Dublin, Texas is a tiny town (pop. 3800) along Hwy. 67 past Stephenville. If you’ve heard of it, there’s only one reason: they bottle Dr Pepper there — the only place that produces Dr Pepper made with real cane sugar instead of corn syrup. (And, yes, it does taste better.) I took a trip to Dublin Saturday because it was a special day — October 2, 2004 — or … 10-2-4 — three numbers that have significance probably only to Texans over the age of 35 or so.*
I was expecting Dublin to be a little like Stratford-upon-Avon — a town that exists primarily as a cringe-inducing tourist attraction (I swear I saw a Merry Wives of Windsor laundrette and a Titus Andronicus chip shop when I was in Stratford). There was large billboard and a mural, but that was about it.
I was a little disappointed it wasn’t cheesier.
Because of the special 10-2-4 day, there were several tourists milling about. I walked into the Old Doc’s Soda Shop (which, like the similar tourist stop attached to Sun Records in Memphis, serves as a sort of holding pen for people waiting to take a tour). Way too many people were lined up at the counter paying large sums of money for Dr Pepper memorabilia: shirts, bottle openers, commemorative bottles, Dr Pepper-flavored Jelly Belly jelly beans, Dr Pepper Beef Jerky (?!), Dr Pepper salt & pepper shakers, Dr Pepper jewelry, Dr Pepper Cake Mix, and all sorts of reproductions of Dr Pepper signs and Dr Pepper advertising. Two of the high school girls at the cash registers even had Dr Pepper temporary tattoos on their cheeks. These people certainly drink a LOT of Dr Pepper — and they’re proud.
I looked forward to touring the bottling plant — free 8 oz. bottle of ice cold Dr Pepper in hand — but, unfortunately, tours to watch actual bottling are available only on Wednesdays. I’m fascinated by great big industrial machines with conveyor belts — and I only wish the one I stood in front of had been operating then and there. The great big machine that is the centerpiece is both a giant bottle sterilizer as well as a … um … bottle filler-up-er. Syrup and carbonated water each have their own hoses, and the liquids remain unmixed in the bottles (with the syrup at the bottom and the water at the top) until they go through a device that turns each bottle over three times to permanently mix the drink. Somewhere along the line the bottle caps are pounded on. And at the end of the line, inspectors examine the bottles in front of light boxes to make sure the drinks are the proper color, with the right amount of syrup and carbonated water. Then the bottles are packed in crates (I was amused to see so many Dr Pepper bottles lounging in arch-rival Cocal Cola crates).
All of this is basically in one fairly small room. Apparently it is the oldest bottling plant in the world (est. 1891). It certainly seems quaint.
We also got a little tour through a museum with all sorts of interesting Dr Pepper-iana. I thought that the “Dr” in “Dr Pepper” had always been missing the period, but I found out the period was dropped only around 1950 because they changed fonts and the period made the drink’s name look like it had a colon in it — it looked like “Di: Pepper”. I also learned that the company stopped trying to push the idea of piping hot Dr Pepper with lemon (ick) as a holiday tradition because the new corn syrup formula of the 1970s scorched when heated and, apparently, made the unpleasant beverage taste even more disgusting than the original version made with sugar.
And the inevitable question about whether DP’s secret ingredient is prune juice was firmly shot down by our bubbly teenage tour guide. (The prune-juice-in-DP rumor is as prevalent among Texas school children as the rumor that JFK is being kept alive as a vegetable and resides in a secret room somewhere in Parkland Hospital.)
After the tour we were treated to yet more free soft drinks and a surprisingly good chocolate cake made with … what a surprise … Dr Pepper.
So, not a terribly exciting day, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Dr Pepper — mainly because the DP headquarters was four blocks away from the house I grew up in — a wonderful sprawling Deco building on a huge parcel of land that always seemed so odd to see right next to residential neighborhoods.
It was a sad, sad day when they tore it down a few years ago to make way for a Kroger, a gas station, and “edgy” apartments for Dallas’ relentlessly hip and fabulously well-groomed under-30 set.
On the drive back I passed these signs:
“TEXAS’ BEST COMPOST!”
“SPRUILL’S SHOW LAMBS & MEAT GOATS”
And a First Assembly of God Church boasted HELL HOUSE! on their marquee (and I’m not absolutely sure it had anything to do with Halloween).
*10-2-4: An advertising ploy intended to get people to drink a sugary pick-me-up at the times of the day it had been determined the body begins to slump: at 10 a.m., at 2 p.m., and at 4 p.m. It’s like, you know, medicinal.