Lynchburg resident aims to keep ice cream history alive
If it wasn’t for the mob, Strawberry Shortcake Bars and Chocolate Eclairs might not have been everyone’s favorite summer treat. And what’s a visit from the ice cream truck if you can’t get one of those to help you cool off?
That’s just one of the facts ice cream enthusiast Robert Jacobs (or Pops) loves to share when people spot him around Lynchburg with his authentic 1967 Ford Good Humor ice cream truck.
“It’s a neat story,” he said. “The mob demanded that Good Humor pay protection money and [their owner] refused. So, they blew up the factory that housed the trucks in Chicago and [the idea of an ice cream truck] gained national attention after that.”
After surviving a mob hit, it’s no surprise that the Good Humor brand has been around for more than 100 years. What started as an idea by Harry Burt in 1920 has turned into a multi-billion-dollar delicious empire.
Burt had come up with what he believed was a competitor to ice cream: a chocolate coated frozen treat. There was just one critique from his daughter: good, but way too messy to eat.
It was Burt’s son who first suggested the idea of adding a stick. That way, people could avoid getting their hands sticky or dirty. From there came more than 50 options of treats for customers to choose from.
But today only about 100 models of the Good Humor trucks remain—with one making its home in Lynchburg.
“Who Doesn’t Love Ice Cream?”
For Jacobs, the ice cream truck has always reminded him of great childhood memories.
“With five kids we didn’t really have a lot of money,” he said. “But when the ice cream guy came around it was a treat.”
It only made sense to eventually buy one as an adult.
“I had looked at several of them and finally did get one,” Jacobs said. “I figured it could be something I did once I retired, but I didn’t really do anything with it and ended up selling it.”
But after moving to Lynchburg to be closer to family several years ago, Jacobs decided to try again.
Finding an authentic one was not an easy task. While the trucks were once abundant, Good Humor sold its fleet in 1976 to focus on selling their ice cream in grocery stores. Many were lost, scrapped, or repurposed into other trucks like Mr. Softee.
Thankfully, Jacobs found another one and got it working once again. However, he didn’t stop there. If Jacobs was going to keep true authenticity of a Good Humor truck, he wanted to do it right. He invested in the starch white uniform and even the triangle hat.
“Starting out, ice cream was considered scary because it wasn’t sanitary,” Jacobs said. “That’s why, when you see photos of the uniform, it’s white because [Burt] wanted it to remind people of a doctor—which meant safe and clean.”
Being a Good Humor Man though is more than just a nice uniform. According to Jacobs, truck drivers had extensive customer service training they were required to do. Because of that it was considered a good job back in the ’30s and ’40s.
“That’s why they would come around and hand out ice cream from the curb,” Jacobs said. “It was about the personal face-to-face experience. In more modern ice cream trucks, someone hands you ice cream through a window instead of coming out of the truck.”
Jacobs said he found videos and articles online that helped him get the etiquette down. Then it was time to get it out on the road.
“We live in Boonsboro so I would just go up and down the block,” he said. “But it’s hard to hear because it doesn’t have a speaker with music. It just has a little bell that I ring instead.”
Now you can find Jacobs around at parks, special events, car dealerships, and even
“People have always come up to me and told me what good memories it brings back to them,” Jacobs said. “I had this family call me and asked me to come to their house so their six-year-old could see the truck with his grandparents. So at 10 a.m. I pulled up to the house and they all came out and took pictures. It was really special.”
Jacobs said he never expected the response he’s gotten.
“It all started when someone posted a photo of me on Living in Lynchburg [Facebook group] with the truck,” he said. “I think it got about 300 shares and it blew up. People wanted me to come to their neighborhoods.”
This year Jacobs said he’s working on getting his two trucks up and running for the summer.
“It’s a labor of love,” he said. “The cost can quickly add up. But I love doing this and hearing about people’s good memories.”
So if you see Jacobs out with the truck this summer, the real question is, what should you order?
“Creamsicles, Strawberry Shortcakes, Chocolate Eclairs—those are my big sellers.”