Although we had an electric refrigerator at our home in Huntington, we still referred to it as the “ice box.” It hadn’t been that long ago that we did have an ice box: a white refrigerator-looking box that had to have actual ice delivered to keep perishable items cold. A square card with the numbers 25, 50, 75 and 100 printed on the sides told the ice delivery man how much the house needed this trip. Older folks used to reminisce about having to lower milk and butter down into the well to keep them fresh back in the day before the convenience of ice delivery.
When the old aluminum ice trays couldn’t keep up with the demand for summer iced tea, lemonade or for making homemade ice cream, it was time to drive to Mansfield to the old Ice Plant. All we ever called it was the “Ice House.” I don’t recall having any name other than that attached to it.
The Ice Plant stood between Hickerson’s Garage and Johnny Brown’s Feed Store. The building was painted white stucco on all four sides with a covered front porch that faced Main Street. The porch floor was thick wooden planks that seemed to be tilted forward, maybe for drainage or maybe just from years of wear. The Ice Plant building had an office, a refrigeration/mechanical room and a freezer inside and a water-cooled evaporation tower at the back of the building. It was an ammonia refrigeration system. People remember that leaked enough to make the building reek of ammonia. . I remember a thick door that went into the building but never had the opportunity to go inside.
Forrest Watts owned the old ice plant. Earlier, Watts had worked for Ward’s in Fort Smith, makers of the ice and ice cream products, who delivered 300 pound blocks of ice to the old ice house. It was delivered in the back of an old truck with the ice wrapped in a tarp. The floor of the truck had wooden slats. A metal chute went from the back of the truck to the door of the plant where he could scoot the block where he wanted it. The ice was scored allowing the attendant to easily use an ice pick to break five pound and ten pound blocks of ice from the large block.
Mr. Watts had a delivery route around the area of Mansfield that he ran two or three times a week. Wearing a black, rubberized apron for protection and with metal ice tongs, he’d throw a fifty pound block of ice over his shoulder and carry it to the customer’s ice boxes in their kitchens. Sometimes he would chip off a little sliver and give it to kids to eat as they stood marveling how he worked. It was a real treat for the kids on a hot summer day.
The Ice Plant contained a coin operated conveyor belt which was loaded with five pound ice blocks. The customer would put money in the coin slot on the front of the building. You would put in a quarter and push in a lever. Inside, the conveyor would move slightly and a block of ice would drop out of the freezer and into a big heavy metal basket. We would bring an old quilt or blanket to wrap the ice chunk in, place it in the back seat floorboard and rush it home before it began to melt. (One local citizen remembered a time that Mr. Watts was fixing the chute and had his hand too far up inside it and got hurt. Dr. Merle Woods spent a couple of hours getting him sewed up.)
People recall that ice could be bought in a block or crushed. The ice crusher sat on the front porch. An old gravity fed gas pump sat outside the store too. The business was eventually purchased by Frank Boyd who bought the building in the early 1970s. It sat empty for many years as a silent reminder of the past before eventually being demolished by the Brown family who still owns the property.
It’s fun to reminisce and fondly remember things as simple as a building filled with ice. I enjoy the memories but I am certainly proud of the ice maker in my kitchen’s “ice box.” .
(Image from Google Images. Information gathered from interviews with Jim Johnson, Beverly Boyd Jeffery, David Overton, Neal, Pat and Joe Mannon and my own memories.)