On the Road

Texas Traveler: Dr Pepper Museum

Waco isn't the first place that comes to mind when people think "road trip." Instead, visions of an ultraconservative town that was once the site of an epic, fiery battle between a cult and the United States government spring to mind. Fortunately for Waco, the town actually has much more to offer than the distant memories of a standoff gone bad and a now-vacant field.

One of the things on tap in Waco is the Dr Pepper Museum, the only non-profit museum in the world dedicated to a soft drink. Sitting in an old, cheerful brick building in downtown, the museum is a tribute to one of the nation's favorite beverages, which was invented (along with Big Red) in the city on the Brazos. For only $7 per person ($3 for children), you can take a trip through three floors of Dr Pepper and soft drink history.

The tour starts with a recreated soda fountain area, complete with stained glass advertising "crazy water" and the creepiest animatronic character since Chucky telling the story of Dr Pepper as he jerks and sways his way through the (rather dreary) tale. Move along past this section quickly, especially if you have easily bored or frightened children. It gets better.

The first floor is home to an array of antique machinery that was once used to make and bottle Dr Pepper. It's also home to a captivatingly deep well that once provided the sole source of water for the soft drink, back when the building was first constructed in 1906. The well had been closed up and abandoned until it was rediscovered in the mid-1980s during renovations to the old building and excavated by students from Baylor University's archaelogy department.

The second floor houses most of the museum's 20,000 artifacts, including a hilarious display of Dr Pepper "imitations" (favorites include Dr. Nut and Dr Becker, complete with blatantly copied font) and a nostalgic exhibit of Dr Pepper vending machines. Ranging from baroquely beautiful (an intricately designed, Victorian-inspired machine from the 1920s) to the sublimely retro (a Like Cola machine from the 1970s), it's a fascinating look at vending machine technology through the ages. No, really. It is.

The recently refurbished third floor is a tribute to Dr Pepper's greatest salesman -- a man nicknamed "Foot" for reasons not entirely clear, --  and a theater that shows a continous loop of every Dr Pepper commercial ever made in non-chronological order. Yes, even the David Naughton ones. The cool, dark theater is the perfect place to take refuge from the scorching heat outside, as is the soda fountain downstairs.

Back on the first floor, your can visit the gift store and soda fountain. There's all manner of Dr Pepper merchandise in the store, including Dublin Dr Pepper (made with real cane sugar) in bottles or cans, or bottles of the Dr Pepper syrup itself for only $9, good for experimenting with Dr Pepper sundaes at home.

In the soda fountain, you can get a hand-mixed Dr Pepper made by a surly soda jerk fresh out of 11th grade (just like old times!) or a Dr Pepper float made with Blue Bell ice cream. Other goodies are available, too, such as hand-mixed 7 Up or -- God forbid -- Diet Dr Pepper, but the real draw here is to sit in an antique chair at a cold, marble-topped table in a high-ceilinged, light-filled room, ignore the sweaty, slackjawed patrons around you that are slurping at their floats, and pretend you're back in the good old days.

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Katharine Shilcutt