by Terry Hogan

On a hot summer evening

It was a hot July this year, some say hotter than most. 'Least it seems so. Makes it hard to get out of the air conditioned house or the air conditioned car. We act as if the heat will kill us -- and it might under extreme conditions or if we have other medical problems. But many of us can remember when there was no air conditioning. We adapted to the heat. We improvised. We did what nature taught us to do. We did what any reasonable, thinking person would have done.

We all climbed into the station wagon, windows rolled down, and headed for the nearest A&W root beer stand. Actually, it was, I believe, the only A&W Root Beer stand in Galesburg. The orders were made and the mugs soon came, frosty cold, with a tray that adjusted to hang on the driver's door window, cranked up just a few inches. The mugs were thick glass, substantial mass to hold the cold. The root beer was so good, it was almost worth suffering the heat just to have it taste that much better.

I must admit that my memory fails me exactly where the old A&W stand was. Both my wife and I agree it was on North Henderson Street, but we get a little vague after that. I guess it will give us something to argue about when we get really old.

We didn't always go to the A&W since we lived at Lake Bracken and I firmly believe that the 7 mile drive to town was a lot longer then than it is now. Sometimes a gallon of A&W root beer would find its way home. We were a simple family with simple tastes. And one of these simple tastes was a ''black cow.'' A couple of dabs of vanilla ice cream carefully slid into a glass of root beer, and a long handled spoon, and there was a sudden respite from the heat. The froth formed on the surface, promising a cool mixture of root beer and ice cream below. We didn't do this every night, nor on any certain schedule. Root beer would just show up from time to time and we knew it was time for black cows.

My wife has slightly different memories. She was substantially younger than her brothers. She was one of those ''life's little surprises'' so her memories were of being taken from the farm by her older brother into Galesburg to the A&W. To this day, it is hard to drive by an A&W root beer stand if she is in the car. It used to just about kill m, when I was trying to ''make time'' driving to Minnesota and she'd spot an A&W about every two hours. The intestates helped me out that way -- drive faster and no A&Ws on the street corner, beckoning you in for a quick cool one.

Perhaps this explains the fascination that some folks have with collecting A&W Root Beer mugs. I just recently stumbled into this subculture. Just recently I found a small A&W root beer mug, older than any I could remember, at an antique mall. The mug had raised letters that said ''A&W'' and below ''ROOT BEER.'' The glass was clear. Recalling my wife's fascination for root beer, and my own for about anything old, I bought it for $3.50. I figured, or rationalized, that it was probably a pretty good deal.

I then did what all folks do after buying ''blindly.'' I got on the computer and did a search on ''A&W root beer mugs.'' I was astonished. After checking out a few returns, I found ''Mug Shots'' by Ken Polsson of Victoria British Columbia (that's Canada)*. A&W was big in Canada too, and Ken became a collector and seller of all things A&W -- but particularly mugs. He has photos and text descriptions that help you find your mug from the great many designs that were made over the years. My ''find'' was a ''plain lettering'' mug, according to Ken's classification system. With a ruler and a measuring cup, I qucikly confirmed that it was an ''AW11L'' 10 ounce, embossed varied, produced from 1921-1948, with no published price. The handle was a ''half heart'' design rather than a D-shape. It was made by the Indiana Glass Company. He also had no photo of it. This intrigued me. So I took a digital photo of it and sent it to him by email. Ken wrote back and confirmed my assessment and may be adding my photo to his home page. He offered that he has never owned this particular type of mug. It was music to my ears!

Just today, I went back to the antique mall during my noon hour and guess what, I found another A&W root beer mug. It was the same vintage, same raised lettering but was the baby-sized (3 1/2 oz capacity). I guess I've now joined the subculture.

But if you are going to be a serious collector, you need to do two things. First, you have to study the subject. Second, you have to develop the market. There was once a time when you'd have to go and sweat in the un-air conditioned public library in the faint glimmer of hope that a dictionary might have something on the subject. Now, with the Internet, you can find more than you ever wanted to know (or see) about anything.

I won't bore you with all the details but I will let you know, in case you ever wondered, that the ''A&W'' stood for Allen & Wright, who were the folks who put A&W in our minds on hot summer evenings. Their first mugs were the 3 1/2 oz and the 10 oz mugs made by Indiana Glass Company and had the raised lettering. The small baby mug with the raised lettering, began to be used in 1921. It was about the same time that Allen & Wright went from a plain 10 oz mug to one which said ''A&W'' with the raised lettering. Polsson's ''Mug Shots'' has photos of 11 different types of logos that have been used by A&W on glass mugs, excluding special issue mugs.

I think I'm hooked. So if you see me hanging around the local A&W, wearing a long trench coat on a hot summer night, let it go. I'm not a flasher, nor part of the homeless wearing all that I have. But if you hear a slight clink of glass-on-glass as I walk by your parked car, don't offer up a warning to the proprietor. He should be proud that his mugs are so highly valued for their historic and aesthetic value.

Go out and have a cool one. And, well if nobody's paying attention, start a new hobby.**


*Mug shots:

** Just joking. I would never encourage the Zephyr readers to do anything illegal. As a legal alternative, log on to the A&W homepage and order new mugs. We don't want any other ''mug shots'', do we?

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online October 3, 2001

Back to The Zephyr