Jacob Miller serves up "fresh scoops of happiness" using a John Deere engine

Dan Hansen
Wisconsin State Farmer
Jacob Miller's portable ice cream maker powered by a vintage John Deere hit-and-miss gas engine is easy to find at any event he attends.

CECIL, Wis. – Jacob Miller is a prime example of a creative young entrepreneur in rural Wisconsin. At age 24, he currently owns and operates two very diverse businesses.

Following a family move from Ohio to Shawano County six years ago, he began working for a local building contractor. Three years later he went out on his own, starting a business where he and his crew of four (including Miller) install vinyl siding, soffit and facia on homes being remodeled.

Two years ago Miller began planning a new, yet very different business that many people in Wisconsin hadn’t seen. The business revolved around making ice cream at community events utilizing a vintage gasoline engine. “I had seen a similar setup in Ohio, and thought it would be neat to try something like that here,” he said.

Putt-Putt Ice Cream

“I ordered my engine, a 1956 John Deere hit-and-miss engine that’s been fully restored, and things started falling into place,” he said.

Noting that it’s called a hit-and-miss engine because under a heavy load it will fire every other time, “but under lighter loads the flywheel may turn several times before the engine fires,” he explained.

Playing off the sound made by the engine, Miller calls his business Putt Putt Ice Cream. “The old John Deere hit-and-miss engine is something that really draws attention from people of all ages,” he said. “Older folks might remember the sound from when they were young, and children are attracted to it because it’s a different sound and they wonder what it is.”

Miller admits it might have been easier to go the route of making ice cream using an electric motor, “but you’re not going to have that connection with people because it doesn’t draw as much of a crowd,” he said. 

The engine also attracts people with its unique look. “The 1.5 horsepower engine has exposed valves that people can see moving while it’s running,” he explained. While the engine is fueled by premium gasoline, it’s also water cooled. “We fill it with water, but once the water gets warm, we drain it, put in cold water and add ice to keep it running cool,” he said.

The engine and ice cream maker are permanently mounted on a small wagon that is rolled out of his enclosed trailer and can be set up at virtually any location. “I can make five gallons at a time,” he said.

A batch of Putt Putt Ice cream that’s ready to serve.

Toppings galore

There’s a stainless steel container inside the large bucket around which ice and salt are added. “The salt takes the temperature all the way down to about zero degrees; it’s usually between 5 and negative 5 degrees, Miller said.”

The container has a scraper inside that stirs the ingredients until the ice cream hardens. “This usually takes anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes,” Miller said. “The first batch takes a little longer but after that we average about a half-hour per batch.”

So far, he’s been making just vanilla ice cream, “but we also offer more than 10 toppings, including chocolate and caramel syrup so our customers can have a little more variety. Each serving includes one topping with an additional charge for extra toppings,” he said. 

In the future Miller is looking at also making chocolate ice cream and maybe other flavors for special occasions. He’s also considering establishing a brick and mortar store. His wife and sister also help make and serve the ice cream. It’s really a family run business,” he said. 

On the road

Miller takes his Putt- Putt Ice Cream to various area events. “Most of the events have been fairly local within about 45 minutes of Cecil,” he said. “We’ve been at the Mackville Tuck and Tractor pull, Shawano Fest, Bonduel Fourth of July celebration, Pulaski Polka Days and other summer festivals.”  

He’s tried some farmers’ markets, “but we don’t do quite as well because most are held in the morning or early afternoon, and ice cream sells better from noon to early evening,” he explained. “We’ve done really well at truck and tractor pulls, tractor and car shows.”

Being relatively new in the business, Miller finds that some events already have secured another ice cream vendor. “But others want us because they want authentic homemade ice cream that’s made onsite,” he related.

Coordinating with event organizers, he tries to book events several weeks in advance, and several months ahead for larger events, “but I probably should try to schedule them even further in advance,” he said.

You might find Putt Putt Ice cream at a few events yet this fall, including Bonduel Founders Day Saturday, Sept. 17, and maybe some craft show. “We do better at crafts shows and local events where everything is geared to homemade items,” he said. Miller is also available for company picnics and cookouts.

More information on Putt Putt Ice Cream is available on Facebook or be emailing puttputticecream@gmail.com, or by calling 715-584-1407.