Bill Bentson of Fountain collects Coca-Cola memorabilia, as well as coffee mugs, baseball caps, college notebooks and high school sports statistics.  PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Bill Bentson of Fountain collects Coca-Cola memorabilia, as well as coffee mugs, baseball caps, college notebooks and high school sports statistics. PHOTOS BY GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Bill Bentson has fizz time in a bottle.

He's canned it and banked on it...a carbonated history.

"I have a lot of Coca-Cola stuff, and it's virtually all over - on my bed, towels, I have cans, bottles..." said Fountain resident Bentson.

His collection of vintage Coke bottles includes samples from now-shuttered Minnesota Coca-Cola bottling plants such as Rochester, Willmar, Grand Rapids, Marshall, Minneapolis, Red Wing, Austin, Crookston, Fergus Falls, Albert Lea, Virginia, Duluth, Mankato and St. Paul. He also has a 1937 Winona Coca-Cola bottle he has neatly tagged with its date and town of origin.

Bentson's collection includes years of homage to Coke, evidenced by serving trays, toy cars, toy semi tractors that light up with a string of red lights, eight-ounce specialty bottles featuring local events and holidays, wall clocks and alarm clocks, Christmas ornaments, Coca-Cola-branded sports memorabilia, straw and napkin dispensers. His collection also includes Coca-Cola Monopoly, cans of Coke from across the Atlantic and the Pacific, buckets, coin banks, light fixtures, a toy helicopter with working rotor, recycled Coke can mobiles and sculptures, hats, dishes, posters, patches and even one share in the Coca-Cola company.

His family and friends know he's a Coca-Cola memorabilia collector, so they've lent a hand in making him a shareholder.

"My kids gave me one share in the company, and I'm invited to the meetings in Atlanta, but I've never gone. The company wanted me to sell out, but I didn't want to, so I still get all the information on the shareholders' meetings," Bentson explained.

He related how the whole Coca-Cola mania began in his childhood. "Growing up, I always drank Coke. I grew up in Windom, Minn., and there was a shop in town called the Chocolate Shop. We could get a Coke and a burger for 30 cents, but we could also get chocolate Coke, strawberry Coke or an 'everything Coke,' with a little bit of every flavor in it."

Bentson grew up to marry into a devoted Pepsi family, as his wife, Carol, had always preferred red, white and blue bottles to his beloved red and white beribboned bottles.

"I've got a few Pepsi things here, too, just to keep things happy," he remarked, showing off the jukebox bank that plays "I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke" when a coin is dropped in the slot.

Bentson has some very special Coke cans, but the most important one he's kept dates to 1997. "I won that when I was principal at Cottonwood, Minn., from a girl who played basketball - we played a game of 'HORSE,' and I won, so I got that signed."

An autographed Brad Radtke baseball poster with a Coca-Cola sponsorship hangs among his trophies as well.

Bentson keeps a close watch for more collectibles since he's got a wish list for things he hasn't been able to find or afford, though he admits he's running out of storage for his collection.

"What I'd really like to get is a working Coke machine that you can put a dime into and get a bottle out of it," he commented.

His grandchildren have each chosen a Coke semi to inherit from their grandfather, who also has an affection for the number 22, which originated from his adoration of Minnesota Lakers basketball player Elgin Baylor, whose number was 22.

An ultimate find is an item that has Coca-Cola and the number 22, like one of the model race cars he proudly displays in his home office. His son-in-law found the next best thing - time in a Coke bottle - and brought it home to Fountain.

Bentson related, "He was scuba diving off Key West, Fla., and he reached down and pulled this eight-ounce Coke bottle out of the sand while he was diving. It'd been down there a while."

Fascinatingly, like the sand in Key West, Bentson seems to have bottled his childhood and kept its fizz fresh and sweet by lining up his carbonated first love around his home.

His biggest challenge continues to be where to put the overflowing aggregation of Coke cans, bottles, toys, Christmas decorations, lawn ornaments and more once he acquires them. For now, they go on his salvaged grocery store Coca-Cola display shelves, of course.