PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — Nearly all Rhode Islanders know the unmistakable sound of a Palagis Ice Cream truck coming down the street.
Palagis trucks have been crisscrossing the Ocean State for more than a century, satisfying those with a sweet tooth since Peter Palagi first opened the business in 1896.
Three generations of Palagis owned and operated the company until 1998, when it was sold to Alex Arteaga.
Arteaga bought the business after driving a Palagis ice cream truck through Central Falls and Pawtucket for roughly 10 years.
“We’re on the streets every day,” he said. “Going up and down the streets, you see a lot of the same people.”
Arteaga tells 12 News it’s the eagerly awaiting customers that motivate him as a businessman.
“It’s one of the things that drives me,” he said. “The fact that people are waiting and they’re happy. The end product is not an ice cream sandwich … it’s the service that makes people happy.”
Throughout the years, Arteaga has never forgotten Palagis’ roots, which include a fleet of Ford Model A ice cream trucks.
“There was a fleet of six of them that had Peter Palagi’s name on it,” Arteaga said. “Peter was everywhere. Whoever drove the truck, they were Peter.”
That fleet has diminished over the years in favor of the company’s newer trucks.
But Arteaga tells 12 News there’s one vintage truck left, and he’s determined to restore it to its former glory.
The last time the bright yellow and red Palagis truck hit the road was in the early 1980s, according to Arteaga.
“It’s been hidden for 40 years,” Arteaga said.
The 90-year-old antique ice cream truck, he said, is in dire need of some love.
“We still need to do the inside,” Arteaga said. “Mechanically, we have to get it running. We have to paint it on the outside and redo the lettering … we’ve got to get that lettering right.”
The truck has enough room to fit a freezer in the back and also includes a side door window for the driver to pass the ice cream through to customers.
Even though the truck has been off the road for decades, Arteaga tells 12 News those who grew up with it are excited for its return.
He even brought the vintage truck to a party a couple of years ago after the host reached out to him.
“The truck wasn’t running,” Arteaga recalled. “It was old and peeled … it wasn’t in good shape, but they wanted it anyway.”
Without hesitation, Arteaga loaded the antique vehicle into a tow truck and brought it to the unsuspecting guests.
“The people inside [the party] didn’t know it was there,” he said. “[The host] gave everybody a nickel so they could come out and get surprised. They came to the truck and there was no ice cream in the truck, so we had to bring another truck where they got the ice cream. But it’s a conversation piece.”
When it comes to restoring the vintage ice cream truck, Arteaga said it’s not about the money.
“The goal is to restore it and use it to create excitement and happiness, which it does,” he said. “At the end of the day, people want to see it and it makes them happy. It’s wonderful.”
Arteaga hopes to have the vintage ice cream truck fully restored by January, though he acknowledged that good things take time.