By David R. Schleper
Ice houses were buildings used to store ice throughout the year, commonly used prior to the invention of the refrigerator. They were usually man-made, close to natural sources of winter ice such as freshwater lakes, or in Shakopee, the Minnesota River.
During the winter, ice and snow would be taken into the ice house and packed with insulation, often straw or sawdust. They would remain frozen for many months, often until the following winter, and could be used as a source of ice during summer months. The main application of the ice was the storage of perishable foods, but it could also be used simply to cool drinks, or allow ice-cream and sorbet desserts to be prepared.
Frank and Leo Siebenaler went into the ice business during the 1920s in Shakopee. They bought the business from Edward Veight. The ice house was right by the old feed mill.
The storage place for the ice was an old packing house on the west end of Shakopee. The building was a three layer thick, red brick building which measured 30’ x 100’. The building was 20 feet above ground, with a 10-foot basement.
The ice cutting was done with a big ice saw, by hand. They always waited for below-zero weather. The ice was made mostly at night because of the cold weather. They hauled the ice with teams of horses. The ice was packed in sawdust.
Homes in Shakopee at that time had ice boxes. The brothers carried the ice with tongs. They wore rubber aprons and rubber vests. Later on the electric refrigerator came along.
Before the ice would thicken enough to harvest, the snow had to be cleaned off the ice field. The old method was a wooden scraper pulled by a team of horses. Later, Leo and Frank used trucks. The ice on the river was always thinner where the main stream ran faster, which was on the north side of the river. One winter, Leo was cleaning the snow off the ice with his Oldsmobile truck. He went too far on the current side, and his truck broke through. Luckily, Leo and Frank always plowed with the driver’s door removed for a quick exit! The water was over his cab, with only one angle iron on the top of the truck sticking out. They had to wait for two weeks to get quick enough to work around the truck to remove it!
At the loading platform, the rafts of ice were split into single blocks by a splitting bar and a needle bar. To put the blocks on the loading platform, a long slide was used three feet below the water level. A hook was placed behind two or three cakes and pulled up the slide by one horse.
Frank’s job was to take care of the river crew, and Leo took care of the ice house crew. Six to eight teams with sleds, each hauling eight cakes of ice, hauled the ice to the ice house. Some of the men who used horse teams to haul the ice up the hill to the ice house included John Breeggemann, George Ince, Jake Menden, Peter Ploumen, George Realander, and Sonny Scherer.
If there were bare spots on the road, the snow had to be hauled to cover that area so that the horses could pull the heavy loads. Later, the horses were replaced with a Ford Model-T truck, and in 1927, a Chevrolet truck was used.
The road from the river to the ice house was two blocks. Eventually, Frank and Leo cut the teams in half by blasting with dynamite behind the ice house, making a road. Pete Thielen, the local dynamiter, did the blasting.
Leo’s Oldsmobile truck was used with a long rope and pulley to pull the cakes up the slide and into the ice house. Later, Frank made an elevator, which raised one cake at a time. The ice packers, who worked inside the ice house, had to be good at handling and packing ice. Bill Greening, Art Schultz, Sam Jansen, Paul Prellwitz, and Art Hamilton were some of the ice packers. The ice was heavy, and they could easily be hurt if they weren’t fast and careful.
Once the ice house was filled with ice, it had to be completely covered with sawdust. The sawdust pile was on the outside of the ice house. It usually took two days to fill the ice house with sawdust. Frank later made a hay carrier track, attached to a 55 gallon barrel. The Siebenaler boys had to fill the barrel, and sometimes they got a shower of sawdust!
During the summer, Frank and Leo were at the ice house by 6 a.m. Cutting the ice out of the 10-foot basement was quite a chore. Later, Frank bought a hoist for $40 from Mrs. Whaeling. Her husband had dementia, and he didn’t want them to sell the hoist. So Mrs. Whaeling put the hoist in the grass across the street from where they lived, near Hennen’s Station, and Frank and Leo picked it up late in the evening.
Ice was delivered to private homes and businesses. They filled the ice boxes four times a week, and it made a mess on the floors of some houses! When the brothers were delivering ice, children would come and the men would chisel off pieces of ice for them.
The cost of the ice delivery was $2.50 for a 500-pound coupon book. The chips were marked with Siebenaler Bros. Ice Co. and the ice was the size of a 50-cent piece. The wholesale price for large orders or a truck load was $4 per ton. Some of the places that had ice delivered included Barney Jansen and Charles Hartmann, who both had a meat market, and the Hamm’s Branch. The Redman Ice Cream Factory, which was located on the northwest corner of First and Holmes Street was Siebenaler’s biggest customer.
John Siebenaler was the grandson of Leo. “Leo and Frank invented the first ice cubes by cutting the ice, which they got out of the Minnesota River, into cubes with a series of saws. In the beginning they used horses to cut the ice out of the river and pull it up the banks of the river into their ice house. Later on they invented a series of belts powered by a gas engine to pull the ice up from the river.”
Frank and Leo also invented an ice cube machine and sold ice cubes. According to John Siebenaler, “Before the ice cubes became popular bars or restaurants had ice picks that they used to chop up larger chunks of ice to fit into a glass.”
John also remembered his dad riding on the ice wagon and throwing ice at other kids running after the ice truck. He also recalled his aunt. “One of my dad’s sisters used to carry blocks of ice into people’s homes to put into their ice boxes. I remember the ice man coming into the house and putting the ice in our ice box.”
And that is how people got ice in the good ole days!
(Some information from Lucille Siebenaler Olson and the Shakopee Heritage Society Newsletter and interview with John Siebenaler.)