Jimmy Ritchie’s grandfather Lyman Drake was one of many local small Maine soda distributors, bottlers.
His grandfather had the franchise for Moxie, Squeeze, orange Crush and Hires root beer. The flavors offered the Northern Maine soda drinker also featured white and dark cream soda, other local favorites. Delivery from the Houlton Maine soda bottler to as far north as Fort Kent, as far south as Macawahoc, west to Patten meant truck deliveries.
Maine returnable bottles paying a cent or two deposit and the need for pressure washing, steam cleaning the empty soda bottles too.
As a kid he remembers the hard part was getting out the cock roaches, napkins, cigarette butts and even rodents like mice stuffed down inside tight quarters. And when the bottling operation ceased like others including Fitz’s Beverage, most of the bottles were destroyed. So they could not be returned for the deposit at stores if found in the wrong hands.
Jimmy said Houlton Farms Dairy destroyed their returnable milk bottles for the same reason.
To avoid someone collecting the empties from the dump and trying to cash in on the returnable deposit. The Drake bottling operation was on the hill of the same name. Fitz’s Beverage housed in a 100 foot long building less than half a mile up the same road. On the other side of Drake’s Hill. On the way to Canada the old way.
I remember ten cents for a Fitz’s beverage and my Aunt Ruth’s Maine horse farm having a soda cooler where the bottles slide in slots hung by the neck. Submerged in cold water and accessed by lifting up on one of two top hatches. Kinda like an ice cream cooler. Not a door to reach for with an opening to select, pull out the soda by neck from it’s jaws. That released when the coins dropped in the slot registered as the real legal tender. The correct amount.
Houlton Maine tax assessor Tom Fitzpatrick told me about a Fitz’s Beverage truck wreck in Presque Isle that signaled the end of the home grown local soda bottling era. The back wheels of the delivery truck came clean off and the load of carefully bottled soda was destroyed in the accident.
Picking in the potato fields of Maine, during a digger breakdown or during lunch, a mid morning or afternoon break, I remember White Rock soda, Mountain Dew and even Fresca that was being test marketed in Northern Maine. Later the latter was linked to cancer in laboratory rats but what doesn’t cause cancer if enough artificial anything is injected in to a living body’s system right? At levels three thousand times what human’s consume in a normal life time.
And sometimes like this 1957 Pepsi bottle my mom used ironing, to remove wrinkles, the soda beverage container had other household uses.
Besides being returned, replaced with something syrupy sweet. Or for the couple cent deposit as they pile up on the front porch. Or on the stairs to the cellar just waiting to cause a broken neck. Or wrenched shoulder blade trying to catch yourself with a death grip on the railing on the way to the bottom. Surrounded by a pile of empties suddenly unbagged, loose.
Maine, big state, lots of space, find yourself surrounded in the four season beauty. Where you can hear yourself think, figure life out.