Restoration gives man a Coke and a smile

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jerry Boehman’s passion for restoring classic Coca-Cola and Texaco items is evident in his Jasper home. He and his wife, Mary, have filled a floor in their home with various soda and oil company items from the 1950s. The Boehmans’ 7-year-old grandson, Broc Boehman of Santa Claus, helps Jerry sand some pieces when he visits. Jerry started with restoring the napkin holder on the table and worked his way to more complex items.

Herald Staff Writer

IRELAND — Jerry Boehman has taken his love for all things Coca-Cola to another level.
He and his wife, Mary, have hundreds of classic soda items, the overwhelming majority them being the Coke brand.

“I just love this stuff,” the 56-year-old Ireland man said. “I remember seeing this in the ’60 and ’70s.”

About five years ago, he started restoring Coke machines. His latest project is two electric coolers he picked up at an auction.

“Everything I restore, when I’m done, is in perfect working condition,” he said. “It takes me about three months to complete a machine.”

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jerry Boehman collected and restored each of these vintage coolers from the early 1950s.

That includes stripping down the original item — whether it be a soda machine or cooler — and restoring each piece to its original condition. Some parts — like chrome that needs refinished and mechanical parts that don’t work — he sends to associates he now has across the country to restore and ship back to him.

It is a family affair. The Boehmans’ 7-year-old grandson, Broc Boehman, helps Jerry sand some pieces when he visits from Santa Claus. Mary takes care of placing the decals on the machines. “I don’t have the patience for it,” Jerry said of the decal work. “And when you put them on, you have one chance to get it on there straight.”

“You stick them on and that’s it,” Mary chimed in. “You can’t move them or anything, or they will tear and then it’s shot.”

The Boehmans have been collecting Coke items for 26 of the 34 years they’ve been married. As a result, an entire floor in their home is designed as a 1950s-style diner restaurant, complete with two jukeboxes and a stereo that has working record and eight-track players. The various Coke machines and soda coolers they own line the walls along with authentic Coke serving trays, a late 1940s change machine that provides the nickels people needed at that time to buy Cokes, wall signs and other detailed decor like soda-themed clocks that hung in stores in the early and mid-1900s. Some items from oil company Texaco, including two gas pumps and a storage case that holds 20 unopened quart cans of Texaco oil, are also on the floor.

The Boehmans go to auctions every Saturday and don’t mind traveling to find items.

“Some of this comes from northern Indiana, Indianapolis, Pennsylvania,” Mary says. “We now have to start traveling a little bit father because Coke products are starting to become a little scarce.”

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Fully restored vintage Coca-Cola products decorate the showroom of Jerry Boehman's Jasper home.

The first machine Jerry restored was a 1957 Vendo 44 Coke machine, which can hold 44 sodas.
Mary found the machine locally, advertised as part of an upcoming yard sale. While Jerry was very interested in the machine, “I didn’t have the guts to contact them early,” he said.

“I did,” Mary said. “We went and I knocked on their door and asked to see it.”

The couple bought the machine that night.

It took about four months to restore that first machine. But Jerry learned a lot about the process as he did it.

“It was a bear to restore,” he said. “I’d order a part, then a week later order another part, whereas now I’ll make a parts list and order all the parts at the same time. It saves on shipping.”
He also learned the importance of knowing other people who could provide parts and restoration assistance.

“It really helps to have connections like that. I didn’t know that until I got into it,” he said. “They can do work that I can’t and they have parts and decals that you need.”

Last year, the Boehmans took photos of their machines to Las Vegas to show Rick Dale, whose store, Rick’s Restorations, is the focus of the History Channel’s reality show “American Restoration.” While they were there, they also went down the street to visit the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, the location for another reality show, “Pawn Stars.” But Jerry’s main goal was to talk to Dale and show him the photos.

“Everyone at Rick’s Restoration was so down to earth,” Jerry recalled. “Rick took the time to go through the pictures with me. He gave me advice on a bunch of stuff. He’s so good at it, and I’m small-time.”

Rick also saw in the photos several items that he wanted to acquire. “The first thing he asked me was how much of it was for sale,” Jerry said. “I told him nothing.”

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Fully restored vintage Coca-Cola products decorate the showroom of Jerry Boehman's Jasper home.

Jerry is not collecting and restoring Coke items to sell and earn a profit.

“Everything I restore, I keep,” he said. “I’m not in this for selling. I like these. This here is a fun hobby for me.”

Some of the machines he has are extremely rare, like the 1950s Vendelator 27 vending machine and a 1929 Orange Crush cooling machine, both of which are on the original stands.

“You’ve got to have two things to restore Coke machines: a good memory and an excellent camera. You don’t have an owner’s manual,” Jerry said. “These machines were out even before I was born. So when I start, before I take off anything, I start snapping pictures of everything, so that I will know how it goes back together. There is no manual telling you how to put these things back together.”

He dabbles in other restoration projects as well. Along with the coolers, Jerry is restoring a pedal car for his  2-year-old granddaughter, Arianna Jara, which he plans to give her for Christmas. He will restore a 1959 Predicta television when he gets the time. Right now, the TV is sitting in a side room as decor.

Jerry has a car-detailing business that keeps him busy, so he has a limited amount of time that he can dedicate to restoring machines.

“If I retire one day,” he said, “this will be my new full-time job.”

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