What goes around comes around, and soft drinks are no exception. It seems that the first soft drinks were flavored water. Water was flavored with lemon, mint, pomegranate juice, honey, and even celery. Now flavored water seems all the rage. The Schweppe Company created a carbonated mineral water in 1783.
In 1917 L. M. Veazey Bottling Works in Sylacauga advertised high-grade carbonated drinks with some catchy names: Ginger Swing, Pep-To-Lac, and My Cola. The Veazeys lived in a big house on the corner of Spring and Norton Avenue across from Beth Yates Park. L.M. Veazey operated an early saloon in Sylacauga, owned various properties, and was known as a shrewd businessman.
1917 Mr. H. B. Foster operated the Cherp- Bottling Company in Sylacauga. Moving here from Roanoke, he had invested in Coca Cola stock, was a good businessman, and a deacon at First Baptist Church. Mr. J.B Stevens was his step-son.
The Try-Me Bottling Company had begun operations on Norton Avenue next to the Sylacauga Produce Company in 1925. The Hocutt Brothers, W.P. and C.H., owned this company and tempted customers with such names as : Try-Me Grape, Try-Me Root Beer, Try-Me Strawberry, Try-Me Peach, Try-Me Ginger Ale and Try-Me Cream Soda. The grand opening was recorded in a local paper as successful, serving 8,000 free drinks from 1-6:00 p.m.; the slogan promised “you can’t spend a cent.” I wonder if they were influenced by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with the Try-Me names and promotional idea.
It was during the depression that the afore-mentioned Mr. Foster went to Wetumpka and invested in a bottling company there. The banks failed, and Mr. Foster and others suffered because of that downturn. He returned to Sylacauga where he died. His widow, Mrs. H.B. Foster, and J. B. Stevens continued operating a bottling company, the Lime-Cola Bottling Company. They bought the Try-Me Co. from the Hocutt’s and built a new building on the corner of Norton Avenue and Third Street. They also installed new machinery, increasing the capacity of their plant, and added Pepsi Cola to their line of soft drinks. One of their drinks was called, Steve’s Own. Mrs. Foster ran a large commercial candy factory in connection with the bottling plant. This is the current Centennial Building. A mind-boggling fact in light of today’s business is that in his many years of business, including a bottling company in Talladega, Mr. Stevens never had a telephone. His wife, Mrs. Velma Stevens taught school in the Sylacauga area for many years. I remember her as my sister’s teacher at Main Avenue. Their Son, Owen Stevens, was a 1955 graduate of Sylacauga High School.
It was seeing the sign still visible above the door of Flat Top Boats that peaked my interest in the 7-Up Bottling Company which was at 119 North Anniston Avenue. This was said to be “Sylacauga’s only soft drink bottling company where mixing and bottling is done on the premises.” This company was operated by Tom Machen for many years. Mr. Machen’s nephews, Lewis Machen and Clyde Machen moved here from Clay County and both played on the Industrial League basketball team that the company sponsored. Louis had attended Jacksonville and played four years on the basketball team. Clyde Machen worked for Avondale for many years and Louis (Coach) Machen became an educator and coach with the Sylacauga City School system. Ray McDiarmid, a Sylacauga historian, shared the picture of the 7-Up Bottling Company basketball team and pointed out Tom Machen on the left bottom with the jacket and tie as well as Coach Louis Machen who worked there also. Coach Machen is on the top left. Contact me, please, if you can identify any others.
1958, two brothers moved their families to Sylacauga from Evansville, Indiana, and bought this company from the Machens. Carl and Ralph Vogel had been brought up in the soft drink business because their father and grandfather were in this business for 74 consecutive years, so that legacy dates back to 1885. At that time a rubber stoppered plunger was smacked down into the old-fashioned round neck heavy glass bottles. Carl’s daughter, Laurene Messina, has given me lots of this information on her family. Her sister, Nadine, and I were friends and in the class of 1960 at SHS. She remembers at least 2 separate locations of bottling companies in Indiana.
Here the company made 7-up, Grapico, Chocolate Milk, Frosty Root Beer, Cherry Blossom, Old Colony Strawberry, and V-12. The V-12 was said to be clear, and it had yellow dots resembling bubbles on the bottles. A Sylacauga News Article says this about this drink: “V12 is a zesty fruit flavor that the enterprising Vogel brothers are placing on the market. It captures the flavor of the real ‘soda-pop’ of long ago as it is made in strict conformity by a recipe handed down in this family from their grandfather. The catchy V-12 name is modern though V stands for Vogel and 12 is derived from the generous 12 ounce bottle size. It is proving a favorite with the trade in the area.”
The Vogels distributed their drinks in five counties and operated four drink trucks. They employed ten people full time. A humorous story indicative of the time, Laurene recalls her Dad and his brother being stopped coming from Birmingham with a truckload of sugar (the suspicion was that the sugar was for making moonshine. Although they were in a 7-Up truck, they had to produce the bill of sale for the sugar.
According to the Alabama State Business Registration site, the 64 year old Seven Up Bottling company of Sylacauga was dissolved. The Vogels business interests continued in a vending machine business, etc; but that is a new chapter for another time. New chapters begin in every man’s book, but with every story the impact of people’s lives really makes the story unforgettable. The Machens and the Vogel brothers and their families including Sylacauga’s own John Vogel (Nelda) have made a positive impact on this city in more ways than I have space to explore. The Seven Up Bottling company building stands as a testimony to the people who worked there at 119 North Anniston Avenue, and it was not so long ago at that.
Special thanks to Laurene Vogel Messina, Ray McDiarmid for pictures and for the book Clyde Machen’s Stories, Earl Lewis, and Samantha Machen and all the ladies at B.B. Comer Library.