Monday, January 28, 2013
Harvesting Ice at Howell History Farm
Let's say its 1900, and refrigerators haven't been invented yet. How do you keep the ice box cold year-round? This past Saturday, the answer could be found, and participated in, about a half hour west of Princeton at Mercer County's Howell Living History Farm. I took the back roads, as zigzaggy as this post, out to witness the occasion with my daughter.
A perfectly timed week of cold weather had frozen the small pond 4 inches deep, enough for the staff to venture out on the ice with a saw, but not the visitors.
Blocks of ice were cut, then slid over to the ramp,
where another staff member, with help from visitors, pulled them up the first ramp with a special hooked tool. The farm director, Pete Watson, explained that the antique tools had, by subtleties in their design and feel, taught the staff about how to use them, in ways that reproductions could not.
Another volunteer helped push the blocks along.
For the fourth and final leg of the journey, a hook and pulley system is used for the long trip up to the barn.
Some sawdust in the bucket is thrown on the blocks as they are placed in the deep pit of the barn, to keep each block loose and ready to be retrieved in the middle of summer.
Here's the pulling crew.
A pair of beautiful Belgian draft horses provided sleigh rides on the frozen ground. Pete told me there's a long process of selection required to find two horses with the right personalities and ability to work together as a team.
Since all the jobs appeared to be covered, we hung out next to the fire talking to Pete. Like so many who spend their lives changing the world for the better, he started out in the Peace Corps, living in a community without electricity in Africa for four years. Later, he trained new Peace Corps volunteers, in workshops based at various national parks, where old timers would give him tips on how things were done before we began our star-crossed romance with fossil fuel energy. He then got a chance to apply all this knowledge at the Howell farm, which seeks to replicate farming practices common between 1890 and 1910.
With light angling low, giving the quiet valley a golden tinge, we headed back to the visitors' center to drink hot chocolate and watch a short film of a local ice harvest in 1919. The efficient and clever approaches to getting work done without the use of gas-powered machines or electricity is inspiring for anyone troubled by our current energy dependencies.
For various posts on the Mountain Lakes dams that once were used for harvesting ice in Princeton, you can type a word such as "dam" into the search box at the top of this page. Also, Kurt Tazelaar recently posted videos of Clifford Zink's very informative presentation at the Princeton Public Library on ice harvesting at Mountain Lakes (Part 1, Part 2).