Vintage Ice Cream Freezers Make Sweet Collection

Frozen in time

Jerry Volk

Jerry Volk with his latest acquisition, a 20-quart Snow Ball freezer, and a working 1-pint White Mountain.

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I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream!

That little ditty was certainly appropriate in rural America in the period before rural electrification, especially during the summer. In those days, the family gathered together on a Sunday afternoon. After church and a big dinner, it was time for a softball game for the youngsters and horseshoe pitching for the older set. Then it was time to break out the ice cream freezer and churn up a batch of homemade ice cream. (Try your hand at making ice cream: “ Ice Cream Recipes .”)

Many of the ingredients came right from the farm: eggs, milk and rock salt. Vanilla extract came from the Watkins man, sugar from the peddler’s wagon and the iceman delivered ice in block form.

The housewife mixed the ingredients while the man of the house chipped ice and prepared the salt. The kids waited with bated breath until the mixture came out of the house in a shiny freezer bucket. They had been warned that they would get no ice cream unless they helped turn the crank, freezing the mixture.

From the smallest child to the teenager, each waited anxiously to take a turn. Each wanted his or her fair share of homemade ice cream. The older folks proved to be quite smart. After they had the container in place, packed in ice and rock salt mixed to speed the rate of melting, they launched the youngest child to take a turn of the crank. As the mixture solidified and the crank became harder to turn, teenagers took their turns. Finally the ice cream master took over. Only he could determine exactly when the ice cream was ready.

Then came the housewife with a dipper or big spoon and a large dishpan ready to receive the freezer’s dasher (the plunger with paddles used to agitate the mixture). This was the fun part: All the kids who had helped crank the freezer got a spoonful of ice cream right off the dasher. Then the lid was returned to the canister and the ice cream was set aside for a bit to “ripen,” hardening it for scooping.

But what about now? How many kids today know about homemade ice cream? Not many. And how often do you see old-time ice cream freezers on display at tractor shows? Not often. In fact, Jerry Volk, Crestline, Ohio, is one of very few collectors who display antique ice cream freezers.

Several years ago, Jerry’s church sponsored a festival, and the organizers wanted to serve homemade ice cream. Jerry located a man who had a 5-gallon White Mountain ice cream freezer powered by a John Deere stationary gas engine. He was persuaded to set up at the festival, and Jerry helped with the operation. The ice cream was so well received that the church made it a regular part of their annual event. Jerry found a freezer and small engine, and manned the contraption for several years.

Jerry’s been fascinated by home freezers for years, probably because he grew up in a family that made ice cream every Sunday all summer long. But he didn’t become a collector until about eight years ago. Now retired, he shows his display at as many as 20 shows in Ohio, Indiana and Florida. Although he’s met other freezer collectors, he doesn’t know of any who set up displays.

A 4-quart White Mountain triple-action freezer was the start of his collection. Now he has nearly 100 unique hand-crank and electric home ice cream freezers, as well as a couple salesman’s sample freezers. He restores the freezers that go on the show circuit, and nearly all are in working order. Those on the inactive list need a new dasher or replating.

Jerry has made new buckets when the original wood or metal container is missing or damaged. But if the crank mechanism or cover are missing, restoration halts: There’s just no way to drive the dasher or turn the can without those parts.

His latest acquisition, a 20-quart (that’s 5 gallons!) Snow Ball unit made in Virginia arrived with a wooden bucket in disrepair (the bottom band was missing) and a crank mechanism, but no can. Fortunately, Jerry has a spare top that will fit, so he can have a new canister made. The project will entail hours of work, but the Snow Ball will be a great addition to his collection.

To demonstrate the freezers, Jerry makes one batch of ice cream every day he’s set up at a show. His 20-quart White Mountain freezer is mounted on a small, 2-wheeled cart; it’s powered by a 1-cylinder Briggs & Stratton engine. When the mixture is ready, he distributes it free to onlookers – making sure youngsters get first dibs.

When Jerry began displaying his collection in 2002, he covered one 8-foot table with freezers. Today, his collection spreads across four tables and others fill the space beneath the tables – and there’s still overflow.

As you tour your favorite shows in Ohio, Indiana and Florida, keep an eye peeled for the Ice Cream Man. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there just as he finishes his daily batch. FC