PEABODY — In a park here on the North Shore on a Friday afternoon, about 100 children are clamoring, waiting in eager anticipation for Allan Ganz’s ice cream truck to pull up blaring “Yankee Doodle.”
It’s a rare summer moment where the driver of an ice cream truck is perhaps even more popular than the slushies and ice cream sandwiches he’s selling.
When Ganz, 78, pulls in, he’s ready for the crowd, and it’s no wonder. He’s been selling sweet treats from an ice cream truck almost since World War II, for 68 years. He proudly shows off a certificate from last fall that states Guinness World Records recognizes him as having the “longest career as an ice cream man’’ — anywhere.
“The kids don’t ask for the ice cream man. They ask for Allan,” said Justin Barrasso, a summer recreational director for Peabody. “It’s about more than just ice cream.”
Barrasso, 32, was watching over children in a summer program at Jubilee Park on Friday. Once Ganz rolled up, his charges jumped off the jungle gym and swings and swarmed him.
Ganz, sporting a gray “Allan’s Ice Cream” T-shirt and khaki shorts,slid open his truck’s window and poked his head out to greet the children’s shouts, a huge grin spreading across his face. One boy said he liked Ganz’s new shorthaircut, another was just excited to say “hi.”
Ganz gets down to business quickly, effortlessly remembering dozens of children’s names and their usual orders. He said he gets his memory from his mother, but his love of ice cream from his father.
It is easy to make a joke that Ganz must have ice cream in his blood, but he does. He got his start at 10, working with his father, Louis — known as the Jolly Man in Everett — who also sold ice cream and did not stop running his truck until he was 86.
Ganz is not sure he will go as long as his father did. His wife, Rosalyn, said she thinks her husband has a few years left in his truck. But Ganz said he is not thinking about retirement now; he is having too much fun.
“I broke my own record,” Ganz said, explaining that in October he hit 67 years, which he surpassed this season. “And no retirement in sight, so I can keep on trucking for a while.”
Ganz retired from his job with the postal service 13 years ago, devoting his life since then to the ice cream business. His season runs about seven months, starting in April and wrapping up in October. He said he works seven days a week and takes off only one day in that stretch, his birthday in July.
A white and pink flag with ice cream cones on it waves outside his West Peabody home. He keeps his truck out back, as well as three freezers that store the ice cream, which he picks up from a nearby vendor every Thursday at 5 a.m.
He starts his shifts at 11 a.m. and does not stop work until 8:30 or 9 p.m., logging roughly 70 miles a day.
“It’s not as easy as it looks,” he says while driving his route Friday, gripping the wheel of his truck, which has accumulated more than 148,000 miles.
Behind the driver’s seat, Ganz’s truck is packed with treats. The ceiling is covered with drawings and cards from children over the years. Candies line the back wall: Pop Rocks, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Push-Pops, Pixy Stix, and more. Below sits his freezers, housing his ice cream sandwiches, cones, and Popsicles bearing cartoon faces.
His favorite? A classic, vanilla ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies.
Ganz said over the years the ice cream products have changed, marketing more cartoon and movie characters, but the children’s joy is still the same as it was 50 years ago.
Demetri Cassidy, 15, a counselor in training at the Peabody recreation program, remembers waiting in line for Allan as a little kid.
“You can see the joy he gets from it,” he said. “You’d expect someone his age to be sick of it.”
Ganz’s gig takes patience, especially when he’s serving big park crowds, but he helps children count their money and decide between a lemon-lime or blue raspberry slush with ease.
Barrasso, the recreation director, grew up getting ice cream from Ganz, too.
“When you heard that music, you’d just sprint,” he said.
Ganz said the Guinness recognition has given him a business boost. But it’s not the money that keeps him going — it’s the children’s smiles.