if he remembered it. He said we hired both Melinda and her brother Tom Stelling. I asked him if he remembered when 5-year-old Carlo wanted to kiss her good night when we took her home. Mark smiled and said, “Didn’t we all?”
The boys didn’t write their orders. They told us and we wrote it down in the kitchen. One hot, busy day, Mark came charging in, breathing fire — his order wasn’t right. He and his mother had a heated argument and she flipped a slice of pickle with her finger. It landed in his eye. It was a laughable sight for us at his chagrin.
Sometimes, after a hot, busy, day and all three boys were on board, we went to Birch’s tavern/restaurant on Highway 8 for a Friday night fish fry. One night, I ordered trout instead of the usual battered cod. The boy’s eyes got big when they saw a whole fish on my plate and laughed more when they saw one side was charred black. I didn’t complain as I knew the Birch family was tired, too.
Falls, explosions and fire
Our old root beer barrel made the water for the root beer cold with ice from Ralph Morrow’s icehouse in SCF. Ralph was a big old man who pulled out 7-foot high blocks of ice. One day he slipped and fell. His tongs had tipped the massive block far enough that it fell, too. I was breathless until I saw that it landed beside him. We lost our source of ice when he retired. I tried making our own, using two freezers. That method was not good. Fortunately, it was near the end of our 11-year run.
The carbon dioxide gas fed a compressor inside the cabin to make carbonated water that gave the fizz to the root beer. When an outside tank of CO2 overheated on a hot day and exploded, one side of the cabin turned into a sheet of ice, due to the expanding gas.
One wet Friday afternoon, an old Chevy pickup came barreling down the hill, went into a skid and broke off the large power pole in front. It dangled from the wires and we were without power on a busy Friday night. A day later, some fellow rolled in and leaped from his car, asking for water. I dumped a bucket full on the carpet in the back seat of his Oldsmobile. The exhaust pipe had broken from the muffler and the hot gas made the steel floor red-hot.
On quiet evenings, Sofie and I got to talk with regular customers. There were the elderly Nesseths, who were like grandparents to our kids. I learned War 101 from Colonel Oakey. Congenial farmer, Warren Peterson, enjoyed our floats, and could out-talk me. Then there was Art from across the river who rode a dolled up bike. He appreciated the respect that we gave him and one Sunday in the fall, he rode his bike up to our place to give us apples from his tree. Among our younger patrons there was “Slip” Montgomery who still greats us wherever we meet. Jeff Pool is another long-time friend. There were the Green brothers in their Corvette, Butch Viebrock in his Thunderbird, Gildo Cronick on his motorcycle, and the Ganley brothers on their fancy bikes. Our three boys looked forward to serving Mrs. Lindholm and her two sons Paul and Dave. Mark and the Lindholm boys ended up in local law enforcement.
One day, some low-life drove off with a tray full of mugs. Our boys got his license number and we reported it to officer, John Harvieux. John and Mark became good friends over the years and have hunted elk, on horseback, in the mountains of Wyoming.
All these decades later
Our summers in Osceola were enjoyable in spite of the sweat, bees and mosquitoes. I think all the fine people we met contributed to our longevity. Thinking about the root beer, ice cream, burgers, hot dogs and shakes I consumed those summers, I’m amazed that I lived 91 years. I wish we had kept the old cast iron grill.