The Ice Man Cometh
Of course no one had electric refrigerators in the 1940’s, at least not in our neighborhood. So we were solely dependent on the “Ralph Kramden” ice box. This gadget was unique and useful. A two compartment unit made out of wood. And, it was lined with steel painted white. The top compartment was usually smaller and that held the food that needed refrigeration. The bottom section was larger and held the block of ice.
The top didn’t have any shelves as I remember so food was kind of stuffed in as best you could. The bottom could if needed be used to keep things cold as well as keep the ice. No Freezer Section. If you wanted ice for drinks you just grabbed the ice pick and chipped off some ice for your drink. Or, take a large chunk wrap it in a towel and beat it with a hammer on the kitchen table. The early ice crusher was born. Let me tell you how impressed I was just with ice cubes in water. When my parents finally upgraded to a different home my Mom one day set out a pitcher of water with ice cubes in it. No holiday, no special occasion. I thought we were rich.
The whole operation depended on keeping a regular supply of ice in the ice box. The ice company provided a sign that could be hung in the front window of your house. It had four side with four different sizes of ice on each side. Our job as kids after we were told was to hang the ice sign in the window and to make sure the size needed was at the bottom. And you better not forget.
The ice man would come along in his delivery truck on some designated schedule. He would read the sign in the window. Cut a block of ice that matched the signs requirement. He had a leather sling and shoulder pad that he used to carry the cube up on his shoulder with.Our guy was lucky. We lived in a house and the ice box was in the kitchen on the first floor. Sometimes the Ice Man had to carry the block of ice up flights of stairs to people who lived in apartments. His tools were ice tongs and ice pick. and of course a strong back. Just think about this mans job. All day long up into the truck, cut a chunk of ice. Dismount load the block on your back and carry it to the Ice Box. And, ice tongs and ice picks, us kids were impressed.
You got automatic delivery if the sign was in the window. The ice man just opened the front door with the cube of ice on his shoulder and hollered out “Ice Man”. In he came found the ice box and put the new block of ice into it. Didn’t matter what was going on in the family. He just let himself in the house. And, if I remember right he got paid cash on the spot.
Along his route as he was delivering he would sound the call “Ice Man”, for those who needed ice but forgot to put up the sign. Or, the kids who forgot to do what their parents told them. If no one was around to corral him then you got no ice. And, trouble was afoot. For you.
Now there were times when thing just didn’t work out. We would run out of ice and the Ice Man wasn’t due to deliver for some time. Here’s where the advantages of having a child came in. Mom would say, “Get the wagon and go get some ice.”. I don’t know where the wagon ever came from but one became available. It was our job to go over to the Ice House and bring home a block of ice. For me that was a 10 block round trip. And, sometimes Mom would let you pick up a block of ice for a neighbor too.
Wagon in tow off you would go to get the ice. 8th and Dupont Street on the corner across from Dela Donnes Store was the Ice House. It was a 8′ X 10′ wooden shed. Lined with steel and full of ice. It was a sub station for Diamond Ice And Coal. You just asked the attendant for two 15cent blocks of ice and he hacked them off for you and with his tongs loaded them on your wagon.
Now this Ice Man was too scary for us kids. He was an aged black man. Looking back probably not paid very much in a labor intensive job. He was bent over and had a contorted body and face. I don’t remember whether he was friendly or not. I just wanted to get my ice and get out of there. When no one was buying ice he had a stool in front of the ice house he would sit on. To me he just looked menacing with those tongs and ice pick.
The trip home with ice in the summer time was a fun trip. Usually there was some change. And, I would take the change and put it on top of the ice and let it melt down into the block of ice. By the time I got home it could be several inches down into the ice. A perfect vertical column. How we got the ice cube into the house I don’t remember. We probably had a set of ice tongs at home to carry the block of ice in with.
I never relished these jobs our parents put on us. But liking wasn’t an option for our generation. We were the cheap labor and yet most of us grew up without going to jail. And we got an education that allowed us to support and raise our families. Chores were just like growing up – they just happened. The chores were there and we were expected to help.