Tethered to the shore of the LeClaire Canal, it was clear by his incessant barking that Harvey wanted to get this show on the road.

But similar to the way sled dogs relentlessly howl before the start of a race and then abruptly stop right before takeoff, silence suddenly filled the air when this pup realized it was go time.

The yelping ceased when Harvey’s owner, Tom Schoville, strapped a life jacket to the 4-year-old golden retriever.

In lieu of a sled, they hopped on a water bike and hit the canal, a slip of river between Smith's Island and the Iowa shoreline, just north of Lock and Dam 14 in LeClaire.

“He loves it out there,” said Schoville, whose pedaling powers the rig. “If he can find a mat with kids on it, I can hardly keep him on the bike.”

Ice cream, anyone? 

On their outings, which happen most weekends during the summer months, the social duo attempts to greet as many boaters as possible.

That effort, coupled with a cooler stocked full of frozen treats, makes for entertaining interactions on the water, not to mention good business.

Before they head out, the intrepid entrepreneur makes sure he has a heap of ICEE tubes, Klondike bars, ice cream-filled Snickers and traditional frozen Snickers, on board.

His wife, Julie, purchases the goods in bulk from Sam’s Club in Davenport and stores them in the freezer at their waterfront cabin off Great River Road, which they have owned since 1995.

On the water, Schoville sells them individually for $1-$1.50.

Although his earnings cover the cost of the desserts, gasoline for his family’s boat and “maybe a few rounds of golf,” the 62-year-old stressed that it’s not about the money.

“I probably should charge a little more than I do, but to me, it’s more about meeting people,” he said. “Everybody’s out having a great time, and I have a great time doing it.”

Inspired by the Geffert’s Burger Boat (now MiMi's Burger Boat), which formerly catered to customers on the canal, Schoville had to figure out what rules, regulations and codes he needed to follow before launching the venture in 2011.

He cleared his idea with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and obtained a vending license through the Scott County Health Department, which he must renew every season.

“I’m fairly legit doing this,” he said.

'Good workout'

Initially, the Schovilles, who have a permanent residence in Bettendorf, thought it would be a fun way for their son, Scott, to earn some extra cash in the summer.

However, he didn’t feel comfortable approaching strangers on a unique, but unusual, watercraft, his folks said.

“It didn’t click with him, but it kind of did with me,” said Schoville, referring to himself as the “fun police.” “I can go up to just about anybody, and I think the whole package intrigues people.”

The former competitive water skier said he discovered water bikes in the early 1990s during a trip to Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks. In 2000, he purchased six of them from Hydrobikes Inc., which is based in Humboldt, Iowa.

Currently, the bikes are listed at $2,200 apiece. Supported by two pontoons, the platform can support up to 400 pounds and is “virtually impossible to tip over,” according to the company’s website.

Pedaling fuels the craft’s propeller, which drives the bike, and steering is controlled by the handlebars that are connected to a rudder in the water.

During the work week, Schoville said he often will take his bike out for a joyride.

“When I’m really energetic, I’ll ride to the Interstate 80 bridge and back,” he said, noting the current picks up when he enters the main channel. “It’s a pretty good workout.”

'Staple of the river'

Photographer Kevin Schmidt and I shadowed the ice cream man and his dog on one of their recent laps around the canal. We hitched a ride from their neighbor and friend, Dan Tucker, who transported us on his boat.

The Chicagoland resident keeps two water bikes, which Schoville donated to the neighborhood, at his family’s cabin just a couple of properties downstream.

“This is my second home in the summer,” said Tucker, who grew up in Davenport. “Everybody always looks out for one another.”

As they approached potential customers, Harvey, who recently was diagnosed with epilepsy, opted to join floaters in the water.

“Almost everybody waves him over,” Schoville said. “He swims great, and it’s good exercise for him.”

A group of regulars flagged down the mobile merchants toward the end of their 45-minute trip.

“We spotted him from half a mile away,” said Ronna Braaten, who ordered a round of Klondike bars for her family. “If the ice cream guy comes by, we’re there.”

Floating nearby, Ronna’s husband, Aaron Braaten, called Schoville a “staple of the river.”

“In this canal, everybody knows Tom,” he said.

The career salesman — on and off the water — plans to retire from his day job this fall. As for this side gig of his, Schoville, who will be out on the water throughout the holiday weekend, doesn't expect to quit anytime soon.

"As long as we're here and as long as we have those bikes available, it's not very difficult to do," he said. "I sense that people look forward to seeing me, even if it's for five minutes, and that gives me a good feeling."

Editor's note: Look for reporter Jack Cullen's Notes @ Noon Tuesday, Thursday and Friday online at noon. He captures various sides of life in the Quad-Cities. Contact him at jcullen@qctimes.com or 563-383-2363.


Jack Cullen uncovers different slices of life for the Quad-City Times. He previously covered the city of Bettendorf. When he's not reporting, Jack enjoys coaching tennis and exploring the outdoors.