1931 Model A Ford: Ice Cream for Everyone

1_ 1931 Ford ice cream - CopyJoe Hornacek, a fan of puzzles, likes the challenge of fitting all the pieces together and watching a picture fall into place. He also likes to track down and restore vintage cars, which in many ways is like putting a puzzle together.

About 10 years ago, when Hornacek learned that a 1931 Ford Model A ice cream truck was rusting in a Michigan barn, he decided to check it out.

“I had never restored a commercial vehicle before,” Hornacek says, so he made the trip from his home in Rochester Hills to Port Huron, Mich., to see the truck.

“I was not impressed,” Hornacek remembers of the moment he first saw the rusting pile of ice cream truck parts. “The truck was a basket case with the body completely disassembled.”

Hornacek says he originally decided against buying the old Ford truck because it looked hopeless. But Hornacek decided to spread out the pile of parts, take some photographs of them and postpone a final decision on the truck until after he studied the photos.

You guessed it. A month later Hornacek, who at the time was a 58-year-old full-time electrical engineer, gave $5,000 for the pile of parts — and then thought, “What did I get myself into?”

Today — 10 years and some $35,000 later — the now 68-year-old retired electrical engineer has something he can be very proud of. In fact, his restored 1931 Good Humors Ice Cream truck sits in the Ford Model A Museum in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“It took me 10 years to restore it,” Hornacek says. “I did everything myself. I just finished it in May. The only thing I didn’t do is paint it, because I’m color blind.”

The truck is a 1931 Model A Ford with a 201-cubic inch, four-cylinder engine that produces 40 horsepower. A three-speed non-synchronized transmission transfers power to the wheels (675×19), which are stopped by a mechanical braking system. The truck has a 6-volt electrical system with a positive ground.

When the restoration began, Hornacek says he was unsure exactly where to start.

“I was concerned more about the ice cream box more than I was about the cab, although many parts of the cab had to be replaced,” Hornacek says. “Major parts of the chassis were present. Extra parts came with it. The windshield and doors were from other Model A vehicles.”

So Hornacek loaded the pile of pieces into a covered trailer and brought them home. He began restoring the ice cream box first, reasoning, “If it wasn’t going to turn out, I wouldn’t have lost any investment in restoring the chassis, drivetrain and body. I always like puzzles and this was the biggest puzzle.”

1_ 1931 Ford ice cream

Hornacek says his truck was originally used by an ice cream company in Detroit. In its earlier stages, the Good Humor Ice Cream Company was named The Good Humors Ice Cream Company, with the word “humors” being a synonym for “flavors” Hornacek says. The letter “s” was later dropped, he adds.

During his research, Hornacek found a Smithsonian Institute photograph of a 1930 Good Humors Ice Cream truck that had been in service in Chicago. The truck was nearly identical to Hornacek’s 1931 truck that had been used in Detroit, so he used the photograph to guide his restoration.

In 1930, the refrigerant used for the ice cream box was a brine salt solution loaded through a hatch in the roof. But in 1931, dry ice was introduced and loaded through a side door in Hornacek’s truck, the retired engineer says. There was also a rear hatch in the 1931 truck, necessitating a split bumper instead of the solid bumper in the 1930 model.

Hornacek has loaned his 1931 Model A Ice Cream Truck to the museum in Kalamazoo at the museum’s request through May. Then, Hornacek plans to trailer his prize to only a few shows and events.

His ultimate goal, though, is to use his Good Humors Ice Cream Truck to bring some happiness to kids who could really use it. Hornacek plans to drive his ice cream truck to children’s hospitals and local schools and park it out front, where he’ll pass out the ice cream for free.

— Steve Wheeler, Motor Matters

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