A Fun Trip for Old Timers


By Norris Chambers


          There was a time when folks who lived in the country had no electricity, no gas and no water supply. Kerosene, called coal oil in those days, supplied fuel for lamps and lanterns. Wood was burned for heating in fireplaces and heaters and was used in cooking stoves for meal preparation. Water came from wells, cisterns and dirt tanks. These tanks were dug in low areas that caught and held water when it rained.

Water was usually taken from a cistern or well with a rope and bucket. A few industrious farmers had windmills set up over the source and the wind pumped the water into a large metal tank. This tank was elevated and water was run through a pipe to the kitchen. Some kitchen faucets had a sink beneath them and some had only a small tub that had to be emptied periodically.

In spite of this lack of utilities we enjoyed a freezer or two of homemade ice cream occasionally. Most grocery stores and a few other businesses had an ice house and sold blocks of ice at a very nominal price, even in those depression days. The ice house was ordinarily a little closet-like room in the building or a small structure outside. The little compartments were well insulated with hollow walls filled with saw dust. Most of the places that sold ice provided 12-1/2, 25, 50 or 100 pound blocks. Some of the larger markets kept 200 pound blocks but these were usually chipped into smaller sizes when sold. All of the blocks were scored for easy separating and it was not a problem, using an ice pick, to separate a large block into smaller ones.

When Clifton and I were in the seventh grade our annual field trip was to visit an ice house and see how ice was made. This sounded like an interesting experience, a lot of fun and an opportunity to escape the monotony of studying and reciting math, English, spelling, government and other subjects. These studies were not the most entertaining method of using our time!

For some unexplained reason these trips were usually scheduled for a Friday. Maybe a nice trip was supposed to start a weekend that would be filled with fun! Regardless of why, when the important day came the school bus and driver arrived at the school’s side door and prepared for fun-seeking anxious students to “load up”! We loaded quickly and were soon on our way to the county seat to tour a plant where ice was made. It never occurred to me to wonder where the ice came from that was stored in the little rooms at the stores. Clifton said that he hadn’t lost any sleep wondering about it. Our friend, Elbert, commented that there was one thing he was sure about. The primary ingredient of ice was water. We had to agree with him.

When we arrived and walked into the big brick building we entered a small office. A smiling man greeted us and told us a few things about the freezing of water to make ice. Another man entered from a door and announced that he would be our guide. He told us to follow him and he walked back into the main building. We were surprised to see what appeared to be a very large swimming pool. The large room with the pool was considerably cooler than the one we left. It was almost too cold for comfort.

“This vat,” the guide explained, “Is where the ice is frozen. If you will look you will see many rectangular containers on the bottom. These are removable metal boxes made exactly the right size to hold a 200 pound block of ice. The water you see covering them is treated with a chemical that keeps it from freezing until the temperature is many degrees below the normal freezing point of water. The proper amount of purified water is placed in the cans and when it freezes in the cold liquid it expands to fill the freezing container. The metal form is then removed with a hoist and the block of ice is removed. The form is then refilled and placed back in the freezing liquid. The freezing pool is kept cold by using a compressor, condenser and evaporator. We use ammonia as a refrigerant. The big compressor, which we will see, is powered by a steam engine. He continued to explain the refrigeration process. We were shown the boiler, the large compressor and the big molds being emptied. If the block of ice didn’t slide out when the hoist raised the form a worker started warming it with hot steam from a hose. The big block then slid out and the overhead hoist moved it back to a refilling area. The blocks were then slid into a chute where long saw blades moved in and scored them at the correct place to produce saleable sizes for the dealers.

Everyone enjoyed the trip but felt bad about the report they would have to write. The report didn’t bother me but I was having a little trouble finding something that was real fun on the trip.

We were blessed with the fun part when some sort of stinging insect, maybe a bee, wasp or hornet, flew through the bus driver’s open window and stung him two times on his left cheek. He acted bravely and did very little moaning. By the time we arrived at our school his head had swollen almost to the size of a Halloween pumpkin or a full size basket ball. He survived!