In the book of Acts there is mention of a city in Asia Minor called Iconium.1 When it obtained its name is unknown, but it was an ancient city. It would be elevated as a bishopric of the early Christian church. Otherwise, the city had no particular claim to fame. It was just another small urban center on the road that crosses over the peninsula to the crossing to Europe. But probably because of its obscure biblical reference, it was a name thought proper for three communities in the United States. For some odd reason, all three remain to this day as unincorporated villages. A fourth location in Oklahoma is referred to at one web site as a "populated place," otherwise just a dot on the map.
And so it was I was doing research on the burning of Osceola when a young man observed I was taking photos of the historical marker in front of the courthouse. He asked if I was from “these parts.” I told him I was just passing through. He apparently read my mind because it was a warm day and it was about lunch time. “I recommend you check out Scott’s Market in Iconium. It is about ten miles outside of town. It is famous for its Peach Nehi Floats.”
“Nehi? You mean the soda company?”
“Hmm. I thought they went out of business a long time ago.”
I thanked him for the advise. I later found out that the local cafe was now closed. That left two or three quick-stop stores as a source of food, something I was not real excited about. I said to myself, “Iconium. Might as well check it out. After all, how often does one ever get a chance to check out a Peach Nehi Float.”
I tapped into Google Maps “Iconium, MO” and was soon on a virtually abandoned highway through the hill country surrounding Truman Lake, heading east on State Highway 82 until I reached County Road U. Turning north I drove through several miles of rolling hills surrounded on each side by small farms, most of which grew only hay or simply had grassy pastures with a few head of cattle. The land reached a level plateau, a place which in pre-white man days was probably nothing but prairie where buffalo, elk and deer roamed. It wasn’t long before appearing in the distance, in the middle of nowhere, posed a line-up of parked cars on each side of the highway, around which stood a grocery store, a laundry mat, an antique store and a nice old house. This was Iconium.
The store was none other than Scott’s Market, and outside of the market stood a long line of patrons waiting to place their order. There was another large group of folks waiting out on the porch or under the shade trees waiting for their orders. This was the place famous for one thing: the peach Nehi Float.
I placed my order for a float and added to the order a lunch of hamburger and fries. The float was soon presented and I consumed it well before my order was ready. It took them a while to cook up the food. From the other folks I learned the marketing secret of Scott’s Market. A couple of miles away was a Boy Scout Camp. At the camp kids and parents were trapped in a place that had catered meals, the sort you would not want to encounter. At the first opportunity, scouts, parents and scout leaders would head over to Scott’s Market and get some real food. Hmm. Whatever happened to scouts earning merit badges for cooking?
Nehi was renamed RC Cola in 1955 and was absorbed into the Dr. Pepper empire in 2008. I remember as a child consuming both brands. The one thing that was familiar about the Nehi brand was that the soda bottles were reused so much that the glass became worn, producing a clouded appearance. They often had fruit-flavored sodas of various sorts such as strawberry and grape. There was a country store near where I grew up and also near my grandparents farm in southeast Missouri, handy establishments where a young boy could find a ready supply of soda and ice cream sandwiches. Back then soda was placed in water-cooled dispensers. The bottles sat in water along these metal racks. You popped in your quarters, grabbed the soda of your choice, guided it along the metal rails until you got to the slot where you pulled it through. On a hot day, a wet, cool bottle of Nehi soda tasted pretty darn good.
It’s different these days. The bottles have been replaced by the easy-opening soda cans and the only flavor I observed was peach. Something is lost in the experience if you can escape the heat into air conditioning. When I was a boy, the coolest place to be was, well, next to the soda machine. I recall opening up the lid to the soda dispenser being surrounded by the cool air, saying to myself “I could stand here forever.” Back to the present moment, the peach float I consumed was delightful, but I decided to purchase an entire case of peach Nehi soda so I could share the experience with other family members. I consumed one of the cans for lunch.
So remember, if you ever happen to be driving around Truman Lake, take a journey down a road that is certainly less traveled, and check out the center of classical culture and education: Iconium, Missouri. And if need be, don’t forget to fill up the tank. They have every type of gas you need as long as it is regular unleaded. Experience refueling before the day of the fully automated pump.
By Eric Niewoehner
© Copyright 2022 to Eric Niewoehner.
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