View Full Version : Road Trip to Excel Bottling +

03-05-2006, 09:10 PM
I'm still a little bummed out that BevBoard lost my account information. Oh well - so I decided to get away from the computer for a couple of days, since I have 7 days in a row off.

It's been a long time since I was able to make what I used to call a "Pepsi Run" across the country to pick up a dozen cases of returnable bottle Pepsi's.
"Returnables" thread where I talk more about "Pepsi Runs" (http://www.bevnet.com/bevboard/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=1;t=002163)

I've been wanting to get out of town on a road trip all winter. Not having a destination like Davenport IA and Memphis, MO to buy Pepsi in glass like I used to do is a drawback. I've stopped by Winona, MN to get some Sprite in 16oz returnables before, but that's not a huge deal, as Sprite tastes just about as good in plastic to me.

But then I learned about the Excel bottling in Breese, IL. That's not really that much further out than Memphis, Missouri was. They do Ski, which is in the Mtn Dew family of soda, which is a category I don't drink. But they do Double Cola, plus other flavors, so I thought I'd drive out there and check them out. I know about the bottlers in Wisconsin, and I'd have tried them out also, but I didn't have time this trip - the only weekday

The weather was awesome for a late-winter drive. If anyone remembers my stories of my previous Pepsi Runs, it's a crossover between my soda hobby and my VW hobby - I have a restored 62 bug and my blue Baja-style bug. Lately I've been driving the Baja so that's what I drove out there.

I got there mid-afternoon on Friday. The owner was very nice to me - took a lot of time to show me the facility and discuss the retunable bottling industry at present. Unfortunately, they were unable to sell me any Double Cola, because they are a franchisee, and the parent company insists they put it into official Double Cola bottles. Well, they only have a few cases left of those, so they can't sell to you unless you have Double Cola empties to exchange. He did let me drink one while I was there though. Good stuff, real sugar is all they use. They bought a supply of generic returnable bottles from "Clem's" which they use to bottle their flavors. They have just the one line - a bottle washer followed by a fill/cap machine. Their door where you go in to buy direct from them is located right next to the fill line. Pretty cool. All the do is bottles, although they import cans of Ski and Double Cola for distribution in their area.

I bought a couple of cases of Root Beer (which he said was Frostie), some cream soda, black cherry. Their signature brand, Ski, they are using non-retunable bottles for. I did buy a few bottles of Diet Ski for one of my co workers who I think might like it.

Some notes- I mentioned the demise of Pepsi-Memphis Bottling's returnables recently due to their bottle washer breaking down too much. He said he wasn't surprised - although you'd think they could get some other old washer somehow or other. But a new machine would cost way too much to be to recoup the costs back. He said the insides of the washer stay in relatively good shape, but the outside of the machine gets corroded by the hard tap water they use in cleaning. THey have filtered water for the fill line but that's all they use it for.

They've got a collection of old bottle filling equipment in a back room, for backup and for spare parts. One of which he said was about 100 years old!

They work together with some of the other remaining mom+pop type bottlers in buying bulk bottle caps. Most of their own wood shells they use are re-cylcled from Pepsi/Coke/ and other companies, some of which are very old. They refurbish and repaint shells once a year with their orange paint and Excel stencelling. I guess they bought out many of AD-Heusing's old plastic shells which they then let go to some of the other bottlers out there, who he said also re-paints them for reuse.

Okay, some pictures. I shoud have taken more shots but I didn't. There's some pictures at their website too: http://www.excelbottling.com/

Here is their side door and their pickup window, that's one of those roller conveyors where they send your purchase outside from the warehouse area inside.


Here is what it looks like when you go in the side door. That sign is attached to the part of the bottling line itself:


Here is their warehouse area inside, you can see the other end of the roller conveyor leading to that side window:


Here's their bottle washer:


... and their bottle filler:


Here's a picture of the storage area where they have spare extra old bottling equipment:


Here's a shot of the front window of the place:


Anyway, it was a nice trip. Too bad I couldn't get any Double Cola bottles, but that's life. I did buy a case of cans, what the heck.


03-05-2006, 09:37 PM
I'm going to add another entry here rather than extend the long post above. After I left there, I drove a few more hours north, then got a room and slept for 8 hours. Got up then drove up to Winona, MN to pick up some returnable Sprite. I get them from the IGA grocery store in downtown Winona, just a few blocks from where Coke bottles them. (I've never gone into the bottler there)

This may be the only place in the country where you can still see a grocery store shelf like this:


I ended up buying 4 8-packs of Sprite, and 1 of Coke. Don't know what posessed me to by the Coke, but I did. I'll have to buy some rum to mix it with. ;)

Close up of the 8-packs, with prices.


Deposit, by the way, is 20 cents a bottle.

If you are interested, Here's how my car looked like with it "loaded up" before I unloaded it today. That thing in place of the rear seat is my "Pepsi Rack" which I made years ago. I don't normally have that back there, it's for carrying cargo only.





Contrast that to this classic picture from 12 years ago when I'd fill the car up to the hilt with all kinds of flavors!



Mr Zabe
03-05-2006, 10:03 PM
I thought smuggling soda pop across state lines was a class Burp felony.LOL Wow what a trip. It's nice to hear these road trip stories. smile.gif

Tons O' Fun
03-05-2006, 10:18 PM
Nice Car :D

Ram0n C0keah0lic
03-05-2006, 10:31 PM
Originally posted by Android:

This may be the only place in the country where you can still see a grocery store shelf like this:

Andy, are those bottles really old (including the content) or is just the cardboard?

[ 03-05-2006, 09:32 PM: Message edited by: Ramón Coca-Colero ]

03-05-2006, 10:57 PM
Ramón, not sure how old the cardboard carriers are - they've been used and re-used for years I'm sure. The bottles in the Coke 8-pack I brought back are dated from 75-86. The content of the bottles is fresh, with expiration date of Nov 13 for the Coke and Oct 09 on the Sprite.


Ram0n C0keah0lic
03-06-2006, 12:07 AM
Originally posted by Android:
The content of the bottles is fresh, with expiration date of Nov 13 for the Coke and Oct 09 on the Sprite.

-Andy Great! smile.gif , I thought it was old too!

I didn't knew that cardboard carriers were reusable...

[ 03-05-2006, 11:15 PM: Message edited by: Ramón Coca-Colero ]

03-06-2006, 08:55 AM
That's pretty cool. You say they don't use returnables for Ski anymore? Did you get any of what they do bottle it in? The pictures you took look like returnable Ski bottles. My wife and I make similar trips up to Catawissa Bottling. It would be cool to hit some of the ones out in your area though. How do the Clems sodas taste? I have found some of the 'generic' beverages from these places are as good or better than the name brands.

03-06-2006, 04:19 PM
The only part of "Clems' they use is the bottles, the flavors are their own. Frostie Root beer is pretty good. I tried the Black Cherry, it wasn't bad either. Haven't tried the cream soda yet.

I think they do Ski in both returnable and NR bottles. The NR bottles are actually recycled, by the way. He was saying they are formerly beer bottles from Canada, where they get returned anyway due to deposit laws, so they can get these secondhand-but-still-usable green glass bottles at a bargain.

I'd like to have gone to Catawissa and get some Double Cola - the one bottle I had at the Excel plant whetted my taste for some more. I did buy the case of cans, but those are HFCS, not sugar.


Dr. Galaga
03-06-2006, 06:28 PM
Cool pics. I'm thinking about maybe heading down to Excel this year. That's too bad about the Double Cola because I would like to have picked up some. Back in the early 80's they used to have it by me.

Check you PM's Andy.

03-07-2006, 08:30 AM
The only thing Catawissa does that I do not like is they put generic gold colored crown caps on the bottles instead of painted label ones. Due to cost I guess. They do the same on the double cola.

03-07-2006, 01:32 PM
Yeah, Excel has to use generic caps as well. Like I said before, they'll go in halvesies with other bottlers for flavors. The Double Cola they let me drink there, it had a "COLA" cap on it, at least.