Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Frozen - The 1920s Version

I understand that blogs sometimes have guest authors, so today we’re having a guest give a firsthand account of how ice for iceboxes was made. The author is my grandfather who was born in 1900. Before he passed away in 1985, he wrote down his “memoirs” for his family. The following is his description of cutting ice for icehouses:

“On the farm we always had our own ice on the other end of the building where the milk separator and milk utensils were kept. The icehouse part was double boarded with four inch studding to form an air space between the walls. There was one door in the north end so the ice could be put in or taken out as the occasion arose.

Each winter, usually the latter part of February or the first part of March, when the ice in Bear Lake got to be 22 to 24 inches thick, the icehouse was filled. It usually held from 125 to 150 cakes of ice, which was cut in twenty-four inches square at the top of the ice.

To start with, a hole had to be cut in the ice far enough out in the lake to have clear clean water. After the snow had been removed, the ice was marked on top into lines that were twenty-four inches square. An ice saw was inserted into the hole and then with an up and down movement the ice could be cut into squares. After the first row was removed, then one could cut a whole row and then into squares.

Photo from Wikicommons
To get the first two out, you had to watch out or you could slip back into the hole yourself very easily. One used an ice tongs that had points on each side to clamp into the ice block. By bobbing the cake up and down once or twice, the block could be landed on top of the ice. When about twenty cakes were cut, you could start loading them on a sleigh. That was a good sized load, and the driver could start for home. The ice had to be tied on each end of the sleigh to keep the ice from sliding off. If you were not careful of the holes in the road, the ropes would be broken and you would lose the whole load.

One person usually did the cutting, while the other hauled with the help of the kids at the icehouse. The cakes of ice were placed side by side on a four inch floor of sawdust. About six inches were left open on all sides of the building for saw dust after the building was filled. As all cakes were not always square and did not fit together exactly true, an adz was used to chip off the sides so they would fit. When the layer was completed the tops of each cake was chiseled down so that the cracks between could be filled and tamped down tight. Then the next layer was added until the building was filled.
Photo from Wikicommons

When that was completed about two loads of sawdust was shoveled in the sides and tamped down tight. The less airspace, the longer the ice would last. When the ice was removed, only one cake at a time, it was taken out just as it was put in only in reverse. Each time only the part to be taken was uncovered and then the hole covered and packed down firm.”

Even after reading his description, I can’t imagine how that ice could remain frozen throughout a summer and into the fall to keep an icebox cold. Also, I can’t imagine how much ice a city had to cut to keep all the iceboxes cold for a whole year! What a cold job! BRRRR!


  1. You're lucky to have his memoirs. None of my grandparents did anything like that.

  2. I know. He filled four of those memory books before he died. They are very precious to us. He was a teacher for many years, so they are filled with growing up and teacher stories.