Whether it's the ringing of a bell, the familiar Mr. Softee tune or simply the words "Ice Cream" hollered out, shore visitors know that whenever they may be looking to cool off, the local ice cream man is there to oblige.

It's a role that Ron Kearns has been happy to play for more than two decades.

Kearns, 67, is known throughout his hometown of Ocean City as Pirate Ron, the owner of a series of bright yellow trucks that cruise through the resort looking for customers.

"I'm kind of hard to miss," Kearns said.

Shore towns allow restrict the number of ice cream vendors and where they can sell their goods. While Kearns is not licensed to sell on the boardwalk, his truck is licensed by the city to sell throughout the streets.

Kearns is eager to keep his customers happy, but in doing so, he has a very strict set of rules to follow when it comes to selling ice cream.

The most desirable business is on the beach, since that's where the customers are working up the biggest sweat in an area without air conditioning.

Kearns cannot take his truck on the beach, and he can't walk more than 25 feet onto the beach per city rules.

To resolve that, Kearns stands on the edge of the beach and rings a bell, which he can do for only 15 seconds as per noise ordinance.

Even with lunchtime just around the corner, Kearns is able to lure a couple of dozen people from the beach to his truck.

While he never fails to lure a few customers in, those customers are not necessarily the same people coming from the beach day after day.

"I told my kids they could go to the ice cream truck only once this week," John Howe, 41, of Aston, Pa., said as he paid for ice cream bars for his three sons.

However, Howe said that despite trying to save money on their weeklong vacation, he wasn't about to deprive his children of that one visit to the ice cream truck.

"If we're here, we're definitely going to the ice cream truck," Howe said.

Kearns doesn't like to talk about how much money he makes in a given day. More than anything, it's to keep the competition in the dark. However, he does say that 2010 has been a good year.

He may not get daily customers, or even weekly customers, but Kearns said the ice cream truck does seem to make an impression on people visiting the shore.

"I'll have kids come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember me from last year?'" Kearns said. "And they'll rattle off exactly what they got from me."

Walking the strand

While Kearns follows a set of rules that keep him off the beach, ice cream vendors in Wildwood follow a seemingly opposite set of rules in that they can sell only to people on the sand.

It's a routine that Mark Gose has followed for the past five summers. Gose, 47, is a captain with the Wildwood Fire Department, but he spends several hours a week hawking ice cream sandwiches, fudge bars and an array of frozen goodies from a makeshift cart along the length of the Wildwood beach.

Gose is one of 15 vendors licensed to sell on the beach. Some strap a cooler onto the front of a small ATV. Gose has four large coolers strapped together with large rubber wheels guiding him along the sand.

He starts a typical day at about 11 a.m., and when asked when it ends he simply asks, "How long are the people out here?"

The longest days of summer can be long but profitable days for vendors. However, Gose was quick to point out that ice cream truck drivers should not be jealous of the business he gets.

"Up there, they can sit in an air-conditioned truck," Gose said. "Out here, it's all manpower."

Gose has been selling ice cream long enough to observe odd trends among his orders. He said girls tend to order a series of chocolate items in the middle of the board, while French-Canadians stick to the right side of the board.

Gose said he figures if he makes $10 an hour, he's doing well, since that's what people on the beach patrol make. Since he's not retired from his Fire Department job, he said this job is a way to enjoy his time while putting a little money aside.

"This is my office," Gose said, indicating the entire beach. "You can't get much better than that."

Contact Ben Leach:

609-463-6712