Monday, June 13, 2011

Apple #529: Ice Cream Trucks

If my blog looks weird, it's because I had to revert to the old settings in order to get the photos to upload. And I have to upload them one at a time. I also keep having to adjust the width of the right frame in order to be able to update the widgets in the right toolbar. Blogger, you're becoming a bit of a pain. For now, I'm living with the work-arounds.

OK, first thing is that June is when a lot of roses are at their peak, so this is often known as Roses month or something like that. (Sorry for my unusual lack of specificity. The technical glitches have got me down.) So I updated my entry about roses and added some photos of roses that I took this weekend.

While I was at the rose garden taking pictures of roses, an ice cream truck drove up.  Ice cream trucks seem like such a throwback, when vendors went around neighborhoods selling stuff to people door-to-door or in their street.  I'm glad they're still around, creepy though they may be sometimes.

  • A lot of sites say that the first ice cream trucks hit the streets in the 1950s.  But the Good Humor people really pioneered the whole ice cream truck idea, way back in 1920.
  • Good Humor bars, by the way, were chocolate-coated ice cream bars.  They were invented by Harry Burt in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920.  His son suggested putting the treats on a stick to make them easier to eat.  
  • Burt dressed in a white shirt and white pants and took to the streets, selling his ice cream from a truck. That was how Good Humor bars were sold for years.

    I don't have an exact date for this Good Humor truck, but apparently it's from some time in the 1920s.  The truck had a freezer on board and it was bedecked with bells, which came from Harry Burt's son's bobsled.
    (Photo from the Good Humor website)

    Another ice cream truck from 1920. It's called the Walker Electric, which I assume means it's an electric car. Those used to be more widely available back then.
    (Photo by National Photo Company, sourced from Shorpy)

    • From jingling bells, the trucks graduated to playing music.  In 1929, a California ice cream man bolted a music box to the roof of his truck and connected it to an amplifier.  
    • Other ice cream men followed suit, sort of.  But for most of them, they had to crank the music boxes by hand.  It was pretty tricky to drive and crank the music at the same time, so a lot of the time the songs ran out while the trucks were driving, and the drivers waited until they'd stopped to crank up the music again.
    • Then they graduated to a "clockwork-style machine," which I'm guessing was a variant on the amplified music box.  
    • In the 1950s, Nichols Electronics invented a transistorized version of the machine. Amplifiers on those systems ran off the truck's battery.

    This is a Studebaker truck from the 1950s modified to sell ice cream bars.
    (Photo from the Studebaker Drivers Club, which has lots of photos of old ice cream trucks and a beer truck as well.)

      Good Humor got out of the ice cream truck business in 1976.
      (Photo from the Good Humor site)

      • More recently, the chime-like music was burned onto microchips which were connected to amplifiers that played the music through a loudspeaker which looks like a horn. The microchip music could loop and loop and loop without any input from the driver. 
      • One driver estimates that he has listened to the same 40-second song 13,500 times. He hears it in his sleep.

      Most of the ice cream trucks in my experience look about like this, except dingier and more run-down. This one is nice and shiny-white.
      (Photo from Amoeblog)

          • Now, a lot of the ice cream trucks play digital music, which is still piped through loudspeaker-type horns. 
            • Though the method of playing the tunes has changed, the tunes themselves have not.  They still retain that same tinkly, plinky music box sound.  Here's one ice cream truck song, name unknown, that exemplifies exactly what I'm talking about.
            • One ethnomusicologist, David Neely, who wrote a whole article on ice cream truck music (the online version of the article has been lost to the vagaries of the internets), says that the first ice cream truck song was "The Farm Pump," which was a Polish folk song. 
                • I couldn't find that song online, but probably that's because it's real name is in Polish. If anybody knows what it's called in Polish, let me know and I'll try to find it.
            • Nichols Electronics, which still makes music systems for ice cream trucks, says the most commonly played ice cream truck song these days is "The Entertainer," which is a ragtime tune made popular in the movie The Sting (1973).
            • Other favorite ice cream truck songs are "Turkey in the Straw," "Pop Goes the Weasel," even "Popeye the Sailor Man."  One person reported hearing a Mister Softee truck in London playing "Hava Nagila."
            • Most ice cream trucks also sell a whole lot more stuff besides just ice cream.  Bomb pops, creamsicles, push-ups, popsicles, fudgsicles, ice cream sandwiches. Basically, if it's frozen and on a stick or in a cone, they sell it.

            The Bomb Pop. First time I ever had one of these was from an ice cream truck.
            (Photo from Best Celebrity Wallpaper Photo Blog)

            You can see all the treats available for sale from this ice cream truck in Rockford, Michigan.
            (Photo by Emily Zoladz from the Grand Rapids Press)

              • Mister Softee trucks have soft serve machines on board. They pretty much sell only soft-serve ice cream. They also play the Mister Softee jingle.  (Except for when they're playing "Hava Nagila.")

              Patrons visiting the Mister Softee truck.  I wonder what percentage of an ice cream truck's customers are adults.
              (Photo from Amoeblog)

                • As I'm sure you've noticed by the photos I've posted here, the trucks themselves have changed. They're no longer the awkward boxy things they used to be. Now they're vans that have been tweaked to sell frozen treats.

                Ice cream van, summer 2011. Not that fun-looking, is it? But within a matter of seconds, people had run up to it, ready to buy.
                (Photo by the Apple Lady)

                Ah, how could I forget?

                Twisted Metal's Sweet Tooth and his diabolical ice cream truck.
                (Photo from mmrepuestos)

                Here's a little something for your listening pleasure. Except I don't think he's talking about ice cream.


                Good Humor, Our History
                Steve Hendrix, For ice cream truck vendors, the mystery music works, Washington Post, May 26, 2011 
                Ice Cream Wagon, The Origin and History of the Ice Cream Truck and the Good Humor Brand
                Mister Softee Funzone
                Music Thing, Why do ice cream vans sound the way they do?
                WFMU's Beware of the Blog, MP3s of Ice Cream Truck Music
                The Jewish Daily Forward, Mister Softee's Kosher Kin Gets Warm Welcome 


                1. haha, great post. I was just thinking about ice cream trucks the other day. I grew up in Australia in the 70s and ice cream (vans) were very common, though they continuously played Greensleeves - a song I find rather annoying to this day ;)
                  Now I live in Spain and ice cream trucks are unheard of here (except via American movies) and I somewhat wish they were around for my son to get the same thrill we did when we heard that truck coming into the neighbourhood.
                  Thanks for the post. Love your blog.

                2. The unknown Ice Cream Truck song with the audio sample is called "And The Band Played On"


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