Total strangers have been known to cry out as Rick Hancock commutes to work along Route 7 every day. "Hey! Ice cream man!" they yell. "Pull over."

It's the same story once Hancock hits the streets of Sterling and starts ringing the chimes atop his distinctive Good Humor truck. "Rick! Wait!" a disembodied voice hollers out from behind the screened window of a brick rambler.

He does, the truck's engine idling in the hot August sun while Hancock waits to see if the youngster attached to the voice will take the usual again or try something more daring. A Banana Bob, perhaps?

Hancock has had plenty of time to memorize the confectionary preferences of his clientele. He's been a Good Humor vendor for 21 years, first in Arlington and, for the last 12 years, in Sterling. A few of his years-ago Arlington customers are now grown and living with their children along his Sterling route.

Although the Good Humor Co., which got its start in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1920, long ago abandoned its trademark white uniforms and sold off its company-owned fleet of 1,500 freezer trucks, Hancock, 41, pays homage to both.

His white 1969 Ford F250, which he bought 12 years ago, is a classic, with its original baked-porcelain Good Humor signs and worn upholstery. The truck has traveled more than 526,000 miles. The engine -- its fourth -- gets nine miles to the gallon.

Hancock, too, is something of a classic, showing up for work each day looking like an extra for an episode of "Leave It to Beaver," with his white trousers and shirt, black bow tie, black work shoes and a pair of Good Humor wings pinned to his white vinyl cap. Around his waist, he wears a metal money-changer from which he can extract pennies and dimes faster than you can say, "Two Strawberry Shortcakes, please."

"I think he might be the only one in the country who goes around like this," said Guy Berliner, co-owner of Berliner Specialty Distributors in Hyattsville, exclusive distributor of Good Humor novelty items in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Rick Hancock didn't start out to be a Good Humor careerist, though he admits to some nostalgia about the white-suited men who sold ice cream from the back of their trucks when he was growing up in Adelphi.

He took the job one summer while attending Virginia Tech, thinking he would go on to use his degree in mechanical engineering. But by the time he graduated in 1982, ice cream was in his blood. "I'd be making a lot more money" as an engineer, he said, "but here I am. I had no idea I'd still be doing it."

Why, you might ask, would anyone want to toil seven days a week, 12 hours a day, every day from March through October -- baked by the sun, pelted by rain and drained by Washington's notorious humidity?

"It's exhausting," Hancock conceded. "Kids think it's an easy job, but it's not. I go all out, every waking hour," often not calling it a day until well after dark. Still, he said, "I'm my own boss and people like seeing me come around. It gives them enjoyment."

The downside, not counting the zombielike feeling that comes from climbing in and out of an open-cab truck 100 times each day, is that "there's not a lot of money in it."

Hancock would not reveal his seasonal income but said that on a good day he can gross $200. That's before expenses, including insurance, gas and maintenance, plus the ice cream. In the off-season, if he doesn't have another job, he takes classes or visits his mother in Australia.

Berliner said his 175 vendors, the largest Good Humor fleet in the country, average $10,000 to $40,000 a year. "It all depends on what you want to put into it," he said.

Hancock apparently puts quite a bit into it.

"He's the best," said Lynn Dawson as she stood on Oxford Court one day last week waiting for daughter Elizabeth to select from among Hancock's 49 frozen treats. "The kids miss him desperately in the fall," Dawson said, adding that when another vendor occasionally trolls the neighborhood, "we don't even come out."

Hancock's patient courtesy, which extends to children as well as their paying parents, is a page right out of the Good Humor Sales Handbook, which commands that "surliness {is} not tolerated."

Good Humor, invented by an Ohio candymaker named Harry Burt, was the country's first ice-cream-on-a-stick. Burt's daughter, Ruth, became the first test marketer, and his son, Harry Jr., provided the first set of Good Humor bells, which he stripped off his bobsled.

Over the years, Good Humor's clanking bells have brought salivary anticipation to many -- some young customers reportedly can hear them blocks away -- and dismay to others. Schoolchildren in Jackson, Miss., once sued "for a trillion dollars" after the city elders threatened to invoke an anti-noise ordinance against the bells, according to a Good Humor publicist.

From its modest beginnings with 12 trucks in 1920, the company grew to more than 1,500 and became a purveyor to presidents (Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly liked to lick away while at Camp David).

Today, after various mergers and acquisitions, Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream, as the new company is known, is the market leader in both frozen novelty and packaged ice cream sales, according to the trade publication Dairy Field.

Rick Hancock doesn't worry about such issues. His bottom line is whether to make up the 3 cents in tax if a customer falls short. Usually he will, but "if I let them off the hook all the time," he said, "they'll take advantage of me."

As he speaks, he is cruising at five miles an hour down yet another suburban street, one hand on the wheel, one hand on the rope dangling from the truck's chimes. His sunscreen is by his side, his orange Gatorade on the dashboard, his eyes ever alert for the next sale.

"Hey, Rick!" calls a familiar voice.

"Hey, Brian," Hancock calls back. "C'mon out."