In the United States, an “ice cream soda” typically refers to a drink containing soda water, syrup, and ice cream, whereas a “float” is considered a soft drink, today, commonly root beer, with ice cream in it.
In 1950 my dad began selling 1-acre parcels of our little farm on which I had been born – now the Fischer & Wieser Farmstead. My mom wasn’t happy about that, but without her signature he could not sell any part of their homestead, reluctantly, she agreed. These 60 acres were special to her. Not only had my dad moved his family there in a cold January of 1935, but as a child of six years of age, she had picked cotton on this place. She often told me of those days – eating her lunch sitting outside on the cellar steps where she was able to watch the owners of the house as they sat in the kitchen eating theirs.
Since she had agreed to sell, we soon had neighbors. The second person to buy a parcel to the south of our home immediately sold a quarter acre to a California couple. They parked a small travel trailer and built a shed for it and their new ’50 Ford station wagon — (a woody). In the space between them they placed chairs where they could sit. They were the Hummels — Amelia and Arnold. Arnold had worked for Bell Telephone company in California and must have been a VIP because upon retirement, he was entitled to a private telephone line wherever he chose to live. Bell Telephone ran the line for them all the way out here to the farm. It must have cost a fortune. It ran right past our home, but we and our neighbors still had to retain our party line.
The Hummels were both in their mid-60s and had no children. I began to stop in to visit as I walked my old path down to the Ernst Kallenbergs, an elderly couple who were like my adopted grandparents. They had a Kaffeeklatsch both mid-morning and every mid-afternoon that I seldom missed. One day, on my way, I was invited by Mrs. Hummel to have a coke float — my first. It was delicious, and I soon began enjoying them frequently throughout the summers. I can still recall the taste as we sat outside their travel trailer and alongside that beautiful station wagon.
In researching a float’s ingredients, I discovered one should use Coco-Cola, vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and ice cubes. Mrs. Hummel didn’t quite make hers that way. She simply poured coke over several scoops of vanilla ice cream. It foamed, as it should have, and accompanied with an iced teaspoon, we sat, sipped, and visited. I soon learned to time my visits so it would be about the hour to enjoy another float. I listened to their stories of California. I could only imagine what it must have been like. We never seemed short of things to talk about. They returned to California every summer for two weeks, and during that time I watered their plants. I was always rewarded with a souvenir.
An ice cream float is an iconic American treat. It was invented by Robert McCay Green of Philadelphia in 1874. It seems Green ran out of ice for the flavored drinks he was selling and borrowed some vanilla ice cream from another vendor. Inadvertently, he invented a new drink. By 1910 his creation had become a national sensation. He was so proud of it that his will stipulated that the words, “Originator of the Ice Cream Soda” be engraved on his tombstone.
Soon other sodas were used, but likely the most famous was made with root beer. A gentleman named Frank J. Wisner is credited with inventing that in 1893 at Cripple Creek, Colorado, where he also happened to own the Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company. He became so excited with using root beer that he called his new sensation a Black Cow.
Mr. Kallenberg’s brother was a druggist who operated Kallenberg’s Drug Store, located at the corner of East Main and North Adams. It was a popular place for high schoolers. I suppose the first of the “bobbysocks crowd” began hanging out there after school in the ’40s. I can remember one rare occasion being allowed to tag along with my older sisters. The fountain and its booths, the buzz of that afternoon, I will never forget. Nor the soda I enjoyed that day. In my high school years, it was the Sunnyside Hut and the Tower which were all the rage. They were drive-ins, and many kids now had cars. Most of us had moved on to malts, and the Coke Floats that I had once so enjoyed began to be supplanted.
So were the Hummels. I was off to college in the fall of ’59. Home only in summers — I wasn’t visiting them as much as I had before, it seemed as if there was no longer time. I could also sense that their health was beginning to fail. Her death in the summer of ’62 devastated Arnold. They had been married nearly sixty years. His nephews took him to Victoria, Texas immediately after her funeral and I never saw him again. Their lot was sold, the trailer was taken away and I learned that he died the following year — I am certain of a broken heart. I am so grateful for the memories they gave me, and I still cherish those peaceful summer afternoons I spent with them babbling away so mindlessly as we enjoyed those simple and refreshing Coke Floats.
2 scoops vanilla ice cream
1 real Coke
¼ tsp vanilla
1 maraschino cherry
Scoop ice cream into a tall glass.
Top with Coke.
Gently stir in vanilla.
Top with cherry.
1 tbsp Chocolate Syrup
1 cup Coca-Cola
1 tbsp whole cream
1 scoop chocolate ice cream.
Place syrup in a tall glass.
Add ice cream.
Top with whole cream.