MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — For Thad Lents of Marshalltown, Pepsi is more than a refreshing soft drink – it’s a lifestyle, a passion and his livelihood. From his days working at Econofoods store as a teenager, to climbing the corporate ladder at the Pepsi Company, Lents has stockpiled a collection of Pepsi memorabilia in excess of 5,000 pieces.
“I was around pop growing up and drank it like crazy,” Lents said. “I just loved our Pepsi delivery guy, he would give me things for my collection. I’d get one thing here or there, and it snowballed.”
The Times-Republican (http://bit.ly/2cbcgL3 ) reports that Pepsi was invented in 1893 by a young pharmacist named Caleb Bradham who first called his creation “Brad’s Drink,” a mixture of sugar, water, caramel, lemon oil, nutmeg and other natural additives. In 1898, he renamed the beverage Pepsi-Cola. (Its long-time competitor, Coca-Cola, was invented by Dr. John Pemberton in 1886).
Lents got his first job with Pepsi in 1993, starting in a warehouse, working his way up to route driver, then sales supervisor, unit sales manager and now customer development representative for the Iowa/Nebraska Market.
When he built his home, he wanted a venue for showcasing his Pepsi collection, and actually planned the layout around what he calls his “basement museum” where many of his pieces are displayed.
“I took a Pepsi can to the paint store and asked them to match the red and blue,” Lents said. “However, now you can hardly see the walls with everything in my collection.”
Indeed, his personal museum measures 28×32 feet, packed exclusively with everything Pepsi. Walls and shelves are filled with cups, cans, bottles, clocks, signs, plates, posters, cardboard stand-ups (Star Wars, Britney Spears and Jeff Gordon), sporting goods, toys, decorations, vintage crates and five full-size Pepsi machines. Many of these pieces he received through his job and from friends.
“Ninety percent or more of the things in my collection were gifted to me,” Lents said.
He was employed at the Marshalltown Pepsi Bottling warehouse, located at 1605 E. Jackson St, before its closure in April 2014, and he is now based out of Des Moines.
“I have the Pepsi signs that were taken down from the Marshalltown warehouse, and I have held onto crates, cans and bottles that were going to be destroyed,” he said.
As for gifts, he has received calls from the Marshalltown Redemption Center whenever employees come across old cans they believe may be appealing to the collector.
“Friends will be out and see something Pepsi and snap a picture and send it, asking, ‘Got this, want this?’ Also, I have a friend who was a cruise ship director who would save foreign pop cans for me.”
Lents’ pop can collection spans 26 countries and several decades, and includes limited edition cans and cans of products now defunct, such as Pepsi Raging Razzberry, Crystal Pepsi and Pepsi Spice. For sanitary purposes, he empties the pop cans. As for his sizable glass bottle collection, he keeps the sweet carbonated liquid intact.
Lents’ favorite part of his collection are the toys, ranging from trucks, cars, dolls, figurines, frisbees, basketballs, play food and more.
“I like the toys more than anything,” Lents said. “I’m still a kid, and when I look at some things in my collection, I think I would like to have played with those things as a kid, but most are still in their original packages.”
In addition to toys, the types of Pepsi items Lents delights in are the kind that are not for commercial release, or not easily obtained in the U.S. market. For example, the collector has company signs, plaques, watches, commercial Pepsi coolers, test products, and even an old bottle mold from an assembly line. His collection of Pepsiman items are hard to come by because Pepsiman, a product of Pepsi Japan, is a mascot that was never introduced in the United States. He has an unusual piece of Pepsi history, in the form of an old drum of syrup, and drinking glasses with lines painted on them marking the “fill line.” Back in the era of the soda jerks, soda pop syrup would be poured into a glass, followed by the carbonated water.
Lents likes to browse antique shops looking for Pepsi memorabilia, noting how Coca-Cola items are easier to come by.
“I find things in the nooks and crannies, stuff that gets hidden in stores,” he said. “People may walk past something without really looking at it, and I see it’s Pepsi-related. Anything red, white and blue catches my eye.”
Lents said his family doesn’t quite know what to make of his collecting bug, but his kids’ friends and other visitors often express an interest in seeing the collection when they visit.
“If I ever do get transferred, at least the walls of my museum are painted red and blue – like the Marshalltown Bobcats colors,” Lents said.
Information from: Times-Republican, http://www.timesrepublican.com
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Times-Republican