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Icing Operations

The Western Fruit ice harvests started when Green Lake ice was about 20 to 24 inches thick. Their operations were extensive. They would load five boxcars at a time and up to 50 boxcars a day. They employed five men to a car: one man to control the moving chain that brought the ice from the lake to the boxcars.

A sample work schedule from a 1955 harvest follows:

Potential Car Men List for 1955 Ice Harvest

Hurry Up (No. 5) Telephone No. Willmar 1395 M

Car No. 4

Car No. 3

Car No. 2

Car No. 1

Ten to 15 men on the take made ice cakes and pushed them on to the elevator. An ice shaver cut all cakes to the same height. Cakes were loaded three layers to a boxcar with 70 cakes to a layer, totaling 210 cakes to a car. Western Fruit cut ice seven days a week for as long as 30 to 45 days.

In the early years, the company provided meals and living quarters for many of the men, a blacksmith shop that could repair almost anything, and a bam to house the horses. The blacksmith furnished shoe cleats for men and horses and charged $1 to shoe horses. A man with a team was paid $4 a day plus feed for his horses and food for himself.

By the mid-fifties two circular saws, powered by 1923 Model A Ford motors, cut the ice. Two hundred 350-pound cakes were made into floats that were floated into a channel where men with splitting forks split each float into ribbons containing eight cakes each. Crewmen with long-shafted ice picks floated the ribbons to a chute built on the ice. There men with needle forks separated the ribbons into individual cakes, which passed through the shaver. From here the cakes were guided to and loaded in the boxcars.

The Engwalls' ice harvesting also started when Green Lake ice was about 24 to 30 inches thick. A tractor-pulled scraper cleared the snow off the ice. For the protection of both harvesters and spectators, the Engwalls erected a wire fence around the "field" with a lighted lantern on each comer. Then they would bring on the circle saw powered by an automobile engine.

First, the harvesters cut the ice into cakes 22 inches wide and 32 inches long. These dimensions fit a truck box exactly. Later, when these cakes had to be cut for small ice boxes, the cakes could fit the boxes without waste. Then the crew cut a 15-foot long channel in one comer of the ice field for the loading machine.

Tedium set in when the harvesters had to pack snow in the ice cuts before they could load the cakes. The first cuts by the circle saw were about 12 inches deep. Snow was needed in the cuts to prevent water from filling the cuts and freezing the ice solid again. The men could now cut the key blocks in both directions. Using a handsaw, they would cut the remaining 10 or 12 inches of ice on the lower side of each cake. With three sides of a cake cut all the way, the men used a prong bar to break the fourth side. Each cake was next cut into a float about six cakes wide and 10 cakes long. Each 60-cake float was similarly cut into an ice ribbon, from which single cakes were cut, floated to the loading machine, loaded by an elevator mechanism to slide down a chute into the truck box.

Carl Engwall remembers, "If you did not know what you were doing, you would be in big trouble. Many a bruised leg I had before I learned to stay out of the way of an ice cake weighing 400 pounds not being able to stop itself."

After each truck was loaded to 12 or 20 cakes of ice, the driver took it to the ice house where five men put the cakes in place: one layer of 200 cakes and eight or 10 tiers high. Because the icehouse was built in a ground pit, the first three layers went downhill from the truck. Successive layers were filled from the sides.

Sawdust had been trucked to Spicer from Little Falls or Wadena. The crew filled sawdust into the 12 or 14 inches of space between the ice and the wall and on top of the ice. ("The sky was our roof so we had plenty of room on top.") Thus, the Engwalls had enough ice stored for summer use: their meat market plus three routes to lake cabins and houses in Spicer, New London, and Kandiyohi.

Engwall again: "When electricity came, we did not use ice in the meat market. Oh, happy day! But we still had to harvest ice. You see, we would fill ice houses around the county." Resorts (30 - 35) and parks on Green, Diamond, Nest, Big Kandiyohi, and other takes used ice. Also filling stations at Starbuck, Sauk Centre, Murdock, New London, and Redwood Falls depended on this ice-"about two tons of ice to the load of $10 a ton delivered."

Besides these outlets, the Engwall icehouse furnished ice for trucks transporting minnows to Iowa and Ohio. Bait and fresh fish companies would send trucks out of their way to obtain Green Lake ice for their loads.

In 1971, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture informed the Engwalls that they could no longer sell lake ice - it was "unfit for human consumption."

Longtime residents of Spicer can still point out where the railroad tracks ran down to the west shore of Green Lake (1/2 mile north of the downtown city park) and where the trucks drove from the lake shore to the ice house. The operations were skillfully and intricately carried out; they were fascinating to watch.