|August 1972 Wild West Sarsaparilla ad from the Billings Gazette|
Lorain soft drink business fills 'old west'
'Firewater' isn't number 'Un", but hits spot
By KATHY BYLAND
C-T Staff Writer
LORAIN – Cars and steel have made Lorain its name, but somewhere out in Wyoming a thirsty cowboy may be guzzling a tall glass of yet another Lorain product – Wild West Firewater.
Although the "Flaming Red Soft Drink of the Old West" – along with Wild West Sarsaparilla and the new Wild West Lemonade – are brewed elsewhere, company headquarters are here in an out-of-the-way office on West 12th Street.
"We're not in with the big three – Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and Seven-Up – but each year our volume increases, which tells you something when we have no national advertising campaign," says Gerald Strohacker, president of World Trade, Inc.
Currently, through a dozen franchises and "umpteen" distributors in many states, his firm markets several million cases a year of the three drinks in cans, syrup and bottles.
UNLIKE THE legendary Indian beverage, however, firewater is not alcoholic. Rather, it's a red cherry-strawberry-cream soda concoction aimed mainly at youngsters. And most weeks in the four years the company has been selling it, letters pour in from kids, their parents and grandparents extolling the drink's virtues, Strohacker says.
"We're small enough that we can respond to all the letters. We always try to oblige the request of a small boy collecting cans or someone else who wants a bumper sticker," he said.
The company's best selling and oldest beverage is Sarsaparilla – the "First Soft Drink of the Old West" – a sweetened carbonated drink from the root beer family that is also geared toward the younger set.
World Trade, Inc. began producing the drink 11 years ago, along with eight or ten other companies, but now has only one competitor, Strohacker said proudly.
Recently, the company introduced for the summer months Wild West Lemonade, which tastes "just like Mom made it in the kitchen with fresh lemons," Strohacker said.
|1974 Skaggs store ad from the Joplin Globe |
featuring Wild West Sarsaparilla
"Sarsaparilla is not new in Asia, and in some parts of the world, like Puerto Rico, is regarded as a very healthful drink," Strohacker said.
Distribution is somewhat limited by state laws, according to Malcolm Hartley, former editorial editor of the Lorain Journal, the company's secretary and one of five stockholders. For example, Michigan's law of a 10-cent deposit per can forced the company out of the state.
Locally, the drinks are distributed through most beverage carry-out stores and highly visible at Al Gantose's concession stand in Lorain's Lakeview Park. Gantose, Allen Ashbolt of Lorain, and John Pappas of the insurance agency are the other stockholders.
Strohacker and Hartley are proud of the drinks' quality, which with no additives and no caffeine are as "wholesome and pure" as a soft drink can be, Hartley said. A diet drink hasn't been tested because the company prefers to shy away from saccharin.
AND THE company also has "the best cans in the business" graphically, Hartley says. The colorful Wild West scenes do indeed set the cans apart on a grocery shelf filled with soft drinks of every imaginable type.
Perhaps the only drawback to the drinks is "they don't mix with anything alcoholic, at least not that we've been able to find," Hartley laughed. When serving conventions where a mixer is desired, the company provides its own Seven-Up-type brand, Quaff, which hasn't been sold through distributors because of the direct competition with the powerful "Uncola."
The business has taken off so well that Strohacker, now a Lorain Port Authority member, was forced in 1972 to give up powerful positions as the vice chairman of the Lorain County Republican Central Committee and chairman of the Lorain Area Republican Central Committee because of the lack of time.
When the corporation was first formed in 1967, "we made a tremendous effort to do business overseas as a manufacturers representative, but the sometimes impossible government regulations made us decide to limit the business," Strohacker said.
ALTHOUGH the company could grow much larger with a national media blitz, Strohacker prefers the small-business approach.
"You can remain small and make a living or become big and face all the responsibility. Sometimes it's better to do one small thing well," he said.