Old Iron and Ice Cream

Follow along as the Walls detail and show off their one of a kind 1928 John Deere engine that’s been transformed into an ice cream freezer.

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Kristie and Dean Wall have two great passions: rural life and family. Married 46 years with four children and 12 grandchildren, the couple resides in the small village of Sand Lake, Michigan, located about 30 miles north of Grand Rapids. They have operated Dean’s Landscaping & Excavating since 1977.

Dean collects and restores antique Ford trucks, but they don’t gather dust in a museum. At least one of the relics – a restored 1928 Ford Model A closed-cab pickup – is used to transport a mobile homemade ice cream operation. Using a 1928 John Deere hit-and-miss engine to crank a huge freezer, the pair dishes out free, homemade ice cream to mark special occasions within their community and their family.

Dean’s collection includes 14 Ford Model A and Model T trucks. Some have been completely restored, while others run and drive but are in more of an original state. All have Henry Ford’s original 40hp 4-cylinder engine, and three have matching serial numbers. “I hate to use the word rare, but they are hard to find and are not as available as some of the other models,” he says. “These pickups tended to be very durable and people just ran them into the ground until there was nothing left of them.”

Restoring a basket case

The 1928 Model A turned up at an estate sale roughly 5 miles from the Walls’ home. The assortment of items had belonged to an avid collector. “He died and someone who knew Dean and his interest wanted to help his daughters out by having Dean come in and buy it all,” Kristie explains.

The truck had been abandoned for approximately 20 years. “I found it all in pieces, spread over about four different buildings,” Dean says. “The engine block, which matched the serial number to the title that they (the daughters) had, was in one building, and the box was in another building. Most of the pieces were there, but it was quite a challenge. It was rusty and everything was seized up.”

It took six trailers to cart all of the parts home; restoration took five years. “I’ve done other restorations, so when we need stuff, there are a few catalogs out there we order from to get new parts,” Dean says. “But we try to get original parts when possible. I have some friends that will look through their inventory and help me out, and I have quite a large assortment of parts myself.”

The pickup still has its original 6-volt generator system. “Modern cars now are all 12 volt; this one and the other older ones have a positive ground,” he explains. The newer stuff is a negative ground.”

Putting an antique engine to work

A 1928 John Deere Model E 1-1/2hp stationary hit-and-miss engine powers the ice cream freezer that is trailered behind Dean’s Model A truck. The Walls purchased the engine about 25 years ago at the Buckley (Michigan) Old Engine Show.

“We were intrigued with the way the engine ran,” Dean says with a chuckle. “For quite a few years, we’d simply get it out on a Sunday and sit in the yard and let it run so we could listen to it.” On occasion, the couple used the engine to power their antique cider press. “We didn’t have enough people to turn the crank,” Kristie recalls.

For the past 10 years, the engine has provided power for the ice cream maker. Kristie uses Dean’s grandmother’s recipe for a 1-gallon ice cream maker. “I adapted it for the 5-gallon freezer,” she says. “It’s an old-fashioned recipe – basically sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla – and I kind of tweaked it.”

Reliable engine keeps the good times coming

The Walls’ sweet treat gets sampled at the 4-H fair, Sand Lake’s Fourth of July celebration, at tractor shows and at grandchildren’s parties and extracurricular activities. Dean says the 1-1/2hp engine provides more than enough power to run the ice cream maker.

“John Deere made the 1-1/2hp, plus a 3hp model that looked very similar, and they also made a 6hp engine,” he explains. “Most hit-and-miss engines had an open crank case, but the John Deere engines have an enclosed crank case. They were a little more sophisticated. They also have a magneto on them, so they make their own electricity.”

While the John Deere 1-1/2hp isn’t rare (14,000 were made up until 1946), Dean said its reliability makes it a gem. “I had engine issues once. The magnet on the magneto lost its magnetism and an old fella at the Buckley show told me to just find an old magnet and stick it on the side of it and it would work,” Dean says. “He was 100% correct. We ran with a magnet stuck onto the magneto for about four years, and that fixed it.”

The trailer used to haul the engine has an interesting back story. “It’s a Model A box, just like the pickup,” Dean says. “I found it in a guy’s backyard. They were using it for a sand box. We revamped it and made a trailer out of it.”

Hobby takes hold

Dean’s hobby has its roots in a holiday tradition. “I have an excavating business, and we put our dump trucks in the parade,” he says. “A friend called one Fourth of July and said his neighbor had an unrestored 1930 Model A dump truck that I should have for the parade. I scraped up the money and bought that, and I’ve been hooked ever since. That was 35 years ago. It’s still unrestored, and it still runs.”

Tinkering on farm equipment is a family trait. Dean says his father was mechanically inclined. Even the sweet, cold taste of ice cream is rooted in his family’s past. “When we were kids, Dad always made ice cream in a 1-gallon freezer,” he says with a smile. “As we got grandchildren, we needed a plan for making more ice cream than that.”

A self-professed “country boy,” Dean uses his vintage trucks as he checks on hay or goes hunting. But it is the human factor – sharing stories and bonding with other collectors – that makes it a worthwhile hobby for the couple. “Older people always have a story to tell that brings back a memory,” Kristie says, “especially when it comes to homemade ice cream.” FC

For more information: Email Dean Wall at deansexcavating@yahoo.com.

Sara Jordan-Heintz is an award-winning writer, editor and historian. Her articles have been published by the Associated Press and in Discover Vintage America, Antique Trader and others. Her most recent book, Going Hollywood: Midwesterners in Movieland, is out now. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SaraEliz90 or contact her at: rose111@netins.net.

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