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Icing OperationsBack of Orred's house. Icehouse was on the lake shore.

In the early 1900s, there was no electric refrigeration. Therefore, ice had to be used for cooling purposes. In this region, the Western Fruit Express Company and the Great Northern Railroad harvested ice on Green Lake, loaded it into boxcars, and shipped it to Willmar and other points west. Western Fruit had a large icehouse on the east side of the railroad yard in Willmar. Ice was used to cool boxcars hauling fruit and food- stuffs that would otherwise spoil. Ice was used on the Empire Builder, a passenger train, for refrigeration and for drinking water. According to an article in the "West Central Minnesota Daily Tribune" of Willmar for January 3, 1957,Western Fruit was still harvesting ice annually from Green Lake. The harvest that season began on December 28, 1956, and was scheduled to be completed in about two weeks "with favorable weather conditions." That year the Western Fruit Express Company loaded about 500 boxcars, each car containing 160 cakes of ice weighing 350 pounds each, for a total of 56,000 pounds in each car. Most of that ice was "used at Willmar for refrigeration of fruits and perishables that pass through the yards" and at such northwest area points as Superior, St. Cloud, and Nechi, North Dakota, to name a few. Later information revealed that on June 6, 1961, Western Fruit's buildings were demolished and removed, thus ending their ice harvesting.

One of the first ice cutting businesses locally was Downs and Nelson of Spicer. Dan Downs and Jack Nelson operated the dray and ice business. During midwinter, using manual labor and horses, they cut huge cakes of ice, pushed them up wooden planks with long hooks, placed them on a sled, and hauled them to their ice house next to the livery stable. Downs and Nelson painstakingly placed the ice blocks side by side in the icehouse and covered each layer with several layers of sawdust. This time-consuming process stored and preserved the ice for summer use.


Engwalls filling the icehouse.

Many years later, in 1987, Nelson's daughters - Genevieve Nelson Anderson and Duaine Nelson Besser - recalled this ice harvesting, as well as memories of the summer deliveries. They remembered how "...the ice wagon was pulled by horses to make deliveries. As children, we often rode along, holding the reins of the horses as our father carried the ice to the business places, homes, and cottages in Spicer and around Green Lake for use in ice boxes." The Engwall brothers, Carl and Arvid, bought the dray and ice business in Spicer from Downs and Nelson in the mid-thirties and continued the ice harvesting until 1971.

Carl Engwall's memories of the ice business and its importance go back a long way: "The first I knew there was ice used for refrigeration was in Pennock, Minnesota. My father, Peter Engwall, had a meat market there and needed ice to keep his meat cold. It came in boxcars on the railroad. How it got there I did not know. The next time I knew about ice used for refrigeration was when Father used it in his meat market in Willmar. Where it came from and how it got there I did not know. The third time I got acquainted with ice came a few years later. Father had a meat market in Kandiyohi, and I was working during the summer months on a farm south of Kandiyohi. Fall came, and Father said, 'I am going to make a butcher out of you, Carl.' So instead of going to school, I began learning the meat trade. This is where icing took over my life."

Arvid Engwall bought a meat market and grocery store in Spicer in 1931. The first few years Arvid and Carl bought ice from Downs and Nelson. It became Carl's job to get the blocks out of an icehouse behind the market and put them in a chamber above the cooler. Ten cakes, each weighing about 300 pounds, were needed.

When the Engwalls bought the dray line from Downs and Nelson, the brothers had to put up their own ice, using the old machinery that went with the business. The next summer, while Peter Engwall and his wife and Arvid's and Carl's wives ran the meat business, the two brothers and the local blacksmith put together a new loading-machine and saw.