Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ice Barn





Barns come in all sizes shapes and purposes. Most are used for shelter or storage of equipment. Barns appear on calendars, posters and in books. There are hex signs for them, various wind vanes and lightning rods on the ridge line. Vent ridges, cupolas or high lofty openings. The barn is the icon of rural country life.
On a low knoll sits a rather weathered and indiscreet barn. No designs or unique roof line. It is built into the knoll so that there are multiple levels. The lower level is a walk in for the livestock. Here are the milking stalls, a granary room and the milk room. Above is the hay loft, built at ground level so the wagon can pull in the barn and be loaded or unloaded. At the other edge is the saw dust pile. This is what makes this barn unique, for under the saw dust is stored blocks of ice.
Near by is a small pond and in the winter when it freezes over the neighbors would go out and harvest ice off the pond. Haul it back to their barns and store it. The floor of the ice house was pitched in a way to allow good drainage and easy access to the ice.
A long hot summer day, temperature around 100 degrees, the sun was relentless, no clouds in the sky. Hot, sweaty and dirty, trudging home after a day in the field being able to have a glass of cold water with ice in it, a rare treat in pioneer days. That evening go out and bring in the cows for milking. Set down in the milk barn, a cool air flows from the other side of the barn. After a hot day out in the sun, it would have to feel good to cool off like that. No air conditioning to set in, just what has been provided.
After the milking was done, chip off a piece of ice and carry it up to the house for the ice box along with the milk and cream. The cream and milk will be cold by morning. Some fresh cream for the cereal or coffee.



Having ice in the barn adds a comfort level lots of pioneers did not have. Most early settlers had a cellar or well house to keep things cool. Quite often it was a dug out under the house that also was a storm shelter. Here would be cool storage and if the cistern was nearby it could be quite cool. Canned foods were stored among other things.
Having ice allowed the household to have an ice box. There was no electricity available to the early settlers until the REA came along. So to have an ice box was very unusual. The ice box kept the milk cool, the butter and other dairy products. When the garden was producing it allowed them to have fresh produce longer. It also provided ice for lemonade or tea and they could make ice cream.
Homemade ice cream a treat any time of year but on a hot summer day, now that was the cool life. Set on the veranda in the evening spooning ice cream, maybe some fresh fruit with it.
Dad sitting in a rocking chair, mom in another the children sitting on the front stoop, a breeze floats by and the sun is setting into a crimson glow.
Harvesting ice is a cold and hazardous job. Walking out on the ice with a boring tool and saw, sawing out chunks, pulling them out of the water and hauling them to the sleigh, driving the team to the barn helping the neighbor unload in his barn, going back to the pond for more ice. Checking to make sure it still holds, worrying about falling through. Then there is summer and the fruits of the harvest.
A well weathered barn, without painting for years. Sets on a knoll and looks like nothing special. Yet it held a treasure.
Carry it into the nearby town and sell it to the townspeople or the butcher. Probably barter with the meat locker, so much ice for a half of beef cut up. Keeps the fresh produce cool in the store, there are cold drinks at the fountain. The horse drawn ice wagon made its rounds delivering cool on a hot summer day.
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