Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saw Dust and Dark Holes

When our side-by-side refrigerator failed a while ago, we were inconvenienced to the point we had to hurriedly eat as much ice cream as we could stomach and hurriedly cook the meat and other frozen goods in the freezer lest it all go to waste.

During our marriage, other refrigerators have also failed to function, immediately throwing us into action to find a repairman or to purchase a replacement unit. 

We’re a bunch of softies.  Probably about as tough as marshmallows. 

Of course, here at the manor, we have addressed that issue with other means of surviving without a functioning ice box, but they are so inconvenient.   They don’t even provide ice and cold water on tap.

icesaw Looking at the locations where my ancestors lived using Google Earth, I can still make out the outlines of the pond on the old homesteaded farm.  The water in the pond was used by my great grandfather to water his stock, as a flood control tool and to supplement his income in the hot summer months.

No, folks in the 1800’s didn’t pay him to swim in the pond, but they did pay him for the water. --  Frozen water in July.

Every fall, he and his sons would clean the pond of any debris and fill it to the top of the banks.  Within a few weeks, the pond became an ice skating rink for the enjoyment of his family, at least for a little while.

When the ice was sufficiently thick, he and the boys would venture onto the pond, drill or break a hole and proceed to saw the ice into blocks. 

The ice was stored in what was in essence, a tunnel (a generous description of the hole) carved into the several hundred foot tall hill to the east.  Grandpa and his brother dug it not long after they homesteaded the 400 acres of prime mountain land.  

The earthen ‘refrigerator’ was well supplied with saw dust that had been collected from cutting wood to burn in the stoves and in clearing the oak brush from the land. 

In the ice harvest, a layer of ice was laid on the floor, fitted together much like a rock wall.  The different sized blocks were meshed together on a deep bed of sawdust.  They were covered with another layer of saw dust and the process was repeated, layer after layer, harvest after harvest.

By spring, the cache was full of ice and since the entry door was well shaded by cottonwood trees along the creek and the natural ground temperature of the tunnel hovered around 60 F, the added cooling of the slowly melting ice was sufficient to prolong its frozen life into warm weather.

When late May and June rolled around, the stores in town had a need for a cooling resource that now commanded a premium price.  By July 4th, the price topped out and the last of the dwindling resource was sold off as the last frozen ‘cash crop’ asset to meet hard currency income needs until the fruit, produce and hay was ready for market.

Fort Canyon ice was always in high demand because of the purity of the water.  While growing up below the old farm, a drink from the tap in the kitchen sink still seemed like you were drinking liquid ice well in to July.  But ‘cool’ wasn’t the cold required to keep the meat lockers in the store or ice boxes in the homes cold enough to extend the life of last years beef, pork and chicken harvest.

My uncles used to stop by our house at O’Dark Thirty on Saturday mornings, just to taste that cold Alpine water.  Back in the day, to enjoy the same soothing draught, they’d have to drink directly from the mountain runoff stream above town to get their cold ‘fix’.  Back then, if you wanted a clean, clear block of ice, you’d talk to great grandpa .  Cash or barter would change hands and soon a wagon loaded with lumpy dripping sawdust would arrive at your door with your order.

The ice crop cycle continued for several generations on the farm but it seemed like ice produced more heat than cooling.

icetongs You got hot in the summer sun while burning energy cutting wood.  Hot gathering the saw dust and putting it in the hillside refrigerator.  Hot cutting ice with long saws.  Hot hauling it to the cave, and finally, hot while delivering it.  Fortunately, this time, you at least had a side benefit from your labors, because you had something cool to lay on for a minute and something cool to drip down the front of your overalls as a welcome relief from all of the heat you’d generated.

I don’t work that hard to enjoy a little cool today.  Not for our whole house air conditioning, our ice cream, cold milk or even for a cold soda in the summer months.  The hard won energy temporarily captured in ice isn’t as difficult to capture and enjoy today as it was back in the day. 

Soft like a marshmallow.  I guess that the failure of our side-by-side wasn’t that big of a thing, was it?


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Herstoryan said...

What a wonderful post! I loved that story. I've never heard anything like that before. Where did your ancestors live? I think it's neat that you can still see the pond on Google Earth. Thank you for sharing! :)