Words & Deeds

Scary Larry, Boise's beloved ice cream man, has died. His blue truck is for sale

Scary Larry and his ice cream truck make a quick stop in this 2006 photo.
Scary Larry and his ice cream truck make a quick stop in this 2006 photo. Statesman file

Summer in Boise hasn't been the same since kids stopped chasing Scary Larry's blue ice cream truck five years ago.

Those lazy days might seem a little bluer now that he's really gone.

Scary Larry, born Larry Pickler, died Monday morning at age 75 in a Spokane hospital. He became ill a couple of weeks ago at a senior living community in Pendleton, Oregon, according to his stepson, Shawn Kimmell.

Scary Larry sold ice cream in Boise neighborhoods for almost two decades.

"It's just incredible the impact that he's made on the community," says Kimmell, who lives in Boise. "He took care of everybody."

After Pickler's wife, Julie, died in 2013, he moved to Washington to be with family. To many Idahoans, the ice cream truck's music still rings like it was yesterday. Scary Larry was a last bastion of small-town America's generosity and values.

With the exception of a brain freeze, there was nothing threatening about buying ice cream from Scary Larry. He earned the nickname as an Oregon teenager after winning a bet by riding a horse off a cliff into Brownlee Reservoir. At least that's the story he told, Kimmell says.

As customers know, Scary Larry didn't always sell the ice cream. Probably too often, he gave treats away. Along with tomatoes, grapes and other produce from his bountiful garden.

Pickler had hip problems, so he puttered around in a repurposed Cushman meter-maid cart at first. "It was easier for him to get out of the three-wheeler," Kimmell says. After that, he used a mail Jeep. Then he acquired the iconic 1984 AMC truck that sent thousands of Boise grade schoolers into sugar-rush tizzies for a decade. The steering wheel was on the right-hand side, allowing Pickler to serve customers without getting out.

In 2006, Idaho Statesman columnist Tim Woodward rode along. This eight-paragraph excerpt captures the joy of a Scary Larry afternoon.

A loudspeaker blasting "Turkey in the Straw" announced his arrival. Children scampered, lemming-like, from house after house. Barely able to contain themselves, some jumped up and down as the truck rolled into view. Others did the "Scary Larry wave," arms flailing wildly in front of their faces as if warding off attacking insects.

He drives a different route every day "because parents don't appreciate it if you come every day." His routes cover most of the city, from Bench neighborhoods to Surprise Valley to Gary Lane. Even with that much territory to cover, he knows most of his customers and their needs.

"I keep money down there for the little kids who don't have enough," he said, pointing to a box of coins on the floor. "See these three kids up here. He won't have enough to pay for his sister. We're going to help him out."

Sure enough, the coins in the outstretched hand weren't nearly enough. Scary Larry ... makes up the difference. He tosses the coins into the box.

"Thanks, Scary Larry!" the boy says, a grin all but cracking his face.

"That's why I do this," Pickler said. "I'd make more money if I didn't give so much away. But I make more people smile in a week than some people do in a lifetime."

A single mother on a tight budget tells her children they each can have a $1 treat. She hands Pickler the money. Somehow an extra ice cream bar finds its way into the mother's hand.

"Every time I do that, I make a new friend," he said. "It's only money, and I have friends who help me do this."

Family helped Scary Larry get his start. Kimmell had fond childhood memories of running after an ice cream man in Boise's North End. So in 1990, he and his wife, Shelly, bought a meter-maid cart in Moses Lake, Washington, and got an ice-cream business rolling.

After they moved to Boise, Pickler followed. He hopped in the cart around 1994. Scary Larry emerged.

"It completely became Larry's personality," Kimmell says. "Everywhere he went, first thing out of his mouth was, 'Hey, I'm Scary Larry, the ice cream guy!'

"It didn't matter — in the line at the grocery store. Going out to dinner. Doctor's office."

Kimmell still has the old blue truck in his backyard. It's for sale. He says the couple has too many irons in the fire to restore it and run an ice cream business again.

The price is $2,000 or best offer on Facebook Marketplace. "Needs a battery and tires and can be driven," the ad says. "Would be a great restoration project."

Boise children are waiting. Does anyone want to revive the Scary Larry tradition?

It seems pretty likely that Pickler would approve.

"I know," Kimmell says, "that he would love to know that somebody was out doing that again."

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