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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Ice Manufacturing on the Little Miami River

Dallas Bogan on 3 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

We shall now explore the methods of ice making, storing and marketing of ice along the Little Miami in Oregonia.
A story was told to Millie Brown, correspondent for The Western Star, by Mr. Harry Hill regarding this subject, and placed in an edition of the October 1962 newspaper. I shall use Mr. Hill's own words, but at times I have taken it upon myself to do some editing on the article.
Back in those years there were dams in the river, Milford, Loveland, Foster, Kings Mills, South Lebanon, Oregonia and possibly other places I do not recall.
Each dam backed up a nice long strip of water, which made fishing good, and froze over in the winter to a thickness of 8 to 10 inches. That was when we really had winter weather.
The dam backed up the river high enough for the water to run down the millrace, which ran the water wheels in the sawmill and the flourmill. I have as a boy watched the water wheels going round and round. The old up and down saw, sawing its way through a log, and seeing the wheels and pulleys and belts all over the flourmill, grinding out real flour from the wheat and corn meal from the corn.
My memories go back to my father's two icehouses at the north end of Oregonia, where a rivulet ran down from the hillsides to the river. The railroad ran on the east side and the river on the west side, leaving a three-sided piece of land where the icehouses stood.
They were about 30 feet square and about 18 or 20 feet high. The stalls were about a foot thick, which were packed with sawdust; the wood was sawed out of trees from the woods near by.
A long chute was built from the house to the river slanting from near the top of the house, which had four branch chutes to the different layers of ice in the house. This chute extended down into the water about 3 feet, then a water box was made at the end for ice to be loaded into when cut. A johney hook to be pulled up the chute into the house then grabbed the ice.
This water box had to be rebuilt each fall before the ice froze, as it had been broken up by high water and broken-up ice in the river each spring.
When the river was frozen over thick enough (9-10 inches) for a horse to walk out on it, the first job was to mark the ice for sawing. We had an ice plow, which was used to mark the ice; the teeth cut into the ice about three inches.
First, a groove was cut up the center of the ice for 8 to 9 hundred feet, then the horse turned around and a guide was cut in that first groove. Then a second groove was made and so on, until the ice was marked from bank to bank, then cross marks from bank to bank were made.
Sawing now started. Men with double handles would saw up the river, and a man with a single handle would cut crossways from bank to bank.
As the ice was cut loose it would float away; there were men with pike poles to float the cakes into the water box. Here they were grabbed by the johney hook and pulled up the chute to the house.
A pulley was located at the top of the chute and another at the bottom near the house. A rope was threaded through these so one end would be at the water box and the other near the pulley at the house, to which a team of horses were hitched.
The johney hook was made from a piece of round iron about 7 feet long and bent in the middle to form a "V" shape. Both ends were bent down to make a hook and the rope were tied to the center part of the "V."
The johney hook man would jab the hooks of the iron down between the cakes grabbing 8 or 10 cakes and, as the horses started, he would step on the hook and ride it up until the ice took off down the offset chute to the house.
Then he would step off on a footpath along side of the chute and pull the hook and rope back down for another load. Sometimes the ice would buckle up when up the chute a- ways, and the load would rush back to the water box and hit the water and make a big splash. The men at the box would have to do some digging or get a shower of ice water.
As the ice came sliding into the house, there were men there with ice hooks to set the cakes upon edge and drag them across to where the setters, with hooks with wooden handles, would set the cakes.
The first layer was all set in one direction, then the next one crossways of the first layer so they would not freeze together and would come out much easier in the summer.
The top of each layer would have to be positioned down level wherever a corner of a cake happened to be up a little too high, so that the next layer would have a level base to be set on.
Dad kept a jug of whiskey on the job and would go around every hour and give each man a small jigger of whiskey; no one ever got sick or caught a cold from working on the ice. One old colored fellow, Mr. Ralston, carried a small bottle and took his jigger in it so he could sip at it a little at a time.
When Dad started around with the jug, the ice saws began to work faster. One fellow got the jug one day and drank about a quart; they found him later on over in a corner limber drunk.
As they got further up the river they would leave a channel along near the bank to float the ice down to the water box. This channel had to be kept from freezing up at night. In doing so, a man would work at night floating a cake of ice back and forth to keep it clear of ice.
When they got away up farther they would cut out a large island of ice about 40 feet square and float it down near the box and spud it up into cakes.
One night Mr. William Norton, who lived nearby, heard someone yelling, got up and dressed, and went out to the house and found that the night man named Mason, that was floating the ice in the channel, had slipped into the water and was clawing at the shore ice and yelling. He was about all in, but Mr. Norton got him out.
Bob Young was the saw and hatchet man that Dad kept here to fix things that would get broken or got loose. One day Dad called for him to come to the water box with nails and hatchet. Bob came running and ran out on the thin ice and went in over his head. They fished him out and he struck out across the corn field on the west side of the river for home, changed to dry clothes, got warm, and was back in a short time.
When the houses were filled, straw was put over the top about 2 or 3 feet thick, and all scrap ice was tossed up on the straw to melt, so the straw would pack down on the ice better.
If the ice was real good and thick, Dad would load several railroad cars with ice and ship it to Lebanon and put it in an icehouse he had there.
Then summer came and the hard wearisome work started. The ice had to be brought to Lebanon and delivered. We had 6 or 8 horses and wagons and harness, which we kept in a large barn that years before was the old bus barns where they kept the busses that were run between here and Cincinnati.
We would get up at two or three o'clock in the morning, eat breakfast, and walk down to the barn and feed and curry the horses. We would hitch up in almost darkness, as there was only a lantern on a wire to see by.
During our drive to Oregonia, we could nap some on the way, as there were no autos to dodge in those days.
We would climb up the ladder to the door and wing it on top of the ice and start uncovering and spudding the ice loose, drag it cake by cake across to the door, and let it down to the wagon one cake at a time, and when loaded, cover it up and back in another wagon.
Some three or four wagons were needed to reach all the customers. We would then deliver all around Lebanon until about 3 o'clock, and go to bed to rest up for the next trip.
The customers did not realize what labor it was to cut and store the ice and haul it to Lebanon to them, and with all that labor, we only got 50 cents a hundred. I personally got up one night about 2 a.m. and delivered ice where there was sickness.
When we started home we had a lunch and stopped at the water tub to eat and water the horses. We always let the horses rest several times going up the hill. They got so they knew where the water breaks were and would stop there by themselves, and after resting, would start up themselves.
Dad harvested ice in 1897, fine 10 inch ice. In the spring thaw and rain, the river got up to flood stage and took out both icehouses and all.
Dad was running a big grocery store in Lebanon, so this loss broke him up, as every one wanted their money at once.
He took down sick, and when well enough, started hauling coal and buying ice from Michigan and delivering around town.
He then bought a piece of ground on West Main St. and built a pond and icehouse and cut ice from the pond. Later on he bought a used ice plant, but it was not big enough, so he bought a larger one. Later, business began to play out, so now ice is obtained from several small electric houses around town.

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This page created 3 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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