The icemen cometh


HOWARD, Ohio – Most of my Amish neighbors have icehouses constructed of 24-by-48 inch pieces of Styrofoam 16 feet long. Those foam structures will keep ice for two years or more, so most are near empty because in the last two mild winters, there was little ice on the ponds worth cutting.
In December and early January, it looked like we might be having a third mild winter in a row. But somebody with an empty icehouse was careless about what they prayed for, and now we have had nearly three weeks of unusually cold weather, and 8 inches or more of crystal clear ice on the ponds.
No livestock allowed. The ponds my neighbors cut ice on are manmade and, ideally, spring fed. Livestock is fenced out and banks are graded to keep out surface runoff. The water is crystal clear, and tests show very low bacteria count.
Interestingly, when cutting ice with chain saws, the bar and chain oil is replaced with corn oil.
There is not much you can do outdoors on a farm during a blizzard, but I did learn you could cut ice.
An early start. By the time I arrived just after breakfast at the Bill Hostetler pond, the crew had already cut a couple of cartloads of ice and had it stored in the icehouse.
Unlike the old sawdust-packed, double wall, wood frame ice houses of a century ago, where each load of ice was covered with sawdust, in the more efficient foam icehouses, it gets stacked like cordwood. The blocks do freeze together, but a few pokes with an ice pick easily separate them.
Group effort. About a dozen men and boys were on the ice. A couple hauling ice from the water had already shed their jackets and were working in their shirtsleeves, even though it was just 20 degrees and a light snow was falling. With ice cleats on his boots, one was manning the mounted circular ice saw that cut into the ice about 6 inches.
They were cutting strips about 18 inches wide. An older boy followed with a chain saw and cut the strips into about 5 foot lengths. With plenty of help, it’s faster and the chain saw operators stay drier hauling out 5-foot lengths of ice out and letting somebody else cut them into 18- or 20-inch blocks. Eight inches thick, they weigh about 90 pounds.
The kids love those chain saws. Since it’s a wet job – a saw chain can throw a lot of water – the older guys let the kids have it.
And they can’t resist opening the saw up full throttle. Even with rain gear on, they get soaked.
Risky. Since the circular saw was not set to cut all the way through the ice, the strips are broken loose manually. Two big guys will lock arms and walk next to the strip with one stepping out and breaking the scored strip loose with his foot. It was interesting to note that where the ice was kept clear of snow it was up to 2 inches thicker than where it was insulated by snow cover.
With two teams of horses hauling ice only a few hundred yards to the icehouse, they still couldn’t keep up with the blocks of ice lining the shore.
By noon, the 12-by-16-by-8 foot icehouse was filled to the door and it was time to start filling another icehouse.
A conservative estimate is that these foam icehouses hold about 40 tons of ice and will supply several families for at least two years.
In less than a day, a couple of families filled the icehouse and several other icehouses, as well.

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