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Sipping sarsaparilla from the nation's oldest soda fountain | Bartell's Backroads

The tiny town of Randsburg has gone from desert gold mine to homemade soda oasis.

RANDSBURG, Calif. — In 1895, gold miners flocked to the deserts of Kern County to strike it rich in the town of Randsburg. More than 4,000 people lived in the gold rush community in its heyday.

Hotels, stores and saloons lined the streets. In fact, an estimated 20 bars and taverns liquored up the miners. Today, Randsburg is just a detour off Highway 395, and one of the main attractions in town is the Randsburg General Store.

“This is the oldest continuously operating soda fountain in the nation. It has literally been running since 1904,” says store owner Brad Myers. 

Gold put Randsburg on the map, but soda kept it from turning into a complete ghost town. 

“We use the same recipe used as far back as I can remember,” Myers says. 

Although soda was first served up in 1904, the general store has been continually operating since 1896. Brad Myers is one of the many different owners who have been taught how to make the soda syrups, including the closely guarded sarsaparilla recipe.

“I can’t tell you the recipe or I’d have to kill you,” Myers says.

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Myers admits some of the recipes, like the Coke recipe, are not original and for good reason. 

“Back in the day you had to be a pharmacist because Coke had cocaine in it, and all the other sodas had drugs in it,” Myers says.

There are no drugs in the soda these days and if you come during the week there’s generally no wait to get one. Randsburg is rarely crowded. Walk down Butte Street and you’ll find that town hasn’t changed much since the gold rush, and that’s the way locals like it.

“Many of the houses are modern inside but the outside still looks like rundown old shacks,” Myers says.

Hollywood loves the old look of Randsburg. It’s been the location of numerous movies including Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, starring a young Billy Bob Thornton, and the more recent film Dog, starring Channing Tatum who ordered a soda and burger.

Because of its remoteness, most who visit Randsburg are ATV or motorcycle riders. 

“I get 95% of my business from them,” Myers says.

If you come during the rainy season, visitors might surf into town. 

“Occasionally, when it rains, the waves are so big you could surf down the street," says Myers.

It takes a special person to live in Randsburg. It's hot, remote and a little old-fashioned, but you can always count on the old soda fountain continuing to draw people into town.

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit.

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