Winter stayed colder for longer periods of time when I was a child. Ice froze thick enough on the pond to support me safely as I “skated,” wearing my rubber galoshes. We had to chop holes in the ice with an ax twice a day for the cows to get a drink.
Some people harvested blocks of ice and packed it for summer use before the time of ice delivery and later our own electric refrigerator with its magic freezing compartment.
Among my keepsakes is a letter written in 1984 to me by Mary Lee Riley who lived at Olmstead and died in 2002 at age 91. She described the conventional ice house and its important place on the homestead. I share it with you.
“There was an ice house on a number of farms. A large hole about 15 feet (deep) was dug. Logs were placed straight up side by side to retain the earth. Logs were placed around the top edge. Wheat straw was put in the bottom.
“When we had a hard freeze, which we welcomed, they got busy cutting the blocks of ice. Our ice house was built near the pond. The house was a low building with a wide door. The men shoved the blocks of ice through the door, down on the straw. We children often skated on the pond while the ice was being cut and stored for summer use.
“It was stored uncovered, unless a warm weather forecast was given, to freeze together. Then the ice house was filled with extra straw from the straw stack. We threshed wheat with a thresher then.
“Our father had a pump put in ours. When he went to get ice in a tow sack, he sat beside the pump and pumped water off the ice. It foamed out into the pond.
“The water cooler was filled with ice and water added. It had a spigot we turned to get a drink. The icebox was filled to keep the milk and butter. We had ice cream almost every Sunday. Pieces of ice were chipped off and put in glasses for tea or milk.
“Very often holes near houses are the remains of an old ice house. We used to climb up on one and play.
“Many changes have been made since then. We’d probably die of the germs now—the water cooler had to have the mud washed out. Who knows? We might have been getting vitamins!
“P.S. I remember we entertained a preacher that had never seen an ice house like we had; they were built on top of the ground where he was from.”
And she drew a sketch of their ice house. Thank you, Miss Riley!