By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
WASECA — Before refrigeration, getting summertime ice to cool one’s sweaty brow required plenty of sweat equity the winter before.
Until the 1930s, harvesting ice from lakes and storing it under mounds of sawdust were mandatory for keeping foods chilled year-round — a practice revisited Wednesday on Clear Lake in Waseca.
The annual daylong old-fashioned ice harvest gives grade-school kids a hands-on feel for the heavy labor once required to obtain something that now shoots from refrigerators on command.
Fifth- and sixth-graders from several Waseca-area schools took turns scoring, sawing, pulling and storing ice blocks that won’t be fetched until this summer’s Waseca Chautauqua event in a city park.
Waseca County Historical Society Co-Director Joan Mooney supervised the retro work details Wednesday that culminated with ice blocks placed in a portable shed and covered with tiers of insulating sawdust.
How much of the ice typically remains come July?
“Well, that depends,” Mooney said. “The first year we did this there wasn’t any ice left, so then we tweaked it and it worked better.”
The physics behind keeping 200-pound ice blocks intact well into summer involves tight stacking, liberal layers of sawdust and an opening atop the storage unit to vent latent heat produced by melting.
Proper storage back in the day allowed ice to survive into July or August, Mooney said.
The iceman would deliver large blocks to homes for use in ice boxes that essentially were large coolers with doors. The blocks would last about a week.
With automatic icemakers in refrigerators now standard, even making ice the newer-fashioned way may seem old-fashioned to kids.
Allissa Teachout and Karen Gallegos, sixth-graders at Team Academy in Waseca, were asked if they knew how to make ice.
“Put water in the freezer, in a container,” Allissa said.
Karen went into more detail: “We put it in a metal bowl and leave it in for two days and check on it. Usually, it’s frozen. Then I chip it up with my favorite knife.”
What about ice-cube trays?
“Oh, yeah. My mom bought some a few days ago.”
The Historical Society conducts the ice harvest event in conjunction with the agricultural interpretive center Farmamerica and a host of community volunteers.
This is the 10th year the event has been part of Waseca’s Sleigh & Cutter Festival.