Sunday, April 9, 2017

Finding and Redeeming Empty Bottles of Husker Pop

Now I am an old man living in New Jersey. I often walk in a nearby park, and every time I am dismayed to see so many empty soda bottles discarded onto the park grass. Often the bottles are lying very close to the park's garbage receptacles. I become angry that people litter bottles onto our neighborhood park.

A few weeks ago I was walking and getting mad about this bottle litter, and I thought to myself that people in Seward, Nebraska, during my time there always had the good sense to throw their empty pop bottles into garbage cans.

When I lived in Seward, we called such bottles "pop bottles", because we caused the inside, fizzy drink "pop".

Anyway, as I was walking in my park and getting mad about this bottle litter, I suddenly remembered that we too in Seward had bottle litter. In fact, I used to find and pick up discarded bottles from the ground all the time, because I could redeem them for money at local stores.

As I remember -- maybe incorrectly -- I could redeem a bottle for two cents. Since I earned only 30¢ a day for delivering newspapers, I enjoyed a windfall if I found a couple of empty bottles and thus earned an extra 4¢.

The place where I found most of my bottles was on the Concordia campus. The bottles almost never were lying on the open ground. Rather, they were thrown under bushes. I learned to look under the bushes as I drive through the campus on my way home from my paper route to my home on Faculty Lane.

Yes, some of our nice Lutheran college students were litter bugs, but at least they had the minimal couth to try to hide their litter under bushes. In that regard, those students were better than the jerks in my local park.

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While living in Seward, I practically never drank Pepsi or Coca Cola. When I had to stay home sick, my Mom would buy a bottle of 7-Up to serve me as a treat. The only dark-brown pop I remember drinking was root beer.

Mostly we drank fruit-flavored pop. My favorite was cherry-flavored pop. That is what I always would drink if ever I had a choice. I probably never bought a bottle. I would drink it only if it was available for free at a picnic or baseball-team party other such special event.

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Seward had its own pop-bottling company, which was named Husker, in honor of the mascot of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. The company's bottling building was located near the start of my paper route, on Jackson Street, across the street from the water tower. I rode my bicycle past the building every morning, but it was closed at that early hour.

When I went to collect money from my customers, I rode past the building during the daytime, and the big front door was open and so then I could see inside. I have a vague memory that I walked a short distance inside the building a couple of times -- just out of curiosity. I had no business being inside there.

I did not redeem my found empty bottles at that building, because the workers there did not want to be bothered. I redeemed them at a grocery store.

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I searched  the Internet looking for an old photograph of that Husker building, but did not find any. I did find the following article, which was published on November 23, 1982, and was titled Husker pop fizzles out.
SEWARD, Neb. -- A nearly century-long tradition of making Husker soda pop has fizzled out.

Dr. Paul Hoff, the Seward physician who owns Husker Beverage Works, said competition from national soft drink firms made it impossible to keep the one-man operation going.

He shut down Monday.

'Business wasn't too bad, but it wasn't good enough for the business to be viable,' Hoff said.

Husker soda pop, with a picture of a Nebraska Cornhusker football player on each bottle, had been bottled and sold in some form since the late 1800s.

With 12 flavors ranging from black cherry to cream soda, Husker Beverage eked out a small share of the local market over the years, selling nearly 1,000 cases of pop per week in its heyday and 200 to 250 cases most recently.

The market area included 32 towns within a 50-mile radius of Seward.

A case sold for $4.66 plus deposit. Tom Stewart, the plant's manager and only full-time worker, said the remaining stock will be sold for $5 per case.

Husker Beverage sold pop to stores and directly to the customers, mostly children who hankered for a thirst quencher on hot summer days.

Until the end, youngsters still paid a discount rate of 15 cents per bottle.
I left Seward in 1968, so this closing of the company happened about 14 years after I left.

On a discussion forum for people who collect antique bottles, I found also the following comment.
I finally ran across some information I had regarding Husker Beverages. Here goes!

The origins of Husker can be traced to the 1890's and a company named Seward Bottling Works founded by Fred Bick.

Around 1908 the business was sold to Jake Imig who bottled soda pop for many years in Seward. In 1940 Francis "Pop" Imig and Hook Miers took over the business and moved it to 629 Jackson Street and adopted the name Husker Beverage. In 1946, Pop Imig's younger brother, Henry, returned from the war and purchased Mr. Mier's interest.

About this time, Lloyd Cardwell of Seward was on his way to becoming an inductee in the Cornhusker Hall Of Fame. Lloyd wore jersey #24 when he played for the Huskers. He later went on to a successful pro career, playing for the Detroit Lions. Lloyd was the first player to be portrayed on the Husker label, which was designed by Percy Ost.

In future years, Husker Beverages would similarly honor #12 Bobby Reynolds, a 1950 All-American halfback from Grand Island; and #14 Jerry Tagge, the star quarterback from the 1970-71 national championship teams.
It's a good thing that some people collect antique bottles and expend much effort to gather and preserve such memorabilia and information.

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On the Internet I found also some photographs of vintage Husker items. The first photograph is of a bottle of strawberry pop.

A bottle of Husker strawberry pop.
Next is a picture of my favorite cherry pop. What a beautiful color!

http://ca-yd.com/images/bottles/aclcoll/SN64070789.jpg
A bottle of Husker cherry pop.
The pop is still in this very old bottle, so it's like a vintage wine. I would open the bottle and drink the all the cherry pop out if it right now if I could!

Now it seems obvious that the company name Husker was related to the university football team, but I never made that connection when I was a boy in Seward -- even though the bottles were illustrated with a picture of a football player. I thought that the name "husker" came more directly from the mundane activity of husking corn cobs -- a common activity in southeast Nebraska. The word "Husker" was an old slang word for "Nebraskan".

I was so used to seeing Husker pop bottles that the picture of the football player did not register meaningfully in my brain. The relationship did not register until very recently, when I was doing the research for this article.

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http://www.ebay.com/cln/gw69552013/nebraska-items/138200628019
Three empty Husker pop bottles
For people who collect antique bottles, the above set of three empty Husker bottles is worth about $15.

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My second-favorite flavor was lemon-lime, which was called B-1. I remember that name, but I have no idea of the name's origin. Here is a photo.

http://ca-yd.com/images/bottles/aclcoll/SN18041792.jpg
A bottle of Husker lemon-lime ("B-1") pop.
Below is a photo of a B-1 bottle's front and back sides. You can see on the photograph's caption that the bottle comes from Seward.

http://ca-yd.com/images/bottles/aclcoll/SNB-19.jpg
A bottle of Husker lemon-lime ("B-1") pop -- front and back.
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When I rode my bicycle past the Husker building, I always saw stacks of bottle crates that looked like this ...

A wood crate for Husker pop bottles
...  and like this.
http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/vintage-husker-wooden-pop-bottle-case-471409131
A wood crate for Husker pop bottles
People who collect antique bottles also collect such crates.

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The first picture of a cherry pop bottle above was from a webpage about an auction of antique bottles. That webpage includes the following information (words capitalized as in the original):

Cripple Creek Auctions, Inc.

1960 NEBRASKA HUSKERS STRAWBERRY SODA POP BOTTLE #12

International Buyers – Please Note:

Import duties, taxes and charges are not included in the item price or shipping charges. These charges are the buyer's responsibility.

Please check with your country's customs office to determine what these additional costs will be prior to bidding/buying.

International Buyers, please read our shipping policies carefully before bidding/buying.

I am a Trading Assistant - I can sell items for you!

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This lot contains a great looking FULL BOTTLE OF STRAWBERRY SODA that was put out by the HUSKER BEVERAGE CO.

This company started in the 1940's by a gentleman who lived in Seward, Nebraska. The owner of this company was an avid Nebraska Husker Fan and when he decided to start this company he decided he would put out a Strawberry flavored Pop and he would call it the HUSKER BEVERAGE COMPANY.

And, one of his favorite players was a player by the name of LLOYD CARDWELL. Lloyd Cardwell was an outstanding player for the Nebraska Cornhusekrs from 1934 - 1936. He shared the backfield with Nebraska All-American Sam Francis. Lloyd Cardwells Nickname was "Wild Hoss" and he is the only Nebraska Football Player who scored a touchdown the first time he touch the ball as a Cornhusker and the last time he touch the ball as a Cornhusker.

He was a fabulous player - but - Cardwell was often overshadowed by Sam Francis who came in second in the Heisman Ballot in 1936 - the first year that the Heisman Trophy was given out. He was edged out by Jay Berwanger of Chicago, the first Heisman Trophy Winner. Sam Francis was then the #1 player picked in the 1937 NFL Draft and Cardwell was a 4th round pick of the Detroit Lions and he had a very productive NFL Career.

Lloyd Cardwell wore jersey #24 and thus, on the first bottles that was made by the HUSKER BEVERAGE COMPANY, the owner of the company honored Cardwell by illustrating a picture of a Nebraska player wearing jersey number #24

The front of the bottle said, HUSKER - A CHAMPION IN FLAVOR.

It then had the football player and then a football in the background.

Later on, in the early 1950's the owner paid tribute to Bobby Reynolds by putting out a second bottle with the same player, but this time, the player was wearing a jersey with a number 12 - in honor of Bobby Reynolds.

Then again in the 1970's a third bottle was put out with the same graphics - except a player with a jersey number with #14 appeared on bottles - and this bottle was put out in honor of Jerry Tagge.

So, in the early 1970's the owner of Husker Beverage paid tribute to Jerry Tagge by putting out this third bottle.
That is a brief history of the three bottles that was put out by Husker Beverage.

And, the Full Pop Bottle of Strawberry Soda that is featured in this lot is the bottle with #12 in honor of BOBBY REYNOLDS.

These bottles were made until the company went out of business in the 1980's. The early bottles were dated on the bottom, and thus, you can tell how old the bottles were by looking on the bottom of the bottles.

This particular bottle was made in 1960.

Also, the pop bottle itself evolved over the years - and in the end the bottles were 10 oz. bottles that offered a refund for returning the bottle.

The early bottles were 7 oz. bottles. The bottle in this lot is the early bottle that was the 7 oz. Bottle with early Pop Cap.

The older bottles are still the most valuable.

In the 1990's a company took over the operation of Seward Bottle Company and started to put out bottles, but they were in the plastic bottles and newer glass bottles. The new items are not overly attractive to collectors, but the old items are fabulous items to collect.
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The value of such antique bottles seems to have a range mostly of about $7 to $9. Unfortunately, I redeemed many dozens of such bottles for about 2¢ apiece.

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