Bob Mitchell: Window ice cards no longer needed

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Most of today’s generation have never heard of, let alone seen one, of the window ice cards that people of the past used to signal their needs for preserving food for a short time in their refrigerators.

That was long before either propane gas or electric cooling capabilities arrived on the scene.

The card was usually yellow and black, less than the size of a normal sheet of paper and had numbers around the edge that probably ran from five to 20. Depending on the number on the top of a card displayed in a window, an ice delivery person would know how much ice the resident desired. The capacity of most cooling appliances in those days was between 10 and 20 pounds, which would last for only a few days.

And they were not the refrigerators as we know them today, in that era they were obviously ice boxes.

Seldom was this ice used for cooling drinks since the route driver was somewhere about a week or at least a few days arriving on the same location.

First ice came from creek

Early Cassville residents first got their ice from Flat Creek, where workers would harvest during the winter months. The old mill on East Seventh Street and the old powerhouse on East Ninth, alternately served as storage facilities for that ice. Insulation for the cut chunks of ice usually was either straw or sawdust when available.

As anyone might imagine, the ice didn’t last that long, either human consumption or hot weather would quick exhaust what supplies had been sawed out when the creek froze, which it apparently did back in those days.

Railways came to town

The demand for the shipping of produce out of Cassville brought Railways Ice Company of Monett to Cassville about 1938, at least that’s the year Hershel Horine arrived in town and set up shop on East Sixth Street, just a block off Main Street.

The shipping demand was mostly connected with the Blakemore and Aroma strawberries grown in Barry County. Just about every town in the area had a strawberry shed from which the product was shipped on the Cassville and Exeter Railroad.

The strawberries from this county were much in demand especially in the metropolitan areas of the state. Their shipping distance was limited due to spoilage.

That’s when the reefer cars were gathered up from other areas and made available to southwest Missouri to handle these seasonal crops.

There was a small demand for tomatoes back in those years, but most of them, which came from hillside acreages, went to local canneries.

Early morning noise

It was an early morning wake-up call our family while living at the Ray house in Cassville, when crews would start hauling the 300-pound cakes of ice either from the Cassville facility or if the shipment was heavy enough to require several cars, the ice would come directly from Monett. The railroad car reefer compartment had to be full of ice if the shipment was going possibly to St. Louis or Kansas City, both markets were anxious for Barry County berries.

It was a busy and hurried time around the C&E depot during the season, as the same scene was going on in other shed locations. Produce dealers John Dunlap in Washburn and George Ray in Butterfield were among those deeply involved with the strawberry shipments.

Crushed ice available

Familiar around Cassville’s business district daily was Johnny Brock, employee of the Ice House, as he delivered crushed ice to businesses with soda fountains, which at that time there were four, restaurants too were in the market for his deliveries.

Those that chose to provide their own at a lesser price, would buy a chunk of ice, place it in a wooden box lined with metal and then shave-off their own crushed ice.

Marketing out of the icehouse was also available for picnickers and travelers going through the area.

In a cold storage area might be found sides of beef from Barber’s Sanitary Market slaughterhouse that was popular in war years. Vollenweider Orchards also used the cold storage for apples before getting their own facilities.

Then there was always the summertime availability of soft shell crawfish extensively used in area streams.

Storage in icehouse

Living next door to the icehouse at one time, it was easy to know when inventory was being refurbished from Railways. The huge chunks would arrive in a semi-trailer of those days, back to the dock and install a chute to the ice room. Down that ramp the chunks would slide, but once in a while one wouldn’t make it to the dock area and crash to the ground.

The standard rule was to stay away from the unloading area until finished, then kids would be permitted to help themselves to the smaller chunks of ice.

Some was consumed on the spot and some was hurried home to make it available for what family requirements might be.

next week

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.