I don’t remember when the summertime trip to Dublin, Texas, became my son’s birthday tradition. But soon after Elliott outgrew themed birthday parties, I suggested a celebratory road trip to Dublin. I had discovered long ago that the Dr Pepper Bottling Plant made a great rest stop between the University of Texas at Austin and my family home in Fort Worth. And the bottling plant won my son’s heart, too, with its clinking glass bottles, hissing valves, and serpentine conveyor belts—not to mention the ice cream floats served next door.
So early one recent Saturday, I rouse Elliott and his friend Patrick for the two-hour drive to Dublin. En route, we visit, watch the day develop, and laugh at miniature donkeys and gamboling goats. Chattering boys awake before noon and no electronics; it is a mother’s dream. And then there’s the cheese. Seven miles outside Dublin, I am side- tracked by signs for Veldhuizen’s Texas Farmstead Cheese. From US 377, we wind our way through bucolic dairy land until—just past a bevy of lounging Jersey cows and a small farmhouse—we pull up at the shop. Inside, Connie Veldhuizen—who makes more than 15 kinds of artisan, raw-milk cheese with her husband, Stuart, and their seven children—lines up samples. Gobbling up a bellyful of cheese, the boys agree (in what might be a macho stand-off) that the slow burn of the jalapeño-spiked cheddar makes it their favorite. I work my way through the selec tions more deliberately, from cheddar to Gouda and on to Parmesan, ultimately investing in a piece of lovely Bosque Blue and a wedge of two-year-old Penthouse Cheddar with a pungent sharpness and a pleasant squeak. Cheese aside, the boys have spotted something that makes them squeal: several six-packs of Dublin Dr Pepper, which we had not expected to find. Dr Pepper still exists, but since corporate owner Snapple repealed the town’s license to produce its own label, Dublin Dr Pepper is no more. Elliott, for whom the iconic bottles had become a birthday souvenir, is elated. “It’s all that’s left,” Connie says. “I’ll sell it till it’s gone.” My $20 investment in history sparks this exchange: Elliott: “They will be stashed and savored.” Patrick: “They will be gone by Monday.” Returning to the highway, we head into Dublin to make our first downtown stop: Old Doc’s Soda Shop, home of the Dublin Dr Pepper Museum and adjacent to the recently renamed Dublin Bottling Works. A brief history: Dr Pepper was concocted in 1885 by a pharmacist in Waco, and the Dublin Bottling plant opened here in 1891 and was renamed the Dr Pepper Bottling Co. in the ’30s. Dublin was not the only place to produce Dr Pepper, but its distinctive version, created in the ’70s with pure cane sugar, was marketed under its own logo. Until last year, a licensing agreement had allowed Dublin Dr Pepper to retain its own logo, although the product’s distribution territory was restrict-ed. Sometimes the demand for Dublin Dr Pepper was met outside the distribution boundary-—something the parent company discouraged. In the end, lawsuits were filed, petitions were launched, and tears were shed, but when the smoke settled, Dublin Dr Pepper became history. The product may no longer exist (but for stashes of leftover stock), but the plant is still in business, bottling Sun Crest Orange and XXX Root Beer in vintage glass bottles. And Doc’s still serves sandwiches and floats at the soda fountain, but in place of Dr Pepper, offerings include a stellar root beer, a cherry cola called Cheerwine, and new flavors such as Dublin Vanilla Cream Soda and Dublin Vintage Soda. With the promise of a bottomless tasting fountain next door, we join the next tour of the bottling works. While taking breaks to sample the sodas, we’re intrigued by the history of the plant and the workings of machinery, which have a Dr. Seuss-meets-Rube Goldberg appeal. Elliott declares a carefully curated collection of Dublin Dr Pepper memorabilia in the company’s former office to be an Antiques Roadshow treasure hoard. Next, we cross the street to the W.P. Kloster Museum & Annex, which further documents the story of Dublin Dr Pepper and the town. The boys settle in to watch a video while I wander through rooms filled with vintage photographs and displays about company founder Sam Houston Prim, as well as the subsequent owners, W. P. Kloster and his heirs. For me, the enameled, mint-green soda coolers alone are worth the visit, as are the vintage soda-jerk hats offered for sale in the gift shop. There’s a lot of hum to Dublin. Just blocks away from the bottling plant, past several small antiques stores, we find three more museums. At the Dublin Historical Museum, we explore a collection of local items ranging from leather doctor’s bags to a spinning wheel from the 1860s. A display dedicated to WWII uniforms attracts the boys, as does a display of Big Little Books featuring Tarzan, Dick Tracy, and 1930s superheroes, but a breaker box from one of Hitler’s homes leaves them spluttering. Then they spy Dublin’s first TV set. “It looks like a fat suitcase,” Patrick says. I note that the channel dial meant getting up to change stations. “How did you live like that?” Elliott asks. Next door, at the Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum, we learn that in the 1940s and ’50s, Dublin was a hot-spot for world-class cowboyin’ at a ro- deo arena that outsized any other in the Southwest. That history is revelatory, but I can’t get over the abundance of zebra stripes and satin in the publicity photos of cowgirl Barbara Inez Barnes. Making her name as Tad Lucas in the Wild West shows of the 1920s, at 23 she became the first woman to ride a Brahma bull in Madison Square Garden, and in 1967, was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. We make our final stop at the new Ben Hogan Museum, dedicated to the life and career of pro golfer (and Dublin native) Ben Hogan. Elliott, who likes golf but loves tools and anything forged by fire, is delighted to learn Hogan began his career with a different sort of iron—at the Hogan Blacksmith Shop. Elliott sums up my feelings when he says, “Who knew this town had all this famousness going for it?” On the drive home, I think that the day has felt like a trip back in time, to a place where Soda Pop jelly beans and Moon Pies are stocked at the gas station and boys happily accompany their moms to museums with no entrance fees. I look into the back seat to solicit other opinions, but both boys are sound asleep. That has long been a birthday tradition, too.