It's Dr Pepper Time!

As least for those bootlegging the sugar-sweetened stuff out of Dublin, Texas

The upper floor of the Dr Pepper Museum holds a lot of advertising materials. I sang along silently as I read the words to the "I'm a pepper, you're a pepper" jingle. And I dimly recalled the 10-2-4 campaign, which advocated the consumption of three Dr Peppers a day, at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. But I had never heard the oldest Dr Pepper slogan: "Drink a bite to eat." I also learned that the period in Dr. was dropped from the name in a logo redesign in the 1950s.

But the Waco museum, which is officially known as the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute, was a disappointment. The quirky spirit of the soft drink didn't jibe with some of the heavy-handed propaganda on the second floor. Dr Pepper's former owner, a European conglomerate called Cadbury Schweppes, couldn't resist throwing in sales pitches for its other products. There were also exhibits on the marvels of modern soft drink marketing and the brilliance of the "Schweppervesence" slogan. Whatever.

Cadbury Schweppes "demerged" in May of this year, and the beverage division, now called the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, was spun off to investors. How the new owners will deal with the independence of Dublin Dr Pepper is not yet known.

In 1885, pharmacist Charles Alderton formulated Dr Pepper at the soda fountain of Waco's Old Corner Drug Store.
In 1885, pharmacist Charles Alderton formulated Dr Pepper at the soda fountain of Waco's Old Corner Drug Store.
The Dr Pepper Drug Store in Dublin
The Dr Pepper Drug Store in Dublin

After my Waco tour, I immediately headed out Route 6 for downtown Dublin, home of the oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant in existence. As I drove around town looking for the building, I noticed old-fashioned painted advertisements for Dr Pepper on the sides of buildings with the original slogan, "Drink a Bite to Eat."

The Dublin Dr Pepper building houses another Dr Pepper museum, but it's a homegrown affair. It's connected to Doc's Soda Shop, a fully functioning, old-fashioned ice cream and soda shop that sells drinks, sundaes and floats and lots of memorabilia, including T-shirts, bottlecap belts and trucker caps. It's also the secret headquarters of the Dublin Dr Pepper underground—cases of Dublin Dr Pepper sit beside the door ready to be loaded into bootleggers' vehicles.

The first thing I did when I met Lori Dodd, who runs the soda shop and museum, was to buy an official "Dublin Dr Pepper Bootlegger" T-shirt and a case of soda. Then she gave me a tour of the plant and museum.

The museum was just a couple of rooms full of old Dr Pepper signs and photographs, certificates and permits from the early days at the bottling plant. But the bottling plant was itself a museum. The bottling line equipment looked like an industrial antique. Huge bags of Imperial Cane Sugar had to be carried up to the second floor to be mixed with the base.

The flavored syrup that all Dr Pepper bottlers use is manufactured in St. Louis. Local bottlers just add the carbonated water and the sweetener, which is why it was so easy for the Dublin plant to continue to use cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. The franchise agreement that bottlers have with Dr Pepper doesn't require them to use any particular sweetener—but it does limit the area where they can deliver products.

And the product that the bootleggers want is a retro-looking 8-ounce bottle full of cane sugar-sweetened Dr Pepper. Though the bottles look old, they are actually new disposable bottles. I drank one while we walked around the factory. There was a wonderful mouth-filling quality about the sugar sweetness that had me smacking my lips.

The disposable 8-ounce bottles are popular, but true connoisseurs have their own bottles. Although Dr Pepper discontinued reusable bottles in 1990, the Dublin Dr Pepper plant still refills old Dr Pepper bottles.

I looked at cases upon cases of bottles going back to the 1960s and 1970s that were waiting to be washed. It's amazing that so many people keep these old bottles in circulation. Dodd told me that there are collectors with bottles dating all the way back to the 1930s—those have to be hand-filled. The factory itself maintains an inventory of more than 100,000 old reusable Dr Pepper bottles.

I asked Lori Dodd how she liked working at the Dr Pepper plant. Although she is quite slender, she said that it was difficult to work there and not gain weight.

"All that Dr Pepper around all the time?" I guessed.

"No, actually, it's the Frosty Peppers," she said. The soda fountain at the plant makes Frosty Pepper sundaes by pouring Dr Pepper fountain syrup over Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. It's an old favorite among Dublin locals.

The Dr Pepper plant is so revered in Dublin that on Monday, June 9, in an annual rite of summer, a crew of workers will drive around the city limits taking down the signs that read "Dublin" and replacing them with signs that read "Dr Pepper, Texas."

This act of civic devotion marks the beginning of the weeklong celebration of the plant's anniversary—it turns 117 this year. The party peaks on Saturday, June 14, with live music and carnival booths. (See dublindrpepper.com for details.) That's also when the judges will select the local girl who will serve as this year's "Pretty Peggy Pepper."

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