Putt-putt, yum-yum

Miller churns homemade ice cream with tractor engine

CECIL, Wis. – If you happen to attend an outdoor summer event in northeastern Wisconsin, you just might hear the distinctive sound of an old-time tractor engine. Chances are, if you follow that sound, you will enjoy a delicious homemade ice cream treat.    
“A lot of people tell me they knew exactly where to find me because they could hear the engine from a couple of blocks away,” Miller said.
Jacob Miller, of Cecil, owns his ice cream business, Putt Putt Ice Cream. Miller keeps busy selling his homemade ice cream at events nearly every weekend from early June through the end of September.
“July and August are definitely my busiest times,” Miller said. “But, it keeps me fairly busy throughout the whole summer.”
Putt Putt Ice Cream is churned using a custom-ordered 1946 John Deere Hit and Miss tractor engine, which has been completely restored and attached to a 5-gallon ice cream freezer.     
“I grew up on a farm in Ohio and knew of several people that had homemade ice cream makers like this,” Miller said. “But, I haven’t seen another one around this area like it.”
The uniqueness of the machine captivates both young and old, and Miller said he enjoys sharing the experience that reminds him of his own childhood with those he meets at the different events.
“It really draws attention with the distinctive noise it makes,” Miller said. “People of every age group love it. The older generation enjoys reminiscing, because they grew up with tractors like that. The younger kids are just fascinated by it and love the sound.”
Since he began offering his ice cream, Miller said he has developed a following of many familiar faces that seek him out at events.
“I will see numerous familiar faces that are looking – or listening, as the case may be – for us,” Miller said.
Miller takes his Putt Putt Ice Cream machine to a variety of community events throughout the summer, making a vanilla ice cream that he said has a custard-like consistency. Miller offers a wide variety of toppings when serving his ice cream. He said crushed Heath candy bars and cookies and cream are two of the most popular toppings, along with chocolate and caramel syrups.
“The ice cream is classified as a custard because of the high percentage of dairy,” Miller said.
According to Miller, it takes about 20 minutes for the machine to make a 5-gallon batch of ice cream, and he estimates that each batch creates approximately 100 servings of ice cream. Miller said that during the average event, he makes anywhere from four to eight batches of ice cream.
The ice cream is made using a purchased ice cream mix, and Miller adds whole milk, sugar and vanilla flavoring. Miller uses a hand crank to fire up the tractor engine.
Currently, Miller operates his ice cream business from a pop-up tent and is a vendor only at local events.
Future plans for Putt Putt Ice Cream might include obtaining a food truck license, which Miller said will allow him to expand not only what he can offer to his customers but also increase his ability to attend more events and functions and possibly have regular non-event hours.
Miller said the gas-powered, water-cooled engine is fairly simple to operate and requires minimal maintenance to keep it running in tip-top shape, including oil changes after each 20 hours of operation and occasionally changing the spark plugs.
“The nostalgia of the old hit-and-miss engine, the homemade ice cream and the spirit of small-town community events have made this a very rewarding venture for me,” Miller said.


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