This morning my father dragged me out of bed at an ungodly hour to witness an ice harvest-why? Because he's retired, that's why, and because I was oddly interested in seeing it as well.
So what is an ice harvest? Well, back before our refrigerators had their own LCD monitors and Tivo, refrigeration was a bit more primitive. Cooling of perishables was done by using an icebox, basically the predecessor of both the modern fridge AND picnic cooler. Blocks of ice were placed in the icebox to keep things cool until it melted. Like the milkman, the Iceman made deliveries door to door, originally in a horse-drawn wagon. Before electricity, this was it.
(Our friend Danny and The Old Man. The pained look on Danny's face are from his tears freezing to it. In a previous life these two clowns worked together-now, retired, the reunite for a heated (or cooled) bout of ice harvesting. Danny's been at it more than a day, however, evidenced by his Wool clothing-which stays warm even if you fall in the water.)
The harvest goes like so-when the ice is "ready", it is about 21 inches thick-that allows you to make a cube, or "cake" about 21 inches square, allowing you to place, as I recall, 481 cakes in the icehouse. The icehouse, basically a simple large shed, is insulated with sawdust in the walls, and the ice is covered with a thick hay, specially grown for the purpose-it's got a big hole running down the center of each strand, like a huge piece of Holofil insulation. This traps the air, and allows for greater insulating capability.
The ice is scored with a huge gas-powered circular saw on runners like a sled-it is a vicious-looking beast of a machine dating back to the 1920s. The ice is then hand-sawn the rest of the way through and floated up through a channel cut in the ice to the icehouse. there it is pulled up a metal and wooden track to the top of the shack, and dropped inside via a downward-aimed track, stacked, and covered.
(The ice goes in up the track, pulled by an antique Ford 8N tractor, and a series of counterweights and pulleys. Prior to that would have been horses or mules. Just after I snapped this photo, the ice let go and sent everyone scrambling. This is why people in the Early 20th Century died at 30 sometimes.)
(Speaking of potential early death, here's the ice saw. Somewhere between the blade edge and the frigid water below lies an unwritten Stephen King story. Note tapered hopper on top-ice or water is dropped in to cool the saw's four cylinders-the engine is by The Buda Company, The saw itself by Gifford-Wood, early 20th century vintage.)
(The saw's handiwork-when old white guys talk about scoring on Saturday, it has nothing to do with women I found out)
This event actually ends up in a large turnout-like many events, however, it seems the politicians and tourists show up after the real work is done. After the photo-ops and glad-handing, there is still work to be done, and these guys get right back to it.
(The Old Man, dispelling rumors of the onset of Retirement Wuss Syndrome-he smoked a couple tourists in the process-note his embarassing lead on the putz in the yellow Columbia coat and slip-ons.)
(I think this little girl's name was Lexi-she exhibited more balls than your average, off-the-shelf brass monkey, running the sharp, heavy iron cake hook up and down the steps of the ice house all on her own. I heard some mumblings about her being "too young", but nobody was stepping up to help her, and she wasn't asking. Of course it was all under her Dad's close supervision, who was one of the regulars, and pictured at right.)
(Some tools of the icehouse trade, at breaktime)
(I had a long chat with the gentleman who owns and restored this 2-horsepower, dual-use saw. It can saw logs, or, with the use of a special jig, saw ice. One of the best things about events like this is old guys who know more than you ever will about this stuff, but don't hesitate one second to tell you everything if you ask. Sometimes, they'll tell you if you don't ask, too...)