by Dennis Dalman
Neighborhood kids are so attuned to Francis Gomes’s ice-cream wagon, they seem to have a knack for knowing just when it will come rolling down the street, even before they hear its merry storybook songs like Pop Goes the Weasel.
They grab some money and go running, leaping, skipping, bouncing curbside to buy delicious ice-cream treats in the warm days and even when it threatens to rain.
“It’s the most enjoyable job I’ve ever had,” said Gomes, who decided in 2012 to start his ice-cream wagon business, which he calls “Fun Time Ice Cream.” “It’s the most fun because the kids are so excited and there is so much laughter. They so look forward to it. I love to bring them happiness.”
Gomes, a Sartell resident, recently repainted his ice-cream bus, which was originally a short school bus he completely remodeled. The vehicle is so Technicolor bright and lively looking it could be seen blocks away even by the sight-impaired, no problem.
Gomes sells pre-packaged frozen ice-cream treats as well as some bagged snacks.
In 2012, Gomes retired as manager at McDonald’s McStop in south St. Cloud, but after only a month he became bored and restless.
“What can I do? What can I do?” he kept asking himself.
He kept remembering all the neighborhood ice-cream trucks he would see when he lived in Maryland and North Carolina.
Maybe I could drive an ice-cream truck and bring excitement and fun to kids,” he pondered.
He asked everyone, including his family – wife Shikha, daughters Justina and Christina and son Lawrence. They all thought it was a grand idea. And so it was.
“When I see those kids, I keep thinking one of them could grow up to be a leader, a doctor, a scientist or even a president,” Gomes said. “It brings me such pleasure that I am able to bring some happiness into their lives.”
Gomes travels the streets of Sartell, St. Joseph, Sauk Rapids, Rockville, Cold Spring, St. Augusta and St. Cloud. He has many favorite memories of his many rounds through neighborhoods.
One day, an older man and woman were sitting on the porch of their home in Cold Spring. The woman was knitting; the man was in the yard. Suddenly, the man saw Gomes’s ice-cream vehicle. He looked back, calling to his wife, then waved his hands wildly to make sure Gomes would stop. Gomes stopped. The man and his wife scurried over to the truck, both of them smiling to beat the band. Then Gomes found out why. When they were in their teens, the couple met in front of an ice-cream van. And the man said he fell in love with that girl instantly, at first sight. Delighted, Gomes wanted to give them their ice-cream treat for free, but they wouldn’t hear of it. They paid up just as they did when they were teenagers in love. The man has nostalgic memories of ice-cream trucks coming through neighborhoods, way back when, when a treat cost only a quarter. He told Gomes he’s so happy to see the tradition continuing in the greater St. Cloud area.
Two years ago in Sauk Rapids, a man in his 50s ordered a treat. The man used to sell ice cream in Iowa for years. He now trains employees for Hardware Hank stores.
Recently, on one of his stops, Gomes saw a little boy step up to the vehicle with his mother. The boy, wide-eyed with excitement, said, “Hey, mom, when I grow up I want to drive an ice-cream truck!”
Gomes smiles with delight when he recalls that boy’s excitement.
“That is why I love my job,” Gomes said. I bring so much happiness, and I will do this job as long as I can.”