It's been around 20 years since a soft drink was legally bottled in Columbus. That was when Coca-Cola and other affiliated products were pumped into containers at the bottling plant on Washington Street owned by the Schumaker clan.
The practice ended when Hutch Schumaker sat down with an accountant and determined he could save 50 cents a case by not bottling the product.
“It’s just like farming,” he said. “It doesn’t pay to be a small operator. It was much cheaper for us to get our product from another supplier.”
That wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, soft drink bottling was a big industry in Columbus, as small business operators found the process to be easy, cheap and sometimes profitable.
Those days were resurrected a few weeks back when Dean Brougher spotted a glass bottle lying in a ditch near his home in Elizabethtown.
“It is a clear bottle, with embossed lettering,” wrote his wife, Miriam. “The brand is ‘Try-me.’ It does not mention a flavor but clearly says it was bottled in Columbus, Indiana. We looked online, found information saying it had been around as late as the ’50s, yet no one here has ever heard of it or knows anything about it.”
Actually, there are some people in Bartholomew County who are familiar with the Try-me brand — Schumaker being one of them.
“I think I’ve even got a couple of those bottles back in the warehouse,” he recalled earlier this week.
I was one of the folks who had never heard of the brand and still marvel that a number of soft drinks were bottled right here in Columbus.
The Try-me brand was popular in the early- to mid-20th century. It was a flavored brand (orange, lime, etc.) that was marketed primarily in the southeast but also as far west as Oklahoma and as far north as New York. Bottling companies produced the drink at various locations, following a familiar pattern.
“It was really simple,” Schumaker recalled. “You could call up a supplier, describe to him the kind of soft drink you’d like to produce, and he’d send you several gallons of syrup. All you had to do then was have a bunch of empty bottles with your name and hometown on them, mix the syrup with water and pour the mixture into the bottles.”
Schumaker is personally familiar with the process. So were his father (Ab) and grandfather (Junie) before him. “We bottled all kinds of different flavors,” he recalled. “We had a lemon-lime drink up till 1976 and a product called Bubble Up. Then we had a number of flavors we bottled under the Southway brand until sometime in the early ’60s.”
They all bore that unique phrase on the outside of the bottles ... “Made in Columbus, Indiana.” And as was indicated on the bottle that Brougher found, Try-me was, indeed, also bottled in Columbus.
The company even had its own listing in the Columbus City Directories beginning in 1929 and running through the early ’30s. It was located at 320 Franklin St., which also happened to be the address of the Butler-Jones Candy Co.
Ironically, it was almost a year ago today that Columbus resident Scott Durnal had come across another soda bottle that carried the “Made in Columbus, Indiana” message.
His bottle once contained a product called Cheer Up. It was made by the Butler-Kist Co., which not so ironically was located at 318-322 Franklin St., according to the 1940-41 city directory. By the 1942-43 city directory Cheer Up production had been moved to a location at 816 Jackson St. There wasn’t much of a need for new equipment. The 816 Jackson location had been the home of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., according to the 1931-32 city directory.
The common link to the two companies was Raymond R. Butler, a Clifford native who joined with Curtis E. Jones in creating the candy company in 1922. Sometime before 1940, he had agreed to bottle Cheer Up, which was a product of the Kist company, a national manufacturer.
In the early ’30s, there were three bottling operations in Columbus — Try-me, Coca-Cola and the Columbus Bottling Works at Fifth and Jackson streets. Today there are none.