Soda fit for outlaws

It might seem like you’ve taken a few steps back in time and think that Calamity Jane will burst through the swinging doors of the saloon, but it’s just the mobile unit of Wild West Soda, a stand at the North Dakota State Fair that sells homemade soda.

At the back end of the Commercial I building and across from Pioneer Village is the elaborately decorated stand full of memorabilia from the wild west with classic country music playing in the background. Gary Clark, operator of Wild West Soda, is one of the newer vendors at this year’s State Fair.

This is the first year Clark has been at the State Fair.

All of the sodas that Clark makes are homemade. “I have a friend with old-time recipes and he helped me out with them,” Clark said.

There is a wide variety of beverages for sale at Wild West Soda, including the usual suspects of iced tea, water, coffee and lemonade.

On the soda end, there are such drinks as Muddy Creek, a chocolate- flavored soda “that tastes like a Tootsie Roll,” Clark said, and Scattergun, which has no sugar and is similar to Diet Coke. Also on tap are Orange Creme, Black Cherry, Creme Soda, Sarsaparilla, Root Beer, and Blue Northern, which is blue and tastes like a mix of lemon and cucumber, he said.

Also available at Wild West Soda are mixed sodas with names such as Cowboy Punch, Calamity Jane, Silver Dollar, Sequoia Lightning or Rattlesnake to fit with the wild west theme.

“Sarsaparilla is the granddaddy of root beer and they used to serve it in saloons,” Clark said. It was thought to cure cancers and venereal disease, he added, and was available before root beer. Clark said he also normally would sell root beer at his stand, but was asked to not sell it at the North Dakota State Fair since Thomsen’s Root Beer has it for sale.

The homemade sodas at Wild West Soda are served in a commemorative tin cup if you order one of the larger sizes. The tin cup is made in the United States, too, Clark said. Customers can keep the tin cup and use it for refills at the stand. A 32-ounce drink in the tin cup is $7. Refills are $3.

The most popular flavors are sarsparilla and creme soda, Clark said. Black Cherry and Orange Creme are usually neck-and-neck, he added.

Clark, who resides in Laredo, Texas, is relatively new to the food stand business, since he just started in February. He sold his homemade sodas at various shows all throughout Texas until about June. That’s when it became too hot in Texas and Clark and his wife headed north. His wife, Sandi, also has a stand of craft items of her own that she sets up near him. “We just finished in Casper, Wyoming, before coming here,” Clark said. After their week in North Dakota, they will make their way to a fair in Rapid City, S.D., and then to the South Dakota State Fair in Huron.

The wild west-themed unit was built by Clark this past year. Some of the bottles and other artifacts on display came off the Old Oregon Trail, he said.

“People seem to really like homemade soda here,” Clark said. In fact, he ran out of everything on Saturday, he said. People have also been really generous with the tips, Clark said.

Traveling is nothing particularly new for Clark, since his dad was in the military and his family frequently moved. “I like meeting a lot of different people and seeing different places,” he said. “It’s fun to travel and see different things in each state.”

Clark also said he likes the Midwest better than the East Coast since there are too many people there. “People here are more homestyle and much nicer,” he said.

Clark said he hopes to be back at the State Fair next year.