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Ice cream man a fixture around Casper

By Tom Mast

Casper Star-Tribune

Published: Thursday, Aug. 11 2011 11:30 a.m. MDT

Kendrick Jump reaches for his popsicle from ice cream truck owner Craig Gifford while his brother Karsen Jump waits in line behind him on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 in downtown Casper, Wyo. Gifford just started operating the ice cream truck in mid-June and travels all over the Casper area including Bar Nunn and Evansville.

Casper Star-Tribune, Kerry Huller, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CASPER, Wyo. — As the worn Chevy van lumbers down the street, Craig Gifford reflects on what he does:

"Have you ever gone trolling?" he asks.

That's when you hang a lure off the back of a slow-moving boat in hopes of attracting beautiful trout.

In Gifford's case, the lures are Popsicles and ice cream treats passed through a side window. His red ice cream wagon once provided a summer selling platform for "Dan the Ice Cream Man" in Glenrock.

Tunes blare as the 1965 van chugs along, including, for reasons unknown, a hard-wired version of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," which Gifford quickly skips.

People begin to gather from among trees and over hill crests at Washington Park in Casper.

"I've seen him drive by our block, but we haven't caught him yet, so we're excited," says Shawna Thomas, with two 4-year-olds in tow.

"Do you have anything for a dollar?" a little girl asks. Sorry, Popsicle and ice cream treats start at $2.

The ice cream truck crawls along at 3 miles per hour, the speed at which a person walks, while making frequent stops. Customers include kids and moms and construction workers renovating a house on Oakcrest Avenue.

In advance of the music, a group of kids has gathered farther down the street, waving and grinning to greet the ice cream man.

"I love this ice cream truck," says Kristopher Jump, age 13.

Sometimes what looks like a fruitless run down a short road will yield solid sales. "I never prejudge anywhere," Gifford says.

Baron Dober, a friend with an ice cream truck back East, once gave Gifford a tip about the business: Kids will buy from anyone, he advised. They don't care what the truck looks like. But you'll sell more to adults if the truck is old, because it reminds them of their childhood.

Savannah Drinkwater remembers an ice cream truck when she was a kid in California. "We used to run as fast as we could," she says.

The truck, with no more name than "ice cream" on the side, has been running since mid-June.

Despite its modest exterior, the old van contains a new cold-plate freezer that cost $7,000 delivered to Casper.

At night, Gifford plugs in the unit, which cools to 25 degrees below zero. It doesn't run while he's making deliveries. But even on the hottest days, he says the temperature hasn't risen higher than about 3 degrees above zero.

It takes Gifford about eight days to cover the whole town, including Bar Nunn. For next summer, he's thinking about a second truck.

One obstacle to putting his ice cream truck in service was buying insurance. "Nobody wants to insure something that little kids run at. It's one of the only vehicles in the world little kids run directly at," Gifford says.

In former days, Gifford was a service manager for automobile dealerships. He frequently disappointed people with bad news about expensive repairs.

His ice cream truck elicits no such response. Now, when he turns onto a street, Gifford is more likely to be greeted by "little kids out on the sidewalk, dancing to the music."

Information from: Casper Star-Tribune - Casper, http://www.trib.com

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