Collins family keeps thirsty tradition going at Delaware State Fair

Elizabeth Collins of Harrington sits in front of a Delaware State Fair landmark - Collins’ Root Beer Friday evening holding a photograph of herself with her late husband Robert, who passed away earlier this month, surrounded by her children.  (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Elizabeth Collins of Harrington sits in front of a Delaware State Fair landmark – Collins’ Root Beer Friday evening holding a photograph of herself with her late husband Robert, who passed away earlier this month, surrounded by her children. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

HARRINGTON — Robert Collins, the late owner of the Collins Root Beer stand, looked forward to coming to the Delaware State Fair every year.

“My father loved it,” said George Collins. “He bought this stand about 47 or 48 years ago. He loved everyone. He was a people’s person. That’s just the type of person he was.”

Robert Collins died earlier this month before he got the chance to experience the atmosphere of the fair one last time.

But Robert’s five sons and daughter and other family members continue to keep the tradition going in his honor.

“It’s important to us because my father started it and as family we want to keep it going,” said Bruce Collins. Every last one of us helps out. It’s a family affair and it’s always been.”

Before Robert purchased the stand, he used to haul ice.

“He was hauling ice and my dad asked the owner of the root beer truck if he was selling it, let him know,” said Kenneth Collins. “Then about two years later the guy decided to sell it to my dad.”

George said he was in his early 20s when his father purchased the stand.

“When he bought the truck it already had the root beer barrel on it,” George said. “We started making old fashioned

George Collins of Harrington is the current owner of the famous stand and his entire family helps every year to serve up root beer at the Delaware State Fair.

George Collins of Harrington is the current owner of the famous stand and his entire family helps every year to serve up root beer at the Delaware State Fair.

root beer and then we started making root beer floats. That was the kicker for us.

“The barrel does it. When people take one look at it, that draws everyone in.”

The brothers said their father loved talking to any and everybody when he worked the fair.

“He was a popular guy here at the fair,” Kenneth said. “He never saw a stranger. He was a people’s person. He loved people and everyone loved him.”

His daughter Thelma “Sugar Pie” Gustafson recalled a time when someone tried to use her father’s kindness to his advantage.

“Two years ago a man came to our stands and told us about the good old days at the fair,” Ms Gustafson said.

“He was very a young boy and recalled his family coming to what was then called the Harrington Fair and one of his favorite things he enjoyed was visiting the Root Beer Truck.

“He asked my daddy for a snow cone. When he reached into his pants pockets, he only had a penny and a nickel.

When my daddy handed him his snow cone the man slammed his hand with the money into my daddy’s hand and hurried off, knowing well he had not paid the full price.”

She said the young man tried this trick several times throughout the day.

“One day, my daddy surprised him before handing the man the snow cone,” Ms. Gustafson said. “My daddy held out his other hand not saying a word rubbing his fingers together, signaling money first.

“The man said my daddy didn’t say a word and never confronted him about what he had been doing, but he knew that was the end of his cheap snow cones.”

Robert also loved telling stories about his family life. He enjoyed talking about what mischief his children got in when they were young and how he could only afford shoes for them once a year.

Another favorite story was when the kids got a wagon for Christmas, and he would laugh so hard telling about how they all tried to outsmart one another to get time to play with it.

The brothers said working with their father and being home with him was one and the same.

“He’s like that all year around even at home,” George said. “The atmosphere is the same.”

George said his father will be proud of them for keeping the tradition going.

During his later years he would come out here when it wasn’t hot and just walk up and talk to people,” George said.

“People would come over and talk to him. He just loved it out here. We’re going to keep it going as long as we’re able to.”

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