Pee Dee Bottling Co.
by Russ Lancaster
Located on Hamlet Avenue across from the Colonial Store was once one of Hamlet's largest soft drink bottling companies... Pee Dee Bottling Company. It was owned and managed by Adam Hardison of Anson County who had inherited the business from his father. It should be noted that he also had inherited his father's money and wisdom. Adam not only owned the business but managed it well.
There were large plate glass windows facing the street. Looking into them, a passerby could see the endless lines of bottles coming from the bowels of the plant along conveyor belts. They could see the bottles being filled with whatever flavor was being bottled at the time, see the bottles capped and watch the inspectors in their neat white caps check each bottle for flaws as they passed in a never ending flow before their high intensity lamps. This well thought out idea of letting the public see the bottling process gave great credibility to the Pee Dee Bottling Company, its employees and owner. The main products bottled back in the 1960's were RC Cola, Diet Rite, 7-Up, all the fruit flavored Nehi products and Nehi ginger ale, Dr. Pepper, Yoo Hoo, Chocolate Soldier and many others I can't remember at the moment.
The products were delivered over Hamlet and Rockingham as well as the neighboring counties and even into South Carolina. Business was good. Adam owned a fleet of well maintained trucks and a group of driver/salesmen second to none. Routes were drawn up and the drivers could choose to work on commission or salary. Most chose commission as Adam was very generous, paying 20 cents a case back in the middle 1960's. One had to sell only 100 cases or so a day to equal what the Railroad was paying in clerical wages back then. The drivers were satisfied with their work, starting around 5:30 a.m. and being outside in the fresh air most of the time reporting back to check in whenever they deemed their work done for the day. It was good work, hard work, and the pay was honest.
I had the pleasure of working for Adam for a three year period between 1965 and 1968 both as a route salesman and route supervisor. Those were some of the best years of my life. I was healthy, strong and content. My waist remained at 28 inches even until my late twenties as the work kept me fit.
We salesmen were given ample supplies of free stuff to give away to promote our products. Things like clocks, signs and stuff. One of the most successful marketing supplies we were ever given were "Batman" stickers to place with every carton of RC Cola. Batman was a popular TV program of the times with Adam West giving a tongue in cheek performance that adults as well as children loved. Just giving away the stickers sold many a case of RC Cola for me.
Adam had loyal employees for the most part. A good portion of his work force had been there for years, some even longer than Adam. They knew their jobs well and he was quick to let them know how much he appreciated it. Christmas time meant very generous bonuses for most of his workers. He had expert bottlers, he had to. When Yoo-Hoo chocolate drink first came out, it had to first be cooked in giant boilers while in the bottle. It was an intricate process to cook the drink to perfection while turning the cases of bottled chocolate over and over and knowing exactly when they were "done" without turning the heat high enough to break the bottles.
There were truck loaders, those who stayed late at night and loaded each giant truck with the list provided by each salesman. There were checkers who checked the drivers out in the morning and back in when they returned in the afternoon or evening. There was the office staff that was second to none.
There were many people in Hamlet that depended on the bottling company for an income and their were many businesses that depended on timely service to keep the shelves and coolers lined with adequate amounts of the many products made there.
The last time I was in Hamlet (2000), I saw the old building still there but the windows were boarded up, the once loud noise of the machinery was silent, the trucks were gone and there were no drivers or loaders or bottlers around. The Pee Dee Bottling Company no longer even had a sign left on the old building. It has been closed forever.
I remember the good times I had at that old place, the friends I made both at the company and on my long routes. I remember the summers when I made a lot of money and the winters when I didn't. I remember Adam Hardison and Frank Wallace. I remember the other drivers and loaders and the office staff that is no more. I remember being proud of the uniform I wore representing that old company. I remember the Pee Dee Bottling Company well. And, most of all, I remember Hamlet
This section is to honor the works of Russ Lancaster who started the “I Remember Hamlet” web site years ago. Without his pioneering the web at that time we might not have gathered all these memories of our Hamlet, NC. We thank you Russ for what you started in 1996, may you Rest in Peace. Russ was kind enough to let me download his web site before he took it down. Thank you Russ.
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