The Coca-Cola Factory

by Harry T. Roman

I love Coca-Cola. In fact I am having one now. Did I ever tell you I lived near a Coke Bottling plant?

It took up the whole block between 1st and 2nd Avenues, bounded by 6th and 7th Streets. The main offices and the plant were close to the 1st Avenue end, while the delivery trucks were parked behind a big chain link fence on the 2nd Avenue side. On summer days the big industrial windows would be slanted open and you could catch a glimpse of the bottles being filled with that magical sweet bubbly stuff.

The Coca-Cola trucks would come pouring out onto 7th Street in the morning to deliver the goods all around the city and county; and like clockwork about 3:45 they would be heading home. You didn't need a clock in my neighborhood, you told time by the caravans of Coke trucks heading down 5th Street and up 2nd Avenue to enter the parking lot again on 7th Street. It was a well-practiced ritual.

Sometimes in the winter you lucked out. After a heavy snow the streets usually got lumpy and icy and the big trucks would bounce and wiggle around in the roadway. If the bumps were great enough or the truck skidded around a corner, coke bottles would vibrate out of their wooden boxes and spill all over the street. One particular winter, a truck dumped a bunch of bottles into a snow bank at the corner and we had a fun time digging out free sodas, conveniently kept nicely chilled by the snow. As the snow melted, even more treasures were discovered.

You could buy the concentrated Coca-Cola syrup right at the factory, and mix your own soda or use it as a topping for ice cream or however you enjoyed it. Many parents gave their children a spoon full of the syrup if they had a mild sore throat. It soothed the scratchy feeling. Of course you could always buy a nickel cup or glass of Coke at the many local candy stores and luncheonettes in the neighborhood. We were drinking Cherry Cokes at the soda fountain long before Coke came out with its own brand a number of years ago. There were Cherry Cokes, Vanilla Cokes, and even Chocolate Cokes--standard fare for the erudite young soft drink aficionados I hung around with.

When canned Cokes first made their appearance, you still needed a "church key" to open them, unless you lived in my inventive neighborhood. Many is the time we hoisted someone over the old chain link fence to scavenge up the dropped Coke cans that fell off the trucks, You would be amazed at how many cans were always lying on the ground around the trucks. They might be bumped or dented, but they never went back on the trucks, so in the interest of recycling and good public relations we helped the company out by cleaning their parking lot.

The smallest guy went over the fence and tossed the cans over. Know how we opened them? Rammed the can end down on the pointed edges of a chain link fence and got a neat hole punched right through the metal. Did that twice and the can was ready to be drained--flying soda fizz and all. After that, we would burp for half an hour to see who could make the loudest noise; not very gentlemanly, but quite entertaining. It made no impression whatsoever on the local girls. What girl could look at a boy with warm Coke fizz running out of his nose and awful sounds coming out of his mouth. Yes, we were pigs and loved it.

My Uncle Sonny drove a Coca-Cola truck out in Pittsburgh for 30 years. When he retired he sent me a full set of the traditional wide mouth Coke glasses. As a boy he explained to me how the factory worked and how the stuff got packaged and out on the trucks. It still impresses me today. Every time I drink a soda, it's hard not to hear the sounds of those trucks and the bottles rumbling down the factory line, heading for the loading dock.

I wonder how many millions of gallons of Coca-Cola went through that plant? Probably almost as much as went through me! I am still hooked on that liquid----and can to this day belt out a rather respectable burp. One time after a particularly loud blast-something akin to the mating call of a bull moose- my wife just looked at me the way a wife looks at her husband with that drop-dead, icy stare----

“Where the hell did you learn how to burp like that?” she asked.

“In my old neighborhood”, I replied. “I even have a medal to prove it.”

Having listened to my mother tell her some of the crazy stuff I did as a kid, she has learned to accept these minor transgressions. She also heard my Dad rattle the windows in the living room of his house after one memorable Holiday meal. He was a helluva’ belcher too. I guess she must have rationalized it as being in the male genes. At least I don’t have that nose fizz problem anymore.

Well, that concludes my memory and the Coke that I was drinking. Take cover. I feel a burp coming on!!


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