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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

When Merrymobiles Weren't So Merry!

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 10:14 AM

MerrymobileDriver.jpg
A few weeks ago, I posted a story about the Merrymobiles, those little merry-go-round-shaped ice cream carts that rolled along the streets of Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s. I mentioned that, for reasons unknown to even the world's top scientists, just the sight of a Merrymobile made people smile.

Well, not always. I turned up a pair of old Memphis Press-Scimitar articles that told about the darker side of operating one of these contraptions.

The first story was headlined, "Merrymobile Man Claims She Drew Pistol on Him." This being Memphis and all, I don't know why this story surprised me, but dang — who would assault a Merrymobile driver? Well, Mrs. Shirley Marie Lucas, did. In July 1963, she operated the Pecan Hill Trailer Court at 2340 Raleigh-Millington Road. She later told police that she "loved children but hated litterbugs," so one day when a Merrymobile came to a stop in front of her property, fearing that those beloved children might throw their popsicle wrappers on the ground — horrors! — she told the driver to move on. When he refused, she pulled a pistol on him!

It's not clear what happened next, though I assume the driver did indeed move on, but the story says that charges of "disturbing the peace" against Mrs. Lucas were dropped, and she pleaded not guilty to carrying a pistol. I'm sure the Merrymobile driver decided to just avoid the trailer park after that. I certainly wouldn't risk my life selling popsicles.

That's the unfortunate driver, Robert Tramel, in the photo above. The newspaper said he was "mopping his brow after the stormy court hearing."

The other event, from a child's point of view, was probably more horrifying. Just imagine a little toddler, clutching his money in his hands, waiting on the curb after hearing the cheerful tinkle of the Merrymobile bells — only to see the little cart fly by IN FLAMES! Oh, I would have nightmares for years after witnessing such a terrifying sight.

But it actually happened. The event took place on March 15, 1961. Merrymobile driver Jim Kimmons had just pulled into the Merrymobile lot at 3050 Broad when there was an explosion, and the Press-Scimitar reported, "The red, white, and blue Merrymobile was engulfed in a bedazzling flame."

"Bedazzling"?

How could a Merrymobile possibly catch fire, you ask? Well, they were powered by tiny gasoline engines, and those engines had gas tanks, so something must have happened. That's just a theory, you understand.

Now it just so happens that Kimmons had been a former jet pilot. In all of his years in the Marines, though, he had never had to bail out of an airplane, and now he faced his greatest danger behind the wheel of a ... Merrymobile!

"He had never abandoned ship before," said the Press-Scimitar, "but the Marine abandoned this one. He dove through the flames, scrambling on hands and knees out of range. He was not injured."

Later, he posed besides the burned-out hulk for newspaper photographers and commented, "Can you ever imagine where the danger lies?"

And the worst tragedy of all — what happened to all those ice-cold popsicles? Too bad the driver didn't have time to quench the flames by smothering it with ice-cream sandwiches and Buried Treasures.

PHOTO COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS LIBRARIES

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