REPOST: Super Twist Ice Cream article, WTRE
NOTE: This is a repost of an article I wrote for WTRE in May 2020 which originally appeared on my Medium portfolio as an excerpt. WTRE has since redesigned their website and articles prior to the redesign are unavailable. I still had the original document of this around. Sadly, I don’t believe I still have the photos (unless they turn out to be backed up somewhere) that were published online with the article so this is going to be a large wall of text. If I were writing this today, I’d tighten the word count (this clocks in at 1,453 words), maybe rework a few sentences that seem lacking in clarity to my eye, two years after this ran. But — this is how it ran and this is how it’ll remain on here. I wanted to give the full article a home again, because it’s one of my favorite articles from my time at WTRE.
After two calls over the past few days resulting in me leaving voicemails, I drove over to the Super Twist stand, camera in tow, to see if Danny “Smoke” Thornburg, the owner, was in. I figured if he was around but didn’t have time to talk, I’d pin down a time to call, snap photos while the weather was nice and buy myself a chocolate waffle cone. Pulling into Harvest’s parking lot, the familiar red and white ice cream stand sat amidst seasonal flowers, its menu displaying an array of flavors from the famed pineapple whip to blue goo, green apple and peanut butter. I walked up and asked the man at the window if a Danny Thornburg, who goes by “Smoke” was there — he was Smoke. After introducing myself, an interview occasionally interrupted by ice cream seeking customers commenced. Between customers, I learned how this much-anticipated Greensburg summer symbol came to be.
“They know more about my business than I do,” Smoke said, laughing, about some Facebook posts he’d heard about where people were saying the Super Twist stand was canceled this year — it’s not.
The Thornburg family has served ice cream for 55 years — they started in Harvest’s parking lot in 1966. Super Twist’s season starts at Harvest, then they make the rounds at several county fairs, including: Rush County, Bartholomew County, Morgan and Decatur Counties. From there, they can be found at Greenfield Riley Days, Friendship Flea Market and Seymour’s Oktoberfest. A typical season begins mid-April and wraps up in early October — 10 of Super Twists stops are places they’ve been visiting for over 50 years.
Smoke’s father bought the original Super Twist stand, said Smoke, “we were selling lemonade for the church at the Shelbyville fair — the guy had the pineapple whip there beside us. You could see him going to the back, taking a nip of whiskey, put it back, a little bit later he’d go back — a kid came up and ordered a pineapple whip. The guy held [the cone] out and fell, completely somersaulted out of the trailer, landed on his butt and still had the ice cream. Dad goes running over and picks him up, goes, ‘are you okay?’ [the owner says] ‘yeah, I’m alright but I’m going to have to do one of two things, quit drinking or quit selling ice cream. I guess I’m going to have to quit selling ice cream — see that woman selling jewelry over there, that’s my wife, I can go in there and work and sit on my butt in the back and drink all day,’ my dad said, ‘if you’re really thinking about selling it, I’ll buy it off you.’ That’s how we bought it. Dad said, ‘the first place I set it up, will you come show me how to run it?’ [the owner says] ‘Sure, where’s it going to be?” Smoke’s father set up shop at Harvest, telling the owner he wanted to set up somewhere slow as he didn’t know how to do everything. The original owner met with the Thornburgs at Harvest, Smoke recalled, “he was here about 10 minutes, he said, ‘is there a liquor store or bar around here?’ Dad said, ‘right down the road.” The original owner headed off to surface four hours later, looking wobbly — “I hope you’re having a good time,” he said — Smoke says that’s the last they saw him.
Over the years, Smoke has collected some stories, “I sold to the vice president one year,” he said. His funniest story, “when I was working at the fair [a] mom came over and bought one [ice cream] — and held it up for her boy to get started [boy was on the train ride]. The train hadn’t started and about that time the operator turned the ride on and just smashed [the ice cream] in his face.”
When Super Twist opened, they served one flavor — pineapple whip — and served that for 10 years. Their menu has since expanded to add chocolate, vanilla and twist, and it expanded again around 1994 — today they serve strawberry, butter pecan, peanut butter pecan, blue goo, green apple and more. “When some walk up, you know what they’re going to order,” said Smoke, “they get the same ones, same factory workers, this one guy comes here between 2 and 2:15 every day.” But, some customers do change their orders, “a farmer outside of town,” Smoke described one memorable order change, “butter pecan, butter pecan, butter pecan — then, he and his wife come on a Sunday. Nobody ever knew he was really married or had wife, [he] walked up and said, ‘two peanut butter,’ I said ‘peanut butter or butter pecan?’ He said, ‘peanut butter’ — he’s gotten peanut butter ever since.”
Pineapple whip, however, remains a favorite and Smoke had a few tales to tell about it, “I’d probably been in business about 35 years, Seymour Oktoberfest, guy walked up to the trailer, he said, ‘every place I go, I get a pineapple whip because they all taste different. I’ll take one.’ I gave it to him, he says, ‘I know who you got this trailer off of,’ I said, ‘well, not this trailer,’ he says, ‘I know where you got that pineapple recipe,’ I said, ‘you do,’ he said, ‘I worked for the guy about 40 years ago.’ He told me his name, then he told me what the recipe was, he said, ‘there ain’t no other pineapple that tastes like this, always different, but I know this one.” How popular is pineapple whip? “When I go to Bluffton, they never order, they just walk up ‘give me two,’ ‘give me four,’ and I’ll take somebody new up there to help me, they go, ‘four of what kind,’ [customer said] ‘there’s only one kind, pineapple,” Smoke said, adding that there, “if I sell 100 cones, out of 100 cones at least 90 will be pineapple — and they just come up and hold two fingers up, ‘give me two,’ and if I take help with me I [tell them] if they say that, just automatically make pineapple, that’s what they want.”
Smoke’s personal favorite flavor? “I guess it’d have to be the pineapple, back in the beginning we didn’t give them a choice — it was pineapple or nothing.”
“Going back to the same locations every year and just thinking that you’re going to run into this guy and the same people, you know, or wondering what happens to them if they’re not there. You go so many years, you see the same faces and the same customers come up year after year,” said Smoke — the customers and travel are his favorite parts of the job. “The parents come up here with, like, a little three-year-old kid, you know, and you’ll hand them the ice cream and they’ll just look up at you and say, ‘this is the best ice cream ever,’ and you know mom and dad’s not brainwashing them because they just up and say that. This one [customer], he come up here, said, ‘I gave the boys some Toys-R-Us [catalogs] to look through, said, pick out what you want for Christmas.’ The boy said, ‘Dad, you really know what I want, I’d like to see that ice cream guy come back to Harvest.’ Stuff like that makes you feel good, you know — I always like to talk to them, give them a little hard time, you know and cut up. There was a girl come here last year, she said, ‘oh, you’re back, I heard you were back in town, and all that and she said, ‘Give me blue goo,’ I think, then, ‘I told my mom and dad — I’m going to Purdue, I told them I was coming down to see them but I’m running late on time, I’ll get my ice cream and go back to Purdue and I’ll come back next week and see them.’ Mom and dad found out about it and they’re like, ‘she can come and get ice cream but she can’t come and see us,’ I thought that was pretty good, too.”
Last year, Smoke got a letter from Harvest’s owner, “just out of the blue when I left here last year, I get this letter when I’m at the Rushville Fair, I’m like, ‘what did I do wrong,’ you know, because I just left — I look and it’s a nice little letter I got.” The letter thanked him for coming all these years, Smoke said, “before I ever get up here, they say they get about eight or 10 calls a day — ‘when’s it gonna come, when’s it gonna come, when’s he gonna make it,’ I always wait until [Harvest] starts getting their flowers.”