Sunday, January 12, 2014

Fifty years ago we would be filling the icehouse now

Camp as it looked back in the early '60s
This photo dates back to 1961-67 and shows our old icehouse which was located where the fish cleaning house is situated today.
My dad, Don, would normally go out to camp in late-December or early January and put up ice for the next summer. He usually had one of our native guides help him with this. It was a difficult job and took one-to-two weeks to complete.
The process began with shoveling all the snow off the lake in front of the icehouse. There could be as much as three feet of this and they had to clear it from an area the size of a small skating rink.
Next, they had to cut up the ice into blocks. My dad had obtained an old home-made contraption for this the first year he bought camp. It consisted of a large radial saw (with no guard!) that was mounted on a large sled. The blade looked like something you would see in a lumber mill. This was connected by a belt drive to an old rickety gasoline engine, also mounted on the sled. The machine had a serious shortcoming, however. The blade was about 32 inches in diameter which meant it could only cut a maximum of half this distance or 16 inches. The problem was the lake ice could be 36 inches!
Although it couldn't cut right through the ice sheet, it could cut half way and that was still a great help. Dad would push the sled along, making a grid pattern on top of the ice. Then he and his helper would take turns cutting through the remainder of the ice thickness with a six-foot-long hand saw with a T-handle on one end. You can still see this saw today. It hangs inside the stairwell of Cabin #9.
They would cut the ice into giant cubes, usually two feet by two feet by three feet (the thickness of the lake ice). When they would cut a cube loose, they would grab it with large ice tongs and lever it up onto the lake surface, then drag it over to the ice chute which you can see in the photo leading from the  icehouse down to the lake.
Here was where the ice machine really came into its own. Across one end of the sled was a windlass that held a hundred feet of rope. This was powered by another belt driven by the same gasoline engine as the saw. You just pulled a lever to engage the windlass or another lever to operate the saw.
They would tie the sled securely to a tree on shore and run the rope through a pulley at the top of the chute and down to the ice blocks which were exceedingly heavy. In fact a 2x2x3-foot block of ice would have weighed 690 pounds! (Ice weighs 57.5 pounds per cubic foot. Water is denser and weighs 62 pounds. That's why ice floats.)
They would throw a loop over the massive ice blocks and the windlass would pull them right up the chute like they were nothing. Once the blocks were inside Dad and his helper would use the ice tongs to manoeuvre them next to each other as tightly as possible, leaving a couple of feet of space between the group of ice blocks and the log walls of the building. They would make three or four layers of these blocks. At the conclusion of each layer, they would carefully pack snow in any air space between the blocks. When finished the icehouse probably held about 125 blocks.
Just imagine the effort this job took!
And that wasn't even the end of the job. Once all the ice blocks had been stacked to within four feet of the ridge of the building, sawdust had to be shoveled from a pile outside the icehouse. Sawdust was the insulation that prevented all the ice from melting during the summer. The two-foot space around the perimeter of the ice had to be filled, with no air spaces, or the warm summer air would find its way inside and melt everything. They also had to cover the top of the ice with a couple of feet.
All that shoveling would have been a chore at any time but in the winter, the sawdust was frozen hard as a rock and had to be broken up with a rock pick before it could be shoveled. My dad said this last stage was actually the hardest part of putting up ice.
The sawdust had come out to camp from one of the sawmills in town in burlap bags. There were many hundreds of bags of it and it must have taken a lot of boatloads to get out to camp initially. It lasted a long time, however, and only had to be added to with a couple of dozen or so bags each year.
The icehouse provided all of our refrigeration back in those days because we didn't have a generator. Blocks of ice were placed in ice-boxes in the cabins daily. These looked like small refrigerators that had a freezer on top, except the "freezer" section was where you put a 16x8x8-inch block of ice. Cold air is heavy and sank down to the rest of the fridge compartment below.
Every day we had to climb into the icehouse, dig through the sawdust and break out one of those big blocks. This we scored with a hand ice saw, also now hanging in Cabin #9, and once you had a line cut a few inches across the block you could whack this with an ice chisel and the piece would sever completely through the block. We further cut this into smaller sections and using smaller ice tongs, haul it down to the lake and wash off the sawdust (here's how we lost the sawdust).
Fish were gut-and-gilled and laid right on the ice surface in the icehouse, covered with the ever-handy burlap bag, and sawdust piled on top. You could keep them about a week in this manner but not much longer. Each cabin's fish were put in a different place under the sawdust and marked with a stick.
When people left at the end of the week we would take out all their fish and fillet the entire mass of them the same morning before they got on the boat. Then we would put them in their coolers and take another ice chunk and using a hand pick, break it into shards and fill the cooler for the trip home.
We did this for six months out of every year.
The icehouse still held most of a layer of ice at the end of October. The last thing we did before leaving camp for the winter was to shovel out all the sawdust and throw away this old ice, making room for new the next winter.
All of this came to an end when we got our first diesel generator sometime about 1967.
A lot of people have nostalgic memories of the icehouse days but I'm not one of them. This was a lot -- and I mean A LOT -- of work. Thank goodness for the generator and electric freezers and refrigerators!
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Bob Moninger said...

Dan, When did the Servel gas refrigerators arrive? We are still using two of them that I bought from your father.
Bob Moninger

Kim Gross said...

Wow! I'm worn out just reading this. Really interesting.

Dan Baughman said...

Hi Bob,
We had one Servel right from the start. That was in the lodge. We brought it with us from Pickerel River, Ont., when we moved to Red Lake. I would guess we got the others in the late '60s. We used some of them even after we had our first generator for a few years since the electric freezer and lights were about all the load it could handle.