POLAR FEST SPECIAL COVERAGE: One hundred years ago, Detroit Lakes was a major ice -making center – Detroit Lakes Tribune

One of the cool things about the ice palace, ice maze and ice “news desk”-and everything else Polar Fest does on 600-pound ice blocks this year-is that the ice came right out of Detroit Lake, near historic city. Pavilion.

Sure, modern harvesting involves Bobcat loaders and large power saws, but it also includes the use of more traditional techniques and tools, such as using ice pikes to float large ice cakes on a conveyor belt, and then shave them to standard size. .

The men cut the ice on Detroit Lake during an ice harvest in the past.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

That activity appeals to old-timers in Detroit Lakes because the winter “ice harvest” was an economic staple from the turn of the last century until the 1960s.

Previously, ice harvesting was the second largest industry in Becker County, second only to lumber and logging, according to information from the archives of the Tribune and the Becker County Historical Society.

As a 17-year-old, Larry Howard worked stacking ice blocks on train cars.

“I got the first cake and went straight to the other side of the boxcar and landed on the track, and they all laughed at me and said,‘ That’s what you don’t do! ’” He wrote of his memories of harvesting ice, which is on file with the Historical Society.

Howard worked at the Fargo-Detroit Ice Works, as well as many other men in the area.

“In those days,” he said, “most everyone who could work was working there because there was nothing else to do around there in the winter.”

ice sawing.jpg
In this photo on Jan. 12, 1962 from the Becker County Museum, an unknown man uses a jigsaw to partially cut a field of ice in the lake, but it does not cut up to the surface of the water.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

Beginning in 1888, the well-known John West of Detroit Lakes began harvesting ice in Detroit Lake with only the help of a few men. Fifteen years later, the business was incorporated as the Fargo-Detroit Ice Company.

In 1903, the company produced enough ice to fill 25 railroads. By 1925, it was producing enough to fill 4,500 cars.

“It was quite an experience. It was hard work.”

Dick Duffney, who stacked ice blocks during old ice harvests

In 1945, Fargo-Detroit was the largest company in the Detroit Lakes. It has a payroll of $ 38,000 and employs 40 to 60 men in the winter and 15 to 25 at other seasons.

In 1951, the payroll for all men working in the harvest was $ 50,000.

Scuba_Icing Tools.JPG
A number of icing tools from the historic ice harvest were found (with the help of a local scuba diver and an underwater metal detector) in Detroit Lake in 1992. They now hang on a wall in Tri- State Diving in the Detroit Lakes.

(Tribune File Photo)

That amounts to about $ 600 each-about $ 6,500 in dollars today-for a ton of work. It was very hard work for a small salary, and it could be dangerous for both man and horse, especially in the early days.

One of the men who worked on the railroads was Dick Duffney. He put together ice blocks that were three tiers high, and in the third stack, he said, they could easily be put in place.

“I’m always finding new muscles every day,” he says. “It was quite an experience. It was hard work.”

In this photo on January 17, 1962, Fargo-Detroit Ice Works employees can be seen guiding ice cake floats onto a tram, used to carry ice from the lake to boxcars for shipping, or in storage icehouses.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

Ted Gunderson, who worked at the ice company for 60 years, said in a newspaper article in 1963 that working on the lake was dangerous.

He witnessed the McCabe brothers collide with their car on a thin layer of ice in the harvest area, while on their way to their fish house. One of the brothers died before he was rescued.

He also saw two men working in the company die, and several teams of horses fell and drowned.

But nothing else could be done for the money in Detroit Lakes during that winter, and in recent years, at least, few men have enjoyed the work.

“It’s pretty fun,” said Ike Fischer of Frazee, who worked on the ice harvest at Frazee, which uses more horses.

Because he was one of the few ice harvesters with a camera, Leonard Thielen took many photos. Here, you’ll see some of the workers in the ice block discard pile, shirtless showing winter endurance.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

Before electrification and the widespread use of electric refrigerators and freezers, “ice boxes” were the name of the game in the typical kitchen, and food was kept cold using a block of ice cut from places like Detroit. Lake.

A large chunk of ice harvested in Detroit Lakes went to the Northern Pacific Railroad to keep their wares refrigerated. It is also shipped by rail across the country.

Here is the process used to harvest ice, according to an article by local historian Roger Engstrom recorded in the Becker County Museum:

This photo shows the ice harvest on January 17, 1942 at Detroit Lake. The men with short “pickeroos” (ice pickers) were switchmen preparing to load ice blocks into Northern Pacific Railroad vehicles.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

First, the men cut a stream to the lake so that the blocks would be cleaner, with less soil and debris in them.

According to Engstrom’s story, “a circular saw, powered by a Model A machine with approximately 25 horsepower, cut the ice in half. The ice was‘ scored ’into‘ cakes ’that measuring 22-by-32 inches. ‘Ice sawdust’ was placed on the slice to prevent water from entering the slice and freezing.When completed, a ‘float’ was cut, which was 10 cakes wide and 40 cakes long .

“When the float arrived on the tramway, the ‘pond saw’ finished cutting up into the water, making a strip two cakes wide and 40 cakes long.”

From there, men with pike poles will guide the strips to the area near the tramway. The imperfect cakes ended up in a discarded pile, which took until July sometime to melt.

At the beginning of the ice harvesting process, large circular saws powered by Model A and Model T machines will produce 22×32-inch cakes, weighing nearly 400 pounds each. Workers will cut “floats” that are 10 cakes wide and 40 cakes long.

(Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

Perfect cakes weighing 400 pounds or more went on the tram and loaded onto the railroad tracks.

“As the cakes climbed the tramway, they passed under a planer that cut them all to the same thickness and put grooves in the cakes. The grooves in the cakes kept the cakes from sticking out. freezing together, ”Engstrom wrote.

Ice cakes that are not loaded on trains are stored in icehouses, located where the Holiday Inn is now located.

“It’s pretty fun.”

Ike Fischer, who worked on the old Frazee ice harvests

The ice harvest usually begins between Christmas and New Year, and lasts about two months. The ice stored in the warehouse, where the Holiday Inn now stands, is covered with sawdust, which will prevent the ice from melting throughout the summer, even in theory, Engstrom said.

An editorial in Ken Prentice’s newspaper, published on July 27, 1990, announced that Fargo-Detroit Beverages would no longer be harvesting ice.

“When the ice in Big Detroit is not harvested in the coming winter, many local residents will regret it over a period of time,” he wrote. “One of the penalties we pay for continuous improvement and a better lifestyle.”

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