Like most people, I love a good “believe it or not” story.

So it’s not surprising that I’m completely fascinated by the recent saga of the message in a bottle that drifted for about 200 mile down the Big Piney and Gasconade rivers over a period of 36 years. That, without a doubt, is a story that is hard to believe.

The odds against the way the story panned out are astronomical.

Think of it: As a 6-year-old boy living in Houston, Mo., John Thomas (with help from his mother and stepfather) puts a message on a napkin inside a twist-top Dr. Pepper bottle and sticks it in the Big Piney at good ol’ Dogs Bluff in March of 1984. Then, in April 2020 (the better part of half a century later), a 12-year-old boy – Jimmy Humphrey – finds it alongside the Gasconade a couple of hundred miles downstream from where it first made contact with the water.

That bottle must have been made with some sort of bulletproof glass, because during its unlikely trip it had to survive big-time flooding events over and over again, which had to have been accompanied by plenty of banging against large rocks and logs. I kind of imagine the bottle moving a few miles or so every time there was a flood, and then getting lodged against some object or stuck in a dry(ish) spot before moving again the next time the water rose.

How it could have made it so far is beyond reason.

And consider the part played by the COVID-19 situation.

Jimmy and his dad, Chris, had been spending an extended period of time living at their trailer camp on the Gasconade based on a decision to remain separated from Chris’ wife, Cristen, who works at a nursing home in the family’s home town of Hermann. Basically, camp life also in large part separated Jimmy from technology, because there’s no Internet connection available at Gascony Village. In turn, Jimmy was outside messing around on his ATV rather than being inside in front of a screen.

In doing so, he saw the bottle and fatefully picked it up.


I can only imagine what it was like when Thomas received that call from his wife indicating Jimmy had found the bottle.

Who wouldn’t be like, “wait, what?”

Thomas was just a little tyke when the saga began, and back then couldn’t possibly have thought that someday it would become a story worthy of a movie screenplay.

Of course, the bottle can’t tell its story in literal terms, but what if it could? There would no doubt be tales of peril and triumph, along with descriptions of loneliness and excitement.

I wonder where it spent the most time without moving? I wonder when it moved the farthest in the least amount of time?

And how many times did it take serious blows and simply float on? It’s just crazy.

Crazy enough the Cristen’s Facebook post on the story amassed close to 17,000 shares in about a week, along with 10,500 likes and more than 1,600 comments.

It occurs to me that Dr. Pepper ought to be proud. Maybe they should get together with Elon Musk. Surely he could find a use for impenetrable glass.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email:

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply