STEP TWENTY-ONE: 3 Flavor Icee Machine

$2,246.35 becomes $3,656.35 

If I'm going to do this, if I'm going to leave a mess of products, tools, parts, scraps of paper and empty boxes cluttering the office desk and bed, there had better be some progress made from it. This was the general sentiment coming recently from my wife, who saw me slipping into my winter selling craze. Actually, you might call it a winter buying craze with an occasional burst of selling.

Well, I spotted something while browsing the commercial business section of my local Craigslist. I love the business items for sale section. There's so much random crap. Once I saw a luggage elevator cart from an airport. Who wouldn't want one of those? And it wasn't expensive!

A Lancer 553 ic 3 Flavor Frozen Beverage Dispenser and it's all mine!
This time around I spotted a beverage machine. This wasn't a regular soda dispenser, this was an Icee Machine. You may call them Slushies, Frozen Drink Machines, Smoothie Makers, or Snow Cone drinks, but know that they are not all the same. For one, Slushie is the brand used and owned by 7-11 stores.  Slush drinks do not have carbonation. Icees on the other hand do have carbonation and the freezer component mixes with the carbonated water to give you a ever expanding frozen soda in a myriad of flavors.

These machines are massive and massively expensive when new.  I've seen some in my research cost $28,000 plus extras like a base cart, compressors and regulators.  So when I saw one listed locally for $1,500 I was intrigued.  Especially since I saw this model selling on Ebay for 4-5k.

Bought for $800, $65 invested, sold for $2,275
Project Profit: $3,656.35

This was a lot of money to spend. I was still overcoming my remorse about the Lamp Fiasco of 2012.  Should I tell my wife what I'm planning?  Will I be able to get it before it sells, is it already sold? Is it broken? What on earth do I know about commercial equipment?

I had a 2 hour break in my day a few days ago. I went to the bank to withdraw the money. While there, I quickly looked up the listing to make sure it hadn't been taken offline yet. Many times in local ads, people will sell something then forget to delete the ad.  This results in me going through weeks of disappointment over the one that got away.  So when I pulled up the ad and saw that it had been renewed with a new lower price of only $1,000, I knew it was only a matter of time before I lost it to someone else. I quickly took out the money, I set up a time to view the machine. The earliest he could meet me was the next morning at 9am.  I was ok with that because I new that if anyone else called him, he wouldn't be able to meet them any sooner.  I also asked him for the model number and other info about the unit. He didn't have any specifics but said he would give me that when I showed up. That tactic disabled me from being able to do any research the night before the big meeting. Lastly, before we hung up, I asked him if he had any idea how much it weighed.  I figured I could put it in the back of my van, but he said, "Well, it's the real deal. You know, you'll need to bring a trailer."

Oh.  I drove straight to U-haul and rented a motorcycle trailer with a ramp for $14 for a 24-hour period. Luckily my van has already been wired for a trailer, has a hitch and has extra suspension in the rear for towing my pop up camper.  I took the trailer home and parked it until the next morning.

After dropping the kids off at school (and having them ask why we were towing a big orange cart behind our van, I went to meet the seller. He owns a restaurant inside a Walmart and he explained that when he opened the restaurant, Walmart required him to sell all the snack items they sold in the store: popcorn, candy, and Icee frozen carbonated drinks.  It has been 5 years since that time and he finally got them to agree that he can get rid of the crap that doesn't fit his menu. Icee's were on that list.

The story made sense. The machine was turned on. He had bought new bags of syrup just to demo it for me.  Everything looked and sounded great. He had printed out the manuel to the machine from online and he was ready to deal.

When it came to negotiating, he asked what I planned to do with it. Honestly, I originally wanted to flip it but looking at it now, I was dreaming of being the man with the plan at every kid party in town.  This thing can churn out 31 gallons of Icee drink in an hour without skipping a beat.  Not to mention it has 3 flavor chambers, rolls on caster wheels and is built like a beast.

I explained that I might keep it for myself and friends or sell it to someone else. Then I asked if we could work on the price any, noting that I appreciated he had already dropped it significantly.  He looked to me for a number. I explained that I was more comfortable at around $800.  He didn't like the sound of that but I quickly swooped in and reminded him that he was a busy guy and he didn't likely want to spend him time dragging this thing out to demo it for a lot of other people. He certainly agreed with that. I asked how many others had asked about it. He said everyone before me had been spanish speakers and told him they were going to buy it and take it back to Mexico.  He indicated that there was a language barrier between them and he wasn't comfortable in that context.  Another plus for me.  Then I added that I had cash in hand, a trailer with a ramp in the lot and I would wheel it out right then. He agreed and the deal was done.

We both pushed it out the front of the store and I immediately realized how this could turn for the worse.  As we wheeled it, he informed me that I'd need a 30amp outlet to plug it into, a dedicated water line, a dedicated carbon dioxide line and supplies of syrup bags.  None of this made any sense to me but hey, I now owned a 500 pound Icee Machine!

Once we got it to the trailer's ramp, we tried to wheel it up.  Something so heavy doesn't just pop up onto the 2 inch lip of a steel ramp and it took everything we had to tilt it back far enough to get it on the ramp without letting it topple over backwards.

After it was loaded, I thanked him and tried my best to secure it with some straps I'd brought. It needed to stay upright in transit and should have been in a box truck but I did my best using 4 ratcheting straps.  It looked fine but as I got on the road, I found that a 7 foot tall steel box on a steel trailer with no shocks was jarring the whole thing, even at 15 miles per hour. It was a 12 mile drive home and took me the better part of an hour with hazards on.  Somehow I made it home, recruited a neighbor's son to help me ease it down the ramp into the garage and I sighed relief as I returned the trailer.

But wait! The machine was still full of Icee product. The seller had filled and frozen it for me to see that it worked and now I had a machine full of sugary ice drink (3 flavors nonetheless) and now way to drain it as it has to be powered on and hooked up to fluid to properly drain!

I needed someone to come drain this machine that I just bought.  It's a 500 pound 3-flavor Icee machine that spits out 3200 ounces of flavored iced soda every hour.  It's full of product and parked, powerless in my garage. I need the syrup drained out of the lines so that I can list the item for sale and get rid of it.

I first looked up the service department for the company online. The manual the seller printed out for me was by Cornelius, a major brand in these machines.  Looking at the serial number on the back of the machine though I saw it was made by Lancer, another major player.  This was, indeed, the Icee machine most often used to make Icees for convenience stores.  Lancer doesn't list any technicians in Tucson but they do have about 5 reps in Phoenix.  The next morning I called their office and the technician started off by pleasantly asking for the name of my store.

"Uh, I don't have one."

-- Long Pause of Silence --

"Ok, sir. Why don't you give me your address."

I did and they responded, "Hmm, it's not coming up.:

That's when I explained that my address wouldn't be in their system because I had just bought it yesterday.

"Oh, I see, it's just not in our system yet," he said as if we'd both just realized the dark shadow on the wall was only coming from Billy's teddy bear by the lamp.

"No, you don't understand. I didn't buy it from you."

"Well sir, ... who did you buy it from?" Suddenly his voice was more authoritarian, seeking answers that weren't coming quickly enough for him, or the agent listening in to the recording to "ensure quality control" (of who?)

This was starting to sound like an interrogation from the Icee Police.

I explained that I bought it online and had just picked it up locally.

"Oh, so ... what do you plan to do with our machine?"  I found his choice of words interesting.

"Well, I may just hook it up in my house, or sell it to a friend (we're all friends in a way, aren't we?).

"Ok, I see. Well why don't you give me the model number and serial number and we'll try and help you."

I went back to the garage and wrote down both, then called him back and left a message.  He called me back several hours later and explained, almost with a sound that we both should have had taken as relief, that I was in fact legally allowed to own the machine and that the seller was also allowed to sell it to me.

He said that initially "everyone in his office" thought this unit still belonged to the Icee company and that I had no right to buy it. Looking into this, they checked their service and sales records and found that they had in fact sold it to the owner whom I had bought it from.  Whew?

He eventually agreed to help me and offered to connect me with a service person for the Icee company. Lancer just makes the machine and they don't have service techs, but Icee does.  I called Icee at the number they gave and left a message.

Icee Adventure, Part II

The whole episode just keeps evolving. I keep trying to explain it to my wife and co-workers and no one seems to realize how complicated the situation is.

I think this would qualify as a tall tale. Let's try it.

This step is like me seeing that NASA is having a garage sale on used space shuttles. They're hugely expensive, ultra cool, and sold cheaply when taken out of service.  The only problem is that your average Sears fix-it man won't come to your house for a service call on a space shuttle.  Getting a space shuttle home is a challenge (as we saw in real time in California last year).  The plug for accessories on the space shuttle isn't your standard 12v outlet and reading diagrams for the space shuttle is a few steps longer than the Snap-Kit car you proudly put together in 14 minutes at your 7th birthday party.

Today was day 2 of this fiasco and the Icee rep did call me back. He was very nice and explained that they could come out for about $200 and flush the machine. But he also said that I sounded competent and that flushing it was very easy and that I could probably do it myself.

So I'm hoping this isn't too technical but I was able to figure it out, so perhaps you can too. I needed to make a plug adapter that would allow me to plug this beast into a giant power outlet. Luckily, a neighbor installed a welding outlet in my garage some years ago.  It's a 50amp 3 wire outlet that needs to connect to the drink machine's 3 wire, 30amp twist lock plug.  I found all of the parts at Home Depot and connected them using 6-gauge 3-strand wire.  Of course, that was the one size they were sold out of. By chance I checked the sale rack and found a piece of the right size and just long enough. Everything looked good until I tried to plug it in tonight for the first time. The twist lock plug on the machine didn't fit into the twist lock socket I bought and I needed to figure out why.  Once that is done, I will try and adapt an air compressor tank I have instead of buying a CO2 tank just for this cleaning. The rep said that would work to pressurize the lines.  Finally, I'll need to hook up a water line and I may be able to use a line from a nearby work sink. 

The adventure continues this weekend!

Icee Adventure, Part III

The female twist lock plug I had bought was a 125volt. What I needed was a 250 volt model and the length of the prongs are reversed between the two.  Once that was figured out I returned to the garage, plugged it in and - voila - the lights kicked on, the fan started running and we were in business. Well, that was one of the four systems working.

The bags of syrup were still connected by their long plastic tubes. That's two.

I took my portable air compressor tank and hooked it up to the CO2 line for the machine using some adapter pieces I'd found at Walmart, surprisingly enough.  (Going back to the dilemma about how much time do I devote to this project versus spending time with my family: I feel less guilty doing this stuff late at night after everyone is fed and asleep. The problem with that is that all of the specialty stores are closed by that time of night and my options for parts are very limited.  For instance, when I figured out that the connector I'd bought for the air line was the wrong part, Home Depot was already closed. That left WalMart as the only option left and I was sure they wouldn't have it.  Every once in awhile you get pleasantly surprised, even by WalMart.  Granted, I was there at 10 pm so my trip there doubled as a ticket to the freak show, but I came home happy to have what I needed).  Part three done.

The last ingredient I needed was a water line.  My garage has a sink but it is 45 feet away from my welding outlet.  I figured garden hose was cheaper than a 50 foot 30-amp extension cord, so I opted to try and power the machine next to the outlet and run a water line across my workshop.  The good folks at Home Depot earlier in the day had suggested I use a garden hose with a faucet adapter. I already owned a hose so that was a no-brainer and $2 later I was ready to hook that up as well.  Part four done.

Once everything was hooked up, it looked like a junkyard emergency room.  The compressor was pumping away with piercing motor noise and hissing because my connection wasn't fully airtight, the water was dripping from a loose connection from my hose adapter, the 50amp to 30amp power plug capable of frying 180-pound summer sausage on contact was humming away inches from my feet, and I moved closer to the center of it all.  Pushing the control panel LED buttons, I began the sequence of launch codes to begin sanitization of this beast.  The manual is fairly user-friendly and within just a few minutes I had figured out how to turn on the beaters, the CO2 solenoids to activate the pressure in the canisters and open the tap, causing 3 gallons of melted flat soda to finally spill out of its chamber.  I did that for all 3 flavors. Then came the time to try and purge the tubes coming from the bags of syrup.

Icee makes special adapters that you need in order to flush the lines of these machines. I didn't have any such adapters, naturally.  So instead, I had to find a way to push in a spring loaded nipple on the end of the clamp so that a mixture of sanitizing water could be flushed through the lines. If I don't find a way to keep this nipple open, then the syrup will never get sucked up the tube, like when you put your finger on the end of a straw and are able to transport a straw full of drink without spilling it.  Using a mending brace (basically a bar of metal with holes drilled in it) and a screw inserted in one of the holes, I was able to use some small vice clamps to clamp the brace across the end of the tube. The screw I had inserted pushed the nipple down and there was just enough clearance that the sanitizing water could get in and be drawn up.  I tell ya, hunkered down in the workshop at midnight seeing that bleach water get drawn up the tube and seeing the tube run clear for the first time was a sight to behold.  That was a lot of work to make that happen and the feeling of accomplishment seeing it work was well worth it.

The manual described a triple flush method: empty the chambers of product, then fill the chambers 2/3 full of cleaner, then drain. Then fill 1/2 full of cleaner and drain. Then take apart the handle, faceplate and empty all liquid from the chambers. I did that and it was really starting to look nice and clean.

The next day I just needed about 2 hours to finish up and wipe down all of the surfaces of it and take some pictures of it to list online.  The problem with that was that my wife needed a mid-day nap. My kids were tired and needed some occupying and I needed to be in the garage.  I weighed the options. If I left the kids alone, it would be a full 3.4 minutes before they started screaming at each other. Result: wife wakes up grumpy and I'm in the doghouse. Next option: turn on a tv program for them. Result: they'd eventually find something so funny on Netflix that they'd forget to be quiet and laugh incredibly hard thereby waking up a grumpy mommy, or they would get into an argument about what to watch and - yes, wake up a grumpy mommy.  I considered taking them with me to the garage. "Come on kids, Daddy's gonna show you how to use buckets of water with a scary amount of jerry-rigged electricity!" Result: ... actually, let's not consider that one.

What I ended up doing was giving one kid the Ipad and the other the laptop.  Then, just to make sure there wasn't going to be a problem that I couldn't solve, I broke out the 2-way radios.  I wore one on my hip and left the other with them along with these explicit instructions delivered in a stern hush, "Ok kids, Mommy is sleeping! If you wake her up we are all in big trouble! If you need anything, call me on the radio and I will come right back in.  Neither of you should be touching each other's computer. Neither of you should talk to each other. Now who wants a snack and a drink of water?"

Behold, it worked. I got two hours to finish up the cleaning. I scrubbed the old syrup stains off the machine. I wheeled it out into the sunlight and took some great pictures of it in the afternoon light, and I put away my tools.

And the wife? She got a 2 1/2 hour nap and, while she wasn't thrilled over my multitasking, did say she appreciated the rest.  Then she added, "Just make sure you include this in your blog."  I think she just wants to make sure the world sees the sacrifices our family is making for this crazy pursuit of mine. Sacrifices, like 2 hours unlimited access to is some form of torture. "Don't close it yet, Daddy! I almost earned my 4th Creature Power Suit in Wild Kratts!"
"Sorry kids, 2 hours is 2 hours. "

UPDATE: 2/09/13 

The machine is tested. The machine is cleaned. The machine is sanitized for your protection! With some good photographs in the digital camera and research on comparable models done, the machine is FOR SALE! I listed the Icee machine on Ebay for a 5 day auction with a buy it now price of $4,000.  What? I can dream can't I?

Actually, a machine similar to this sold for that much last week.  But just yesterday another one with only 2 flavors sold for $1,200, so I'm curious what it will bring for me.  After the first day with not much traffic and no "watchers" (people who click to follow the auction), I decided to scale things back. I changed it to $3,600 Buy It Now (meaning it's not an auction but people pay that much) - or Best Offer (meaning they can submit me their offers and I can accept or decline them.  Today I got my first offer and I am considering it, though I'm hopeful they would consider raising the amount if we were to make a deal.  Only two days left on this first attempt. There's also nothing wrong with letting it ride and relisting it if I don't like any of the offers. We'll see what happens on Saturday!

Update:  The auction ended without a sale, but there were nibbles.  I have some regrets about the way I listed it the first time but I also appreciate the feedback I got from bidders during the process.  Since a similar machine sold for $4k two weeks ago, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try for the same amount. There was very little traffic at that level, so after 2 days I lowered it to $3,600.  There are also two other machines on Ebay right now for a similar price so I decided to undercut the competition by offering Free Shipping if bought at full price ($3,600).  That feature seemed to help as I got three offers soon after.  The first, and the one I'm wondering if I should have accepted, was for $1,800.  That would have resulted in a decent profit and gotten it out of my hands after only a few days.  Though I was hoping for dollar signs, I've learned now both through this item and the slag glass lamp that getting a serious offer sometimes can be a good enough reason to accept a lower amount.  After all, it may not result in as much money as you want, but it is money that you can try and reinvest into something more lucrative.

I made a counter offer to the bidder trying to get the price up a bit higher, but they explained that they had access to a 4-flavor machine in their town for $3k, so it wouldn't make sense to buy mine for more. I then lowered my price for them to $2,400 but they didn't go for it.

After that I got an offer for $500 and another low ball for $100.

The auction ended with no sale.  Now I know, based on the number of page views and type of bids I got, that my price range was high for this type of year and if I want to sell it quickly, I'll need to lower the price much further.

Speaking of weather, the monster winter storm is just now starting to be cleaned up on the East Coast and I don't think blustery wintry weather causes people to log onto their computer and ask, "I wonder what kind of a deal I can get on an Icee machine today?"

To ensure that this thing sells, I've now put it online for a 7 day auction rather than Fixed Price. There is no reserve and I've listed it to start bidding at $1000.  Just in case someone comes along who is very interested, I've kept a Buy It Now option on there for $3k, but I believe that goes away after the first  bid is placed.

Fingers crossed.

Update: 3 days left on the auction, the the bids are trickling in. Currently I'm at 5 bids topping out at $1,235.  At this point I'm starting to sigh relief and peek out of the woods on this one. More padding room would help make up for the time and stress already spent, however.
Final Update: With 10 minutes left in the auction, the bid was up to $1,500. I was already resigned to accept that as a decent profit on the item if the bidding ended there. But then the last four minutes happened. I didn't get the full $4k I had dreamed of, but it went up another $775.  I love when that happens in 4 minutes. Moving on.

PS - for those interested in how something like this gets shipped, buyer pays shipping unless the seller offers it. I offered free shipping if it sold for $3k but not below that. Calling around, I found UPS Freight offered to move it for $700 but when I called to confirm, the quote jumped to $1,700. I asked why and they explained that the website was about 50% off from what they could quote me. So I logged back on and tried again, now it was $800.  Instead, I called Freight Quote, who can broker a deal with big companies like UPS, and they got the bid way down to near $500.  It pays to shop around and the buyer was happy I did!

Downer Update 2/24/13: I did everything I could to take care of this machine.  I called the manufacturer and the product vendor for recommendations on how to sanitize it. I followed UPS's guidelines for packaging it, placing it on a pallet and wrapping the sides in styrofoam and cardboard. I strapped it down with an industrial strength ratcheting strap.  I paid extra for shipping insurance and I called UPS to verify that they would pickup the item on Thursday before 5 pm.  Everything was a green light.  At 2 on Thursday, I called UPS to verify that they were still coming. At 4:55, I called again and this time they said, "Our truck is there now!"

I ran down to my workshop to find the semi truck being closed up and the driver done with the job. I asked what was happening. He said that he had loaded the machine and was finishing up. I asked if everything was ok. He said that while he was using the pallet jack, the pallet and machine tilted. He apparently didn't know that the machine was top heavy and it toppled over sideways, falling off of the pallet and crashing on the ground on its side. He then tried to lift it and could not do so on his own. Even though I had left instructions for UPS to call me before they arrived, and even though he had my number on the pick up sheet, he still did not think to call me at this point. He did call his manager who drove to the site from his office to help him lift the item. He then ditched the pallet and loaded the machine into the truck on its own wheels, something I had asked to do but was told the driver would refuse to do. By the time I arrived, the machine was loaded into the truck and strapped to the wall.  I asked to inspect the machine. It clearly suffered damage. The top panel was pushed up. The back panel look like it shifted down. The weight of such a machine falling to the ground must have forced other internal damage.  I couldn't believe it. How could all of my work on this project be ruined in just a few minutes, and all because I hadn't been able to help? I would have gladly help load it, or cautioned him. Or suggested we stop when it looked like a problem. But that didn't happen.  And sometimes you'll lose control of the thing that you've been the most careful with. I wanted to take it off the truck and inspect it. But I'd rather have him deliver the item and have damages assessed after transport instead of risk having the shipper deny damage if it wasn't on their truck.
Top of damaged machine, dropped by UPS at pickup. 

I took a photo of the bent top. I wrote a statement on both shipping labels - mine and the driver's - and had him initial the statement of damage. I called Freight Quote, who I booked the shipping through, to initiate the claim for damages, and I immediately contacted the buyer to let them know the sad news.

I don't know what will happen next. I expect the item will arrive at its destination midweek. At that time, I will try to have an Icee rep meet the item at its location for a thorough assessment of damages. If it is deemed to be a total loss, I'll let UPS know and hopefully they will refund the total amount plus shipping.  If it is repairable, hopefully they will cover that as well.  I am expecting a call from the Claim Specialist from Freight Quote this week and am hoping to get the paperwork started even as the item is still being delivered.

The one bright spot in this sour turn of events was actually the buyer. I have kept the buyer informed of each step through this unfortunate mess and their response has been understandingly disappointed but hopeful that this can still turn out to be a worthwhile purchase. Working with someone who is able to take knocks in stride truly makes this process tolerable.

Bought for $800, $65 invested, sold for $2,275
Project Profit: $3,656.35


  1. I just bought an ICEE machine too, unfortunately ICEE was not as willing to offer advice/help as they were with you. Do you still have the manual by chance?

  2. I googled it and found it online. Model name of mine was FBD 553ic. If yours looks similar to mine you should be able to find it online as well. I think it's a PDF format. Good luck! It's a great machine!

  3. Thanks, your help is much appreciated. And the walk through of how you got everything hooked up gives me hope, it cleared a few things up for me. I will be enjoying ICEEs soon!

  4. hey i would love to buy this.