Big birthday celebration in early July: Pepsi-Cola Bottling and USA

Skye Kinkade
Four generations, including Helen Chiment Reynolds, Chloe Robertson, Jean Ferl and Heather Robertson have owned and operated Mount Shasta's Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company for 50 years.

The Fourth of July conjures images of barbecues, fireworks, parades, hot dogs and American flags flapping in the summer breeze.

Mount Shasta has a long history of big Independence Day celebrations, and Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company has been doing business in town for 75 of those years.

For the past half century the company has been a family owned business, said Helen Chiment Reynolds, who purchased it with her late husband Ray on July 1, 1961.

The Chiments bought the company from Elmer and Rose Kennedy, who had purchased it 25 years earlier from Gladys Salts, the daughter of brewer Peter Mugler.

Mugler bottled beer at the site where the Pepsi building stands on the corner of Chestnut and Lake Street. He drew water from a natural spring below when Mount Shasta was still called Sisson, perhaps as early as 1887.

A small spring still runs in the basement of Sisson’s first stone building, which is built of lava rock two feet thick and stays noticeably cooler than the rest of the sprawling warehouse. Beer is still kept there.

Stepping inside, you’re surrounded by towers of Pepsi products, including Pepsi, Diet Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Pepsi One, Pepsi Wild Cherry, Caffeine Free Pepsi, Diet Pepsi Lime, Diet Pepsi Vanilla... you get the picture.

There’s also Dr. Pepper, Sierra Mist, Squirt, Mountain Dew, Mug Root Beer, Orange Crush, Ocean Spray juices, AMP energy drinks, SoBe juices and “lifewaters,” Lipton Brisk products and Propel flavored waters.

Then there are the beers – too many to name, and enough to make any beer drinker’s mouth water for a cold one.

Now a distribution center, Pepsi products were actually bottled there until 1988.

When the Chiments first took over, Ray went around town to take orders, and then he and two other drivers would deliver the goods and do all the paperwork, Helen said.

As the business grew, they added more drivers who delivered products to the far reaches of the county, as far away as Tulelake and Happy Camp.

Small trucks gave way to semis eventually, pre-salespeople and merchandisers were added, and then came computers.

“When we went to computers, that’s when I decided I’d had it,” Helen laughed. “I wasn’t going to learn.”

Plastic bottles replaced glass in 1988, and bottling stopped in Mount Shasta.

Today, Helen’s daughter, Jean Ferl, is the company’s president and controller. Jean’s husband Gary drives a semi truck to Washington and Oregon to pick up Pepsi products.  Their daughter, Heather Robertson, is the office manager, and if you visit you’re sure to meet Heather’s daughter Chloe, who “runs the place,” Helen said.

Emerson Bryan, the company’s general manager, is the only non-family member in the ranks.

Ray passed away in July of 1993, leaving a legacy of working to support the local economy. The Company is the last independent Pepsi-Cola bottler distributor in California, and one of less than 100 in the entire United States.

“Ray always employed locals and did things for the community,”?Helen said. “He especially helped the young people. That was very important to him.”

A scholarship in Ray’s name is awarded to Mount Shasta High School seniors, and third graders on field trips tour the facility regularly, learning more about Peter Mugler and catching a glimpse of the city’s history.

“I bring them in to show them the spring in the basement, and all they see is the soda,” Jean laughed.

There is something hypnotic about those stacks of soda and their patriotic red, white and blue packaging – just the right colors for a big early July birthday celebration.

Helen Chiment Reynolds stands in front of her granddaughter, Heather Robertson, great granddaughter, Chloe Robertson and daughter Jean Ferl amid towering palettes of Pepsi products in Mount Shasta's Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, which their family has owned for 50 years.