Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer memories: Popsicle trucks rang in start of Berkshire summers
In the 1950s, summer officially began for us, Pittsfield kids on Sampson Parkway, when we would hear an electric bell ring at about 3 o'clock every afternoon.
No matter what we were doing, we'd run to our folks to get a nickel. Then we would line up at a designated stop on the street. And then a red and white Popsicle truck would stop at our spot.
Almost everyone would hold out the nickel for a twin stick Popsicle and ask the vendor, "What flavors do you have?"
For each youngster he would list all the flavors which might be root beer, orange, grape, cherry or the rare banana or pineapple. For a nickel you could also get a Fudgesicle. If you were able to con your folks for a dime, you could get an ice cream sandwich, Drumstick, Eskimo Pie, Creamsicle, Push-up or Dixie Cup with a wooden spoon. These treats were from ice cream heaven!
There were only a couple of ice cream truck vendors in the city back then, but the most recognized and dependable Jacob Skole. The Skole trucks were driven by high school and college boys that found the summer jobs lucrative and interesting.
There were seven or eight trucks mostly 1948-1953 Fords with red cabs and white freezers, some with a Howdy Doody logo. Skole had the corner on ice cream trucks from the late 1940s through the early 1970s.
Jacob, who had a law degree, got into the ice cream business back in 1946 when he began making homemade ice cream in the back of his general store at 242 Linden St. He and his wife, Estelle Plotsky Skole, had three sons, Allan, Don and Dick, who all helped in the business, which was called E. J. Skole and Sons.
Jacob bought his first truck in 1948 and over the next six summers, Don, the first driver, built a substantial home delivery ice cream route akin to milk delivery.
In 1953, Jacob sold his general store on the west side and moved his growing ice cream operation to 751 East St. The Skoles transitioned from their homemade brand into selling ice cream novelties that they bought from the Rivers Ice Cream Co. in Chicopee. The Skole brothers worked with their folks into the late 1950s before pursuing their own careers in the business world.
As a kid, I thought it was a cool job being the Popsicle man. In 1964 during summer break from college, I drove a vending truck for the old Model Dairy so I learned all the ropes.
In 1965, I had a day job, but Mr. Skole asked me if I was interested in an evening and weekend part time job. He had six of his red and white trucks plus a "canvas topped" old Dodge that said "Farm and Country Ice Cream."
I really liked this classic truck and drove it when I could. I had a following of young people lining up each night. Perhaps the best day ever for a Popsicle truck driver was when I parked my truck for seven hours on Newell Street at Lakewood Playground where the men's State Softball games were held.
I sold a $125 worth of treats — a lot of sales for 5 and 10 cent novelties back then.
I was noted in The Berkshire Eagle as being the only vendor there all day.
I have great and vivid memories of the Skoles (Jacob and Estelle) and working for them in 1965. They were fair and generous people. And of course, they helped make the childhoods of many of us memorable every summer with those old trucks ringing bells throughout the streets of Pittsfield.
Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native, is the founder of the newly opened Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." For more information on the project and books, go to berkshirecarousel.com or visit the carousel at 50 Center St. in Pittsfield.
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