In This Place: February 26, 2014

By Trish Adams
When I promised sappiness this week, I was jumping the gun a little. Maple season is often still going strong in early April. Meanwhile, another great tradition, ice harvesting, had better be done by now or everybody’s butter will melt come May. Huge blocks of ice, “plowed,” sawed and harvested, at 80 pounds a piece, once kept men and horses busy for weeks in the coldest times of year. Snow was no help: it warmed the ice and made it thinner (thus the “scraping” in these excerpts). The enormous energy it took to harvest ice has since been diverted to other chores and is now a diversion at museums like Hanford Mills that preserve our living traditions.

February 14, 1913
Delayed Ice in Full Swing
Valuable team of Commodore Gerry is Killed
The ice harvest that a little more than two weeks ago seem­ed a remote possibility, is now in full swing and thousands of tons are being gathered.
Hotel men, ice cream men and creamery and milk men have found that enough ice has formed since Candlemas day to make it possible to cut and gather it.
Tuesday afternoon a pair of fine horses belonging to Commodore Elbridge T. Gerry, valued at several hundred dollars, were drowned in the Gerry lake. One of the men who cares for the estate escaped death by a narrow margin. It was thought the ice on the lake was safe. The team broke through, however, and before the animals could be rescued they succumbed.
Owing to the snow menace this year’s job has been the longest ever. Part of the field had to be scraped five different times, but from all appearances it would be possible to harvest another crop, for the good stiff winter hangs on.

Ice is nice . . . except when it’s not nice at all.

February 21, 1913
The two local meat markets are harvesting their supply of ice from the worst part of the Binnekill, within a few feet from where dozen of sewers empty. Words seem of little use in the matter of the Binnekill sewerage ice nuisance and more strenuous means will have to be taken if this filthy practice is ever to be stopped.

Then in the course of one issue, there is ice in one spot and none in another, just miles away. The Halcottsville reporter bravely sticks his (her?) neck out, then has to backtrack. Notice that Halcottsville had no “s” then.

March 4, 1932
Ice at Halcottville
Last week, even though it was the coldest week of the winter, did not help the ice crop here to any extent. The Sheffield Farms Company attempted to truck ice and managed to get a small amount before the weather turn­ed warm. Saturday and Sunday the temperature hovered around the 40-degree mark and if we may venture a prediction we would say that the possibilities for an ice harvest here this year are very remote indeed. — Halcottville Cor.

Meanwhile, seven miles up the road, the ice harvest is just fine (same issue, same page).

Roxbury Has Ice
The ice harvest has been in full swing from the Kirkside Lake all week with ice from seven to nine inches thick, and as clear as a crystal. Although most of the small ice houses are filled this Friday, creamery ice houses are but nicely started. Supt. Lutz reports that with good weather, there will be only about three days of ice harvesting on the lake. — Roxbury Times

And from Andes, the hum of ice harvesting’s demise . . .

Filled Several Ice Houses
Most of the small ice houses were fortunate enough to get filled last week. The Co-op Dairy plant has not as yet had their rooms filled. Since installing electric refrigeration a year or more ago, they do not store as much ice as in former years. — Andes Cor.

Our Halcottsville correspondent doubles down: predicts no ice harvest and spring!

We are going to take another chance this year and chronicle signs of spring. We saw hornets flying around on exposed sides of buildings last Saturday. They were very lively. We also saw a flock of wild ducks flying in a northerly direction and it has been reported to us that robins have been heard in the morning. We took a chance of predicting an open winter some years ago, and one of the hardest winters of recent years descended upon us, so if the above signs fail me again, kindly take the item for what it is worth. — Halcottville Cor.

Two weeks later? ‘Halcottville’ has to take it all back. And a gas-powered ice saw arrives just in time to become obsolete.

March 25, 1932
Big Sheffield Building Filled in Three Days
Wawaka Ice field was finished last Thursday evening as the Sheffield farm company ice house was filled by a large force of men. The New York Central Railroad having filled their ice house, gave over their ice field to the creamery company. The weather is still continuing cold and it begins to look as though there will be plenty of ice for everyone. The Sheffield Ice harvest made use of a gasoline powered ice saw for the first time here and this made the harvest move along much faster than would have been possible with the old-fashioned method of plowing ice with horses. —Halcottville Cor.

Sap? Ice? Well, ice cream and maple syrup do go well together!

Feb. 26, 1937
The sugar season is well advanced now. Many farmers have sap bushes tapped, and many village people are trying to make a little syrup. A strange coincidence is that in one place, workmen gathered ice and tapped trees both in the same day, which seldom happens. — Roxbury Cor.

An amazing structure is razed, and the enormous energy dedicated to harvesting ice becomes history in a week…

October 30, 1936
Raze Ice House at Halcottville
A large force of men in the employ of The Independent Wrecking Co., are at Halcottville tearing down the large ice house of the New York Central railroad.
The ice house was built about 18 years ago during the World War and cost about $40,000. The building measures 154 feet long, 43 feet wide and 40 feet high and had a capacity of 4,000 tons of ice. During the heyday of this industry 100 men were employed for about a month in winter harvesting ice.
In the future the milk train will be iced at Weehawken, N.J., when starting out each morning, which will do away with the icing at Halcottville. The Shef­field Farms Company plans to manufacture its own ice so that there will be no ice harvesting at Halcottville in the future and about 100 men will lose a month’s work during the winter.

This time of year everyone’s fancy also turns to sunshine, colorful drinks with umbrellas and hot, white sands. So here’s one of our WWII vets to transport you to a warmer clime …

Mailbag: February 25, 1944
Somewhere in India
Dear Editor:
I have been receiving the newspapers quite regular the last two months. The papers are a little out of date but are still welcome, you bet.
We’ve been here quite a while and it is quite a drop from the modern world we live in.
If the farmers at home had to aggravate the soil with a bamboo harrow and plow with a tree limb like they do over here, two crates a year would be a bumper crop of cauliflower.
The fellows at home give the old tractor an overhaul once a year but the Indians have a less costly maintenance. They run the elephant to the river and give him a massage ever so often. I’ve seen Indian farmers in a pool with their water buffalos, scrubbing them off!
Wild life is plentiful. Jackals howl you to sleep at night, cats and bears are everywhere at night and the buzzards are busy policing up in the daytime. None of the boys has bagged a tiger yet. An Indian Rahjah owns a tiger hide 10-feet long, so there must be some big ones around.
I want to thank everybody again for the newspapers. Keep them coming. Hope to be back with you all soon.
Sincerely yours,
Cpl. Milton D. Shultis

Milton, you should have been a writer!
Readers, send me ideas and comments to graphics@catskillmountainnews.com. As Milton would say, “Keep ’em coming.”