Ice Harvesting, Poling Cakes of Ice
Suggested Teaching Instructions
After locating a desirable ice field, the ice field workers would lead teams of horses or donkeys that pulled sharp plows. By plowing once horizontally across the ice and once vertically across the ice, these sharp plows would mark out square blocks. After the blocks were marked, men with long hand saws, called ice saws, would cut along the marks, freeing the blocks of ice from the ice pack. An ice saw is over 5' 8" tall, with thirty razor-sharp teeth. If the ice still was not freed from the ice pack after sawing, or if the ice cake refroze to another, a breaker bar was used. A breaker bar was a long pole resembling a flat pitchfork. A man would strike downward into the ice with this tool to help free the ice.
After the ice saws and breaker bars were used to loosen the cut blocks from the ice pack, the ice cakes were transported from the ice field to the icehouse. The cakes were very large, being anywhere from fifteen to twenty-five inches thick. These cakes were too heavy to be lifted out of the ice pack, so they were floated to the icehouses down a canal, known as the chip canal, connecting the ice field and the icehouse. The workers would guide the ice cakes down the chip canal using a pike pole, which was a long pole with a sharp harpoon-like pick at the end of it. Some men paddled canoes through the chip canal all night to keep this waterway from freezing over. As they rowed through the canal, the men would rock their boats back and forth in order to keep the water moving so it wouldn't freeze.
At the end of the chip canal was the icehouse elevator, a steep incline leading up into the icehouse. From the chip canal, the ice cakes were heaved up onto a conveyor belt and brought through the icehouse windows, which could be up to 90 feet high. Inside the house, the conveyor belt sloped down to the storage room. At the end of the down chute stood a pair of workers, called ice switchers, with large ice picks. There would be a right-handed ice switcher and a left-handed ice switcher. The ice switchers had to be very strong, because as the ice came down the chute, the men had to simultaneously grab the ice with their picks and then swing the ice cakes over to another belt, so they could be moved into an interior room. The down chute relied on gravity alone to move the ice, so there were no breaks! Due to the force of the ice, ice switchers suffered many hurt shoulders and backs. This made the job of ice switcher a dangerous one.
Some quick facts about ice thickness:
2" thick ice will usually support a man.
4" thick ice will usually support a horse.
5" thick ice is generally safe for a team of horses and a loaded wagon of 2 tons.
18" thick ice will support a railway train.