John Bigley wrote this description of the Ice Harvest for the Culver Citizen years ago:
By the first of the year, preparations were well underway for the annual ice harvest on Lake Maxinkuckee. The equipment was overhauled, the saws were sharpened, and the horse was sharp-shod.
The Ice plow didn't look like a plow as we ordinarily think of a plow. It was a steel framework of horizontal channel irons which held the chisel-like spike teeth in perpendicular position. These teeth could be adjusted up or down to give the desired depth of cut, and the teeth adjusted sideways to give the desired width which determined the weight of a block of ice. The ice was never cut entirely through. Three to four inches of solid ice was left to keep it safe for the horses and man. The remainder of the cut was made by man with a one-man cross cut saw.
The thickness of the ice was tested daily. The desired thickness was ten to twelve inches. A field was scraped cleanof any snow that might be on the ice, and any new snow was removed, as the snow retarded the freezing of the ice. The size of the field, which was usually about an acre, was determined by the size of the work crew.
The plow, horse and driver marked off the field into squares approximately twenty inches square. The desired weight of the block of ice was a little over one hundred pounds. The field resembled a checker-board; back and forth both ways went the horse and plows until it had cut blocks to the desired depth.
A channel was kept open from the ice field to the ice house. As the remaining cuts were sawed the blocks were floated to and down the channel by men with pike poles. Sometimes several blocks were still together and when they reached the end of the channel a man with a spud separated them with one sharp thrust of the spud.
The blocks of ice were removed from the channel to the shoot at the ice house, and were pushed up the shoot and into the ice house. There they were taken by men with ice tongs and pulled to the far side of the room and there put in a straight row along the far side, row after row, along side of the previous row until the room had a floor of ice which again resembled a checker-board. Saw dust or straw was put between and over the blocks as insulation and kept them from sticking together. Layer after layer were stacked one upon the other in this fashion until the room was filled to the top.
Mechanization came rapidly. The primitive shoot was converted to a powered elevator of endless chains with crosspieces which conveyed the blocks of ice tot he house onto another set of conveyors along the length of the house. The house was divided into rooms along the conveyor. The blocks of ice were sent along this conveyor to the rooms being filled. Men with ice tongs would take the ice and stack it in the rooms. When filled the ice was covered with march hay or what ever was available and closed off. Then other rooms were filled.
On th elevator was a switch station which enabled a man to direct some of the ice to the railroad cars on the siding, so both the ice houses and the railroad cars could be filled at the same time.
Later a gasoline engine powered ice saw was put into service, speeding up the cutting operations.
In the early days each home had an ice chest or ice box. There was no such thing as an electric refrigerator. A horse-drawn wagon filled with cakes of ice went through the area supplying the homes and businesses with ice. Each home had a card to display in their window showing the ice man whether they wanted 25, 50 or 100 pounds of ice in their box which was usually on the back porch. The ice man had a leather shoulder pad on his shoulder to protect him from the melting, chilling ice, which he held in place with ice tongs.
There was always a following of children to pick up or to beg for small pieces of ice to crunch or suck on. The ice man was an artisan with the ice pick. He could cut the block to the desired weight without weighing it. I remember Ed Hawk delivering ice for many years, and I know many other Culverities will remember him.