Farson Mercantile’s Humongous Half-Gallon Ice Cream Cone A Big Draw For Tiny Wyoming Town

It’s been a gambling hall, motel and boarding house, but for nearly five decades the Farson Mercantile’s been famous for its ice cream. It’s the “Home of the Big Cone,” a $10, near half-gallon mountain sweet treat.

John Thompson

April 29, 20236 min read

The Farson Mercantile has been a lot of things over the years, but since the 1970s it's become known for its ice cream.
The Farson Mercantile has been a lot of things over the years, but since the 1970s it's become known for its ice cream. (Photo By John Thompson)

From gas to gopher traps, groceries to garden implements, the Farson Mercantile used to be a place where you could buy almost anything.

Today it’s ice cream that brings people in, and on some summer days they’ll wait in a line that stretches into the parking lot.

Established in 1908, Farson Mercantile is located at the intersection of highways 28 and 191 about 45 miles north of Rock Springs. It’s the “Home of the Big Cone,” a $10, near half-gallon four-scoop mountain of creamy, sticky goodness.

When it’s handed across the counter, the clock starts ticking and you’ll soon know the difference between how much you can eat and how much will run down your wrist and wind up on the front of your sweatshirt.

Making An Ice Cream Mountain

Key to construction of the Merc’s four-scoop spectacle is to cram the first scoop deep into the waffle cone, said Katie Simms, an employee at the Mercantile.

The ice cream needs to be the right temperature to aid in the cramming while protecting the integrity of the cone. Also, don’t be afraid to use your hands (they wear gloves) to help marry the scoops together for final presentation.

Don’t forget the napkins.

But Simms says not many travelers choose to do battle with the Big Cone these days. Smaller servings are the trend, says shop owner Dustin Eaton.

The store offers 26 flavors, including Caramel Caribou, which is toffee ice cream with Rollo candy; Death by Chocolate, which is chocolate ice cream with brownies, chocolate chips and chocolate-covered almonds; and Maui Waui with guava, orange and passionfruit.

  • Katie Sims works at the Farson Mercantile. She's holding the store's signature Big Cone, with costs $10 and has nearly a half-gallon of ice cream.
    Katie Sims works at the Farson Mercantile. She's holding the store's signature Big Cone, with costs $10 and has nearly a half-gallon of ice cream. (Photo By John Thompson)
  • Lifelong Wyomingite Jonathan Downing enjoys a medium ice cream in a bowl.
    Lifelong Wyomingite Jonathan Downing enjoys a medium ice cream in a bowl. (Jimmy Orr)

A Destination

Affable and ambitious, Eaton is a lifelong Farson resident who also owns a gas station, feed store and a cattle ranch.

He says about 25% of his business comes from Sweetwater County residents. Many drive up from Rock Springs to get ice cream — even on the coldest winter days.

Like others who live in agriculture-dependent rural communities across the West, Eaton is a “next-year” guy. He has owned the business and leased the Merc building, an ornate brick two-story, since 2007.

“You have to have about four jobs to get by around here,” Eaton said. “On one year, one seems to do well and maybe the following year another one does better. It helps to hedge your bets, spread the risk.”

Traffic at the Merc picks up around Memorial Day and generally keeps a fast pace through October. The Merc keeps 10 employees busy, mainly scooping ice cream, during those months.

The tourist traffic is mainly travelers headed to Yellowstone and Jackson Hole. Many come in on Interstate 80, turning north at Rock Springs. Others fly into Salt Lake City, travel north through eastern Idaho, through Yellowstone Park then loop back on Highway 191, Eaton said.

“On the first of November it turns off, just like every other business in this area,” he said. “You go into survival mode for the winter, and if you can survive it, you’ll make a little money in the summer.”

Survival Mode

Following two years of slow sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, Eaton hopes ice cream sales help spread his risk in 2023.

“COVID hammered this business and, just like a lot of others, we took a beating,” he said. “But the health department worked with us and even though our traffic was down, we survived it and that’s winning in my book.”

In addition, it’s been a tough winter for cattle ranching in Eden Valley. Dozens of calves are dead. Cows and bulls are suffering the effects of frostbite. The calves were snowed over during a 36-hour blizzard in early April, Eaton said.

Among the survivors on Eaton’s ranch are many with frozen ears, frozen udders and frozen testicles among the bulls, he said.

Wyoming As It Gets

Outside on the edge of the parking lot, a prairie dog is scratching around in the dirt and dry grass. It’s a stark, windy, late April afternoon. Along the highway a few miles north of town, dozens of antelope carcasses litter the desert. Their white hides stand in sharp contrast against the black and pale green sage brush.

Everything in this valley seems to be waiting, tenuously surviving in anticipation of spring green-up.

Farson, population 272, elevation 6,580 feet, has two churches and no bars. It has a café, Mitch’s; a state road shed, Sweetwater County Road and Bridge shop; a school, home to the Farson/Eden Pronghorns; a baseball field. It also has a roping arena, clinic, park, a community center, a firehouse, post office, truck stop and a salon — the Chop Shop — where you can get your eyelashes done, according to its sign.

Before The Merc

Kim Brown, owner of the Farson Mercantile building, has lived here since 1955. He can remember when the basement of the Merc was a gambling hall full of silver dollar and quarter slot machines. He also remembers when those machines were pulled out and sold at auction.

“When they sold them, they still had all the old coins inside,” Brown said. “The coins were probably worth more than the machines.”

The upstairs of the building used to be a motel and a boarding house. There were two large warehouses behind where hardware and other nonperishables were stored.

Brown’s first job was pumping gas and checking engine oil at the Chevron station, next door to the Merc.

“Back then you could buy everything you needed here — boots, shoes, coveralls and hardware,” he said. “People didn’t drive to Rock Springs to shop like they do now.”

To survive, the business has had to evolve.

Brown said the Merc has been through several owners over the years. The building caught fire and burned sometime in the 1940’s.

After it was rebuilt, a previous owner began selling ice cream in the late 1970s. Its reputation as an ice cream stop has grown mainly through word-of-mouth advertising.

Aside from selling lots of ice cream, Eaton’s business plan is to stock novelties made in Wyoming. Items for sale include coonskin caps, walking sticks, lip balm, baby clothes, T-shirts, baseball caps, rocks and fossils, Eden Valley honey, candles, malted milk balls and a wide range of huckleberry products.

“It’s not all Wyoming, but we’re trying to put an emphasis on Wyoming products,” he said. “When we travel around the state, we look for Wyoming products, take pictures of them and then contact the businesses.”

He said he’s always looking for new Wyoming-produced novelties to stock. The Merc also features friendly employees, gourmet coffee, deli subs and pizza to go.

Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day except major holidays.

John Thompson is a freelance journalist who lives in Cora, Wyoming.

Share this article



John Thompson

Features Reporter