Abandoned Finds: Coke Cooler

By Ricki Chaikin, Co-Owner Reclaimed Relics as featured on new-series Abandoned

This Coke cooler was recovered from a cotton gin in Watkinsville, Georgia. Founded in the late 1800s, the Thomas Family Cotton Gin is representative of the famed industry of the Old South. Although the gin has been closed since the 1970s, a victim of the declining textile industry, it is a fascinating snapshot of a bygone era.

The cotton gin was invented in 1793 by Eli Whitney. It used a combination of wire screens and small wire hooks to separate cotton fibers from their seeds. These fibers could then be processed into cloth. The cotton gin revolutionized the cotton industry and played an important role in the history of the American south.

This Coke cooler was kept on site at the cotton gin to offer workers a cold, refreshing drink. Coca-Cola had been invented in 1886 by Civil War veteran John Pemberton. In the early years, having a Coke meant sitting at a soda fountain. However, the rising popularity of the Coke cooler in the 1930s meant that the cotton gin workers could have fountain drinks easily accessible to them throughout the day.

Photograph by Reclaimed Relics


Given the choice of restoring or re-purposing an object, we take many things into consideration. Whenever possible, and particularly with a nostalgic object such as this, we try to return something to its’ original condition. When restoring an item like this Coke cooler, the goal is to make it look like it did when it came out of the show room sixty years ago. The first thing we did was to take have all of the dents and dings removed by Thornton’s body shop. They did an amazing job of returning the body to its’ nearly perfect original condition. At one time, there were pipes run in and out of the cooler (presumably someone used it as a basin of some sort). They removed those pipes, filled the holes, fixed any other imperfections, soda blasted it and painted it that famous Coca-Cola red. Pinstriper DeWayne Connult then came in and hand painted the white Coca-Cola logos.  From that point, we worked on the original compressor to see if we could bring some life back to it.  And we did—temporarily.  Unfortunately, while the original compressor kept our drinks icy cold for a minute, it quickly sputtered out. While we debated putting a more modern unit on this, we opted not to hoping that we could keep the machine completely original. Rather than make the decision to rebuild the original compressor entirely or replace with a modern compressor, we’ve decided to sell this as-is and leave that decision to its’ next proud owner.  

Over a century after its founding, the Coca-Cola brand is a worldwide leader in the beverage industry and an icon of American culture. This Coke cooler, restored to the way it would have looked to its original users, embodies both the industry of the American South and the intrinsic Americana of Coca-Cola. Whether restored completely to a working cooler or re-purposed for some other use, we hope that you and yours enjoy a Coke, a smile and fond memories of times bygone.

For more information on how you can purchase this cooler, visit Reclaimed Relics and browse other finds from the Georgia Cotton Gin.

Tonight at 9:30P on Abandoned: Georgia Cotton Gin, the guys head down to a cotton gin in Watkinsville, GA and they’re hoping to head home with the crown jewels. Although Jay nearly loses his balance while climbing across the rafters, nothing stops him from finding classic pieces of Americana on this family plantation. From a vintage Coca-Cola machine and Dino gas pumps to a Depression-era portrait and a Zenith radio, the guys truly uncover relic royalty. But it’s a home-made hot-rod that really gets Jays motor running, and Ricki isnt pleased with his aspirations to buy the flathead V8 and add it to his collection of vintage cars.


  1. Kevin Lancaster
    USA NC
    September 5, 2012, 8:50 pm

    I am trying to contact Jay or his wife regarding the B52 Manual they recently found. My son is a Crew Chief on the B52 in the United States Air Force. He may be one of the last Crew Chiefs as the plane is soon to be retired. If you still have this manual I would be interested in purchasing it for a gift for my son. Please contact me.

  2. Lorraine Gadsden
    September 6, 2012, 7:28 pm

    I used my cooler like this as a bar b que grill in 1993

  3. art
    September 7, 2012, 9:48 pm

    I liked this show the first time I saw it when it was called American Pickers. Come on Nat Geo be original, Abandoned is lame.

  4. Reed
    September 15, 2012, 2:30 pm

    Give it a rest Art. Yea, it’s like AP but it’s different enough to be interesting! And the guys on AP almost never restore. Anyhow, I’d take more of these shows if they’d take off crap lilke Honey Boo Boo, Kardashians, Real Housewifes…now those aren’t worth your time.

    BTW, I know the Thomas family from this episode. Told Mark’s aunt that I wish I had known about the Coke stuff before the Abandoned guys got there! Ask him to ck if they had some more….turns out Mark’s cousin collects coke stuff too!

  5. Tommy Stewart
    Orlando, Florida
    September 19, 2012, 8:47 pm

    As a big fan of American Pickers, I think this show is awesome. It is a similar concept, yes, but it adds mystery and in my opinion, other than picking and having a pretty woman at the office, it holds its own. Each building has a history and the narrating adds mystery,intrigue and at times, a haunting yearning for days of the past.

  6. jay at reclaimed relics
    October 13, 2012, 7:58 am

    thanks for watching the show guys.we have met some great people due to the show. I have been asked what was the most valuable find throughout this crazy journey? The greatest find so far has been the people.Reed if you talk to Mark Thomas please let him know that i walked away from his farm a very rich man.Not because of the items we bought but because Mark let me into his life,sharing stories that have enriched my being.I share these stories with my children ,stories of hard work,stories of hope and most of all stories of persistence.PERSISTENCE…”Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent”. CALVIN COOLIDGE.Learning about the cotten industry,buying great items and EATING AT HOTS BARBECUE was GREAT, but the time spent with mark and his family PRICELESS. Thanks again for watching the show, we hope to see you second season. P.S. there is something to be said about SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY!!!!!!