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REMEMBER WHEN: R.C. Cola and a Moon Pie

There was nothing better for a snack in the 1950s and 1960s than an RC Cola and a Moon Pie!  Someone wrote a “hillbilly” song about that in Nashville in 1951 that was recorded by Big Bill Lister and others! Andalusia has had its share of Cola bottling plants in the last one hundred and ten years. A picture appeared on social media last week of an IT Cola bottle with an ANDALUSIA stamp on it. Some friend posed the question, “Was there ever an IT Cola bottling plant in Andalusia?”

     An ad in The Andalusia Star, May 20, 1909 edition reads, “What’s in a name? IT COLA, The Real Cola Drink, Spells All, Pure, Exhilarating, Wholesome, Satisfying, Sold Everywhere.”

     In the December 23, 1909 edition, an ad reads, “Just say IT COLA if you want the drink that’s caught the popular taste. In bottles and at founts.”

     The IT COLA bottling plant was located on Jernigan Street off South Cotton St., the building that W. A. Waller, Sr. later purchased in 1946 to operate his company in (Waller Construction) for the next 40 years. The building (Circa 1899) had quite an historic facade. How do we let these structures get razed?

     On April 22, 1909, an announcement appeared in the newspaper, “The Coca Cola Company of Montgomery is opening a new plant at Andalusia, making the third bottling plant in operation here.” Those three plants at that time are believed to be IT Cola, Crown Cola, and Coca Cola.

     This article appeared in the newspaper on March 15, 1934
LITTLE HISTORY OF COCA-COLA BOT. PLANT – From a small beginning, the Coca Cola Company has grown to one of the most important business contributions to the business life of this community. This local concern was founded in 1909 by W. A. Bellingrath of Montgomery and the late J. S. Burnett of this city.” Burnett was married to Mary (Mamie) Bellingrath. 

     “When the small plant began operations, it was located in the building which was owned by Mrs. Anna Riley on the site of the present court house. Because of the undeveloped territory and the old style machinery which was in use at that time, the company had rather ‘hard sledding.’ But under the management of Mr. Burnett, the firm grew steadily and continued to expand.”

     “At the time that the small plant began operations here, there was a very limited sale in town for the territory was undeveloped. A foot-power bottling machine, a small soaker, one horse and wagon was the equipment for carrying on the business. Each bottle had to be rinsed by hand and the employees, a man and a boy, did the bottling and delivered goods in town. Roads were so bad and traveling so slow that the drinks sent out of town had to be shipped by rail.

     “Mr. Burnett was well read, unassuming, quiet and having a keen sense of humor never lost interest in life as manager until his death in 1928. He had associated himself with his nephew George M. Etheridge who relieved him of many details and with whom he counseled for the best interest of the business.”

     “In 1914 the plant was moved to the Fletcher building on Church Street, later known as the Milligan building, until it outgrew the location and built its present commodious plant on Troy Street. In the same year, the first motor truck ever operated by the concern for the delivery of its products was bought. Then one machine served all its customers at that time.”

     September 9, 1930 – “COCA COLA BOTTLES HERE SEE VAST GROWTH SINCE INCEPTION – Today (1930) the Coca Cola Bottling Company of Andalusia occupies one of the most modern buildings in this section, large and well-arranged, embodying the bottling works, an ice plant, and the offices which control both concerns. 50 by 140 feet in size, the structure contains the most up-to-date and efficient of equipment, all automatic machinery with a capacity of 72 bottles a minute or 43,000 per day.”

     “At present, five large trucks are operated from this plant serving a large territory including all of Covington County and parts of all surrounding counties. Fifteen persons are given employment by the firm in its processes of manufacture and delivery operations.”

     “Every bottle filled with Coca Cola or soda water at this plant is thoroughly sterilized before it is filled. No human hand ever touches these bottles from the time they enter the huge sterilizer until after they have been filled and capped by automatic machinery. Every bottle is inspected before and after it has been filled to insure absolute cleanliness and purity.”

     “At intervals, all soft drink plants are inspected by the State Board of Health and given a rating. Recently, the plant here received the grade A, the highest rating which letter will be painted on all its trucks to demonstrate the pureness of its product to all its many patrons. It is also regularly inspected by the Coca Cola Company of Atlanta. “

     “A large part of the progress of the plant here has been due to the sound judgment and acumen of George M. Etheridge who has been connected with the company since 1910, becoming manager in 1928. Mrs. Mary Bellingrath Burnett and W. A. Bellingrath (Mobile franchise owner) are joint owners of the business.” 

     January 25, 1927 – “The Coca Cola Bottling Company is having its signs (murals) repainted in various sections of the city and county. This company believes in legibility in what it says.” (Who remembers the Coca Cola boy with the bottle top hat?)

     A very memorable mural sign appeared for many years on the south side of the Patrick Furniture Company, building now owned and occupied by Walker Business.

     April 20, 1950 – “The new $150,000. Coca Cola Bottling Co. building at the corner of Church and Baisden Streets will be formally opened on April 26 at an open house to which the public is being invited. Joe Hilson, manager of the local plant which serves a wide area of South Alabama has made the announcement and issued the invitation.”

     “Situated first in the Riley Building which stood where the courthouse now is, the company moved in 1914 to the Fletcher Building on Church Street and later to the site on Troy Street where operations were carried out until the new building was erected this year.”

     “Of brick structure, the new building has been constructed with adequate parking and garage facilities and loading space to care for the special requirements of the firm here. The most modern bottling equipment available has been installed in the plant and is now in operation. Capacity of the new plant is 150 bottles per minute.” 

     “The company employs 43 employees with salaries totaling $97,000. per annum. A fleet of 16 trucks are used in the operations, 10 on routes out of Andalusia and six in the city.”

     “When Mr. Etheridge died in March 1939, Joe Hilson who had extensive experience with Coca Cola in Montgomery came to Andalusia to serve as manager, a post he has held for 11 years.” 

     May 26, 1916 – “Soft Drink Dealers and Consumer of Same in Covington, Conecuh, and Butler CountiesAndalusia Lime-Cola Bottling CompanyCary M. Etheridge, President and General Manager, Andalusia, Alabama. Our new plant is located at 32 South Cotton Street. Lime Cola drinkers do not complain of sleepless nights. It is compounded from 32 ingredients that are brought, some of them, from the farthest points of the universe. Now on sale at your grocers and all soft drink stands.”

     January 16, 1913 – “NEW BOTTLING CO.Andalusia is to have a new bottling company that will open for business about March 1st. The name of the firm will be the Chero-Cola Bottling Co. This company has purchased the rights for this section of Alabama. E. C. Gunn, J. E. Seegers and J. F. Davis are members of the firm. A part of the large building recently erected by L. M. Johnson (occupied later by J. J. Moates Auto Co.) will be used by the new bottling company.”

     March 29, 1913 – “The Chero Cola Bottling Co. which recently opened at Andalusia remembered The Star in a generous way. One case of the refreshing beverage was left at our office for the entertainment of employees and another case was sent to the editor’s home. It is a delightful drink and one that enjoys a wide sale wherever known. The Star predicts success for the company which is now operating in L. M. Johnson’s building near the Presbyterian Church. J. E. Seegers is manager.”

     July 31, 1913 – “REGRETTABLE ACCIDENT – While trying to adjust a belt at the Chero Cola bottling works last Friday afternoon, Jesse O’Neal got his right arm caught in the machinery and was badly injured before the electric motor could be stopped. He was quickly carried to Campbell’s Drug Store (Pear St.) when Drs. Battle, Ray, and Gresham gave him prompt attention. The right fore arm was mangled in such manner that it was found necessary to amputate the hand just above the wrist. The limb was also broken above the elbow, but this was placed between splints, with the hope that this portion of the arm may be saved. The Star is informed that the young man is getting along nicely and unless complications arise, he will soon recover. Mr. O’Neal has many friends who will regret to hear of this accident, and they sympathize with him in the loss of his hand.”

     March 10, 1914 – “ONE YEAR OLD – We cannot fail to express our appreciation of the large and increasing patronage given us each month since we commenced bottling Chero Cola – the best drink offered to the public today. Today there are thousands who believe what we knew twelve months ago. That we had the best drink on the market. We are continually increasing our equipment and expect to be able to serve more people in a more satisfactory way the coming year than we have during the year just ended. Our customers never have occasion to ‘kick’ about flies, trash, bugs, or soured goods bought from our plant. Every bottle bubbles over with real restfulness to body and mind. In iced bottles anywhere – 5 cents.”

     April 20, 1915 – Advertisement reads, “’I always drink Chero Cola in the afternoons,’ remarked a prominent attorney,  ‘because it never affects my sleeping well at night.’ And to drink Chero Cola in the morning will not affect your appetite for dinner. Try it. In a bottle through a straw, the sanitary way.”

     January 25, 1927 – “The Chero Cola Company of this city are unloading a (train) car shipment of bottles for their plant. This popular drink is in such demand that carload shipments of bottles is growing to be a common thing for this bottling concern.”

     August 3, 1939 – “Operating under the third franchise ever issued the Chero Cola Bottling Co., widely known for their Nehi and Royal Crown Cola, the concern announces their 24th anniversary as an outstanding soft drink manufacturer. The beverage concern originally occupied a small part of a building (25 by 40) on South Three Notch which partly burned when the Opera House was destroyed by fire. Then it moved in the old Andalusia Ice Works building and thereafter to a location on the west side of the square (later the King’s Cafeteria building).”

     “The Nehi Bottling Co. has recently completed a 2-story $7,500. building, 50 by 100 feet in size, located on the corner of Crescent Street and Opp Avenue. Modern equipment has been added. The efficiency and sanitation of these machines is nothing short of remarkable. The upstairs is used for mixing the various flavors and other ingredients that go into the delicious drinks. When first organized, the company washed bottles in large wooden vats. The bottled products were delivered by mule team and wagon and by train. The bottles are now washed and rinsed, filled with the delicious fluids and capped without ever being touched with human hands. Ten people are employed regularly besides the owners who take an active part – J. Frank Davis, president, and W. O. Bozeman, secretary and treasurer. The firm has had a very successful period under its present management and has largely increased its volume of business. The company serves its city trade daily as well as out of town trade with Nehi products and Royal Crown Cola.”

     In April 1961, Horace McInnish originally from Dothan, brother of Dr. Dan McInnish, Andalusia optometrist, and H. M. McInnish, counselor for AHS students, purchased all the stock in the RC Cola Bottling Company from Tracy Wilder who had operated the business as sole proprietor since the mid 1940s. The new corporation bought all bottling equipment, trucks, machinery, and other items incidental to the business. RC Bottling Co. bottled in addition to RC Cola, Nehi orange, grape, strawberry, root beer, and Upper Ten. The company continued to operate in the building on a lease from Wilder who continued in an advisory capacity temporarily. Majority stock holder and president Horace McInnish operated that business for the next 20 years.”

     This is the end of the Cola stories of Andalusia. Visit the  Three Notch Museum to view the bottle collection which ranges from IT Cola, Crown Cola, Chero Cola, Coca Cola, and RC Cola/Nehi products. If you have exhausted yourself reading his account, prop your feet up and have a Coke

     

     Sue Bass Wilson, AHS Class of 1965, is a local real estate broker and long-time member of the Covington Historical Society. She can be reached at suebwilson47@gmail.com