Set up an old gas engine at a show, and you'll get a few lookers. Get it running and belt it up to a pump or a corn sheller, a few more folks stop by and take a gander. Use it to make ice cream and give away free samples, and it's "Katie, bar the door!"
Larry and Sandra Flickinger can tell you all about it. For the past two years, the couple has displayed a 1912 P&O gas engine at the Midwest Old Threshers Reunion in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. Several times each day, Larry fires up the engine, which is belted to a nearly 50-year-old freezer. As the mixture nears readiness, the crowd of onlookers swells. By the time Sandra removes the lid from the freezer can and begins to pull out the paddle, she holds the crowd in the palm of her hand.
"You see little kids come running when we open the freezer," Sandra says. "The most fun are the older people. They just watch, and reminisce … we hear lots of people's memories about making ice cream with their families. It just makes people happy."
Making ice cream at engine shows is no particular stretch for this couple who live, fittingly enough, at Sugar Grove, Ill. "I grew up on a farm and we always had homemade ice cream," Sandra recalls. "My granddad hand-milked 36 Brown Swiss dairy cows, and I can remember my mother making butter, and saving the cream for ice cream." Because homemade ice cream is a regular part of their summer routine at home, it was only natural for the two to take their show on the road.
It started with a new-in-the-box 1957 White Mountain ice cream freezer Larry found at a flea market. Next came the matter of converting gear ratios to his 1-1/2 hp P&O gas engine. "Remember that eighth grade math, and you never think you're going to use it?" Larry asks. "Well, you do.
"It was just a matter of ratio," he explains. "I just backed up to the engine rpm. It's either going to be 4-to-1 or 6-to-1, based on a ratio. I knew what the ending rpm was for the hand-crank freezer; it was about 40 rpm. The other 'given' was that the engine is about 350 rpm, so I reduced from there. The first reduction is 4-to-1; the second is 2-1/2-to-1."
Compared to that, making the ice cream itself was a snap. "Sometimes we use a recipe that calls for 32 ounces of pop, and two cans of sweetened condensed milk," Sandra says. More often, she turns to a pre-packaged Rival mix sold at Wal-Mart. Neither requires eggs, eliminating safety concerns related to use of raw eggs.
Looking to add yet another dimension to their road show, the Flickingers began a related collection of ice cream paraphernalia. "This spring, Larry decided to collect ice cream scoops," Sandra says. "So he went to the flea market and came home with three. Well, you know, if you have three of something, you've started a collection."
It's been an educational process. "Gilchrist was one of the first to make scoops," Sandra says, "and that was from about 1905 to 1930. There are some with Bakelite handles, and a lot of them are brass underneath the nickel plate. The ones with wooden handles are probably older. A lot of them were premiums; you got them free when you bought something else. A lot of them have a number on them, but that's not a model number: It's how many scoops it takes to make a quart. Most are 12 to 20 (scoops per quart), but we have a 40 that we use to fill sample cups."
One of the real treasures in the Flickinger display is a White Mountain salesman's sample freezer. "It started everything," Sandra says with a smile. "In 1982, I went to a farm sale to buy a memento from a family friend's estate sale. I saw this White Mountain Jr. salesman's sample, and I bought it for $8. After the sale, my dad's best friend came up to me and asked 'Are you the one who was bidding against me?'
"Well," she continues, "it turns out he collected salesman's samples. We're talking about five generations of friendship between his family and mine. So I said, 'If you promise me that when you're dead and gone, I can have it back, okay: You can have it for your collection.'"
Two years ago, after the death of her friend, the tiny freezer was returned to her. "Ice cream and friendship," she muses. "They just go hand in hand."
- For more information e-mail Larry and Sandra Flickinger at: firstname.lastname@example.org