My collecting started with an antique dealer and then the Ad Show in Indianapolis. I also bought things from Bill Vehling (Pepsi Guide Author) in Indy.  At some point around 1984, I joined the Pepsi Club, which was important as this was the best way to buy and sell antique Pepsi items.  I like really early stuff, turn of the century to the 1940/50s, although it’s not a rule. I really like graphic items showing bottles. I still have the 1951 contract for the purchase of the Pepsi distributorship, a prized item for me.

I look at the Pepsi Guides and see all the timelines for logos and slogans but collectors should realize Pepsi wasn’t as tightly corporate as they are now. Some double dot items were produced with out-of-date logos. Many bottling plants were owned by individuals or families and, within this setting, the owner’s didn’t always follow corporate logo changes. My recent purchase was exciting, a 4 foot tall fiberglass Pepsi Syrup Bottle.   Not a general public item but rather a display given to bottlers or retail fountains.

I’m oldest of 7 children and he only one who collects Pepsi. My brother did but sold all of his. I have owned a few one-of-a-kind items which are always great to find. I think the thrill is more in the hunt than it is in the owning.  Pepsi’s old logo  “smiles”,  something Amazon    now  uses  in  their logo.    I’ve  worn  lots  of  hats: commercial artist, antique dealer, home builder, real estate agent, landlord, and internet sales of hardware, which I do now and have for over 30 years. I started on the internet back in 1993. I live in Nashville TN now with my wife and 4 cats. I have a daughter and 2 grandchildren in St Louis. Some of my Pepsi collection is pictured on my old website.

Here’s a photo taken in 1988 shortly before Pepsi bought our distributorship.  Albert Rufkahr in a suit on the far right, Cliff Rufkahr in a suit on the far right, Uncle Elroy dead center above the 2 liters. The guy to Elroy’s right is Rich Eggering.  He and my uncle were pig farmers on the side, after delivering Pepsi all day.  He and Elroy would swap pig stories in the morning.   These discussions were quite funny at times. Below me on the right is my brother Mike Rufkahr. He’s the youngest of 7 children,  I  am oldest.

Dad had been taught to box buy his brother Emmett who was a Golden Gloves Boxer. When he was still on the route, he ran into a customer who had six or seven cases of very old paper label Pepsi bottles. Dad’s only fear was that Pepsi bottling might not reimburse him the 2 cent per bottle deposit for the old bottles. Pepsi made good on the bottles.

About bankruptcy, Albert said: “If I were going to file bankruptcy I would want to file 50 or 100 million dollars” I asked why and he responded: "I would be ashamed of a bankruptcy for just a few thousand dollars.”
On another occasion, Uncle Elroy was driving his route truck down a pretty major street. When He got to a stop sign the brakes failed, it was a street with an incline so the truck was not slowing down. He steered back and for across the road trying to slow it down while cutting off other drivers on the road. He finally stopped it at a gas station. Upon exiting the truck a car wheeled fast into the lot. Uncle Elroy thought “Oh, now there’s going to be an angry driver” Instead the man jumped out of his car and shook my uncle hand and said. “I knew something was wrong and that was the finest bit of driving I’ve seen.

Another time Albert and Elroy were driving on a steep gravel road way out in the sticks to a small town. The road was steep and curved, and on that curve was a small county bridge. In those days trucks didn’t have product doors on the side. It was July and hot. When they got to the bridge on the curve a bunch of returnable bottles fell off the truck and over the bridge rail into a briar filled ditch. Dad and Elroy got out of the truck and viewed the bottles, many broken and most in the briars. After a minute or so and especially after a long hot day, Albert told Elroy “That’s just where those SOBs belong!” and they left.

Elroy warned my dad that the receiver at this particular grocery store was a real jerk, giving all delivery drivers trouble. Dad arrived at the stop and asked the receiver where to put the delivery. We’ll call him Mr. Smith as I don’t remember his name. Smith pointed to a spot in the back room and left. He returned and started chewing my dad out for putting the cases in the exact spot Smith directed. Dad was standing face to face arguing with Smith. Dad had a couple of cases of Pepsi on the floor  behind him. Smith pushed my dad in the chest causing dad to fall back over those cases onto the floor. Dad said “All I could see was blood”, meaning anger. He jumped up and punched Smith in the nose so hard that he flew backwards onto the floor, sliding. Smith, to dad’s surprise, shook off the blow and headed towards my dad. A fierce fight ensued and my dad was whipping Smith, but good. A stock boy ran to the front of the store where a manager, Doug, was stocking shelves. The stock boy, in an excited tone, said, “Al Rufkahr  is beating the hell out of Smith!” Doug kept stocking the shelves and said about Smith, “Great, he’s getting just what he deserves.” After that, the receiver was no longer a problem for any delivery drivers.

I collected Pepsi stuff but Dad was a collector of John Deere Tractors, a 1956, 1957 and a 1972. He also collected farms, over 1000 acres on several occasions as he was always buying and selling. He died January 2 of this year. Even in his mid-eighties, in a walker with a bad heart, he would go to farm land auctions and bid on ground.  I once told my dad (about repressed memories) that I was going to write a book about all the bad things he did to me as a kid.  I said I would write it after he was dead. His response: “Go ahead and write it now! I’ll swear to it and we can split the proceeds from the book.” He and my mom were a couple of characters.

By 1988, we had seven bottle and can route trucks and one Syrup route truck.  Our single largest sales for one day was on a Friday before a Labor Day weekend. We delivered 30,000 cases with 7 route trucks with 2 men per truck. Hard to believe but true. Our drivers were on a commission basis and two of those drivers crossed over to the six figure salary range. They did earn their pay. To earn that much required selling 300,000 plus cases. Dad was 26 when he started and competition was fierce, especially with Coke who considered themselves soft drink royalty, even to the point of crowding a Pepsi driver off the sidewalk. As a funny side story, my dad had to make a delivery for his brother Elroy.

My Pepsi Collecting started around 1983 which was the same time I started working for my father, Albert Rufkahr. He owned a Pepsi distributing company which he purchased in 1951 from Omar ”Buzzy” Dickherber for $10,000.00. This amount got him one Pepsi Truck and the business which operated out of a van trailer in Flinthill, Missouri. The franchise area included all of St Charles County, MO and included a small portion of St Louis County, MO. Omar had a bad back and had been begging someone to buy the business. Several people looked but decided not to purchase. My Dad’s 1951 annual volume was 46,000 cases and increased to 1,600,000 cases by 1988 when PepsiCo bought my dad out. We had no choice. Selling Pepsi was my Dad’s passion.

Featured Collector

Cliff Rufkahr