Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Ice Man

Today was the hottest day of the year—85°.  I rode my trike in the parade and, although many people didn’t know what Team Buggie was, I did hear “We love you Daddy” and a couple cries of “Grandpa.”  The heat brought to mind another story from my childhood.
 The Ice Man
The Sheyenne River angles in towards Lisbon from the Northwest and forms the Northern edge of the city until it makes a sharp right turn and cuts through the middle of town, about a block East of Main Street.  There is a dam just about where the river makes its turn and consequently, the river along the northern edge is quite deep (15-25 feet) and relatively wide (50-100 yards).  The slow moving water behind the dam would freeze to a thickness of 1 ½ to 2 feet every year which made for a great ice skating rink, but more important for this story, it was harvested. 
In the early ‘50s there was an icehouse just above the dam.  Each winter, ice would be cut from the river in huge blocks (2’ X 8’ or so) and stored in the icehouse, packed in sawdust.  The reason for the ice harvest was that refrigerators were expensive and not common items in many households—we had an icebox until I was 11 or 12.  An icebox looked like a refrigerator, but where the freezer is today is where you would store ice, which would then cool off the lower portion to store perishables.
During the late fall when it started to get cold and throughout the winter and early spring, you could just set out a pan of water and make your own ice for the icebox.  Starting in the spring though, when the ice was gone from the river, the company that had harvested the ice during the winter began sending its trucks out and about town, selling ice.  There was a set schedule—every 2 or 3 days or so; each house that needed ice was given a red sign.  The sign was about a foot or so square and in each corner was a number—as I recall, 5, 10, 15 and 20. 
On delivery days, you would put the sign in a window that could be seen from the street with the number of pounds of ice you wanted in the uppermost corner.  That way, the driver could stop, see how much ice you needed without going to the door to ask, and just cut off the right amount from one of the blocks in the truck.  He would then take the ice into the house, collect his money and be off to the next house. 
While my brother and I may not have known the delivery schedule, we knew that when the sign went up in the window, the Ice Man was coming!  On particularly hot summer days we would lay in wait for him, hiding alongside the road.  With eager anticipation, we would watch him come to a stop and dismount from his truck; invariably, he would leave the back doors of the panel truck open as he carried the ice to the house with his large ice tongs.  And we would strike!
We would leap from our hiding place and quickly run to the back of the truck.  Grabbing one or two small pieces of ice each, we would then dash back to our hiding place; we knew if he came out of the house and saw us, he would tell mom and we would need ice to soothe our burning butts!  Once he had driven off, we were safe to come out of our hiding place and walk around with our small treasure, slaking our thirst with its marvelous coolness.
Sadly, the old icehouse burned down.  I’m not sure whether it burned before or after we had gotten one of the new-fangled refrigerators; either event sounded the death knell of the industry and the Ice Man came no more.

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