The cool solution

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    As a little kid, no more than five years old, I remember the truck arriving on our long street of duplex houses in the married, non-commissioned officers section of Ramey Air Force Base. Puerto Rico has a wonderful climate, the best I’ve ever lived in, but it gets hot, even in the rainy season.

    As a Caribbean Island, it possesses a sub-tropical climate that allows all the incredible variety of fruits you’ll find in the tropics, without the oppressive heat.


    That truck that came twice a week as my friend Ismael and I played in front of our parent’s homes carried ice, big blocks of it.

    The man would grab a block of ice, about two feet by two feet, hook it with tongs, swing it over his shoulder, and carry it to one of the homes.

    We didn’t get it delivered to our house since my dad had a little more deducted from his pay for a refrigerator.

    I didn’t realize the cost difference at the time, and the following summer before he was transferred to Arkansas, we didn’t see the iceman at all. He’d been replaced by technology as everyone in the housing development had a refrigerator.


    Keeping food cold is a relatively new concept. For eons, you smoked, canned, salted, or dried anything you wanted to keep longer than a day or two.

    My grandpa told me stories of how they kept food cold in Arkansas early in the 20th century. He was born in rural Lee County in 1912. He learned to dig a hole about four feet deep, fill it with two feet of water, and place milk, eggs, and butter on an open wooden shelf just above the water. A lid filled with straw was placed over the hole.

    The contraption kept the food from spoiling at around 40 degrees, even on the hottest day of summer. Grandpa said the best hole was under a wide shade tree where the sun never shined.


    Good advice from a man who never saw an electric appliance until the late 1940s.

    As I’ve researched the “lookback” series on country stores, I learned that many of these stores, especially the most isolated ones like those at Moneta, Walman, Hell’s Half Acre, and Hiland had cold storage for their customers.

    Many of them used that same icebox technology I witnessed in its twilight in Puerto Rico, but a few had gasoline-powered generators that kept food frozen.


    A few others, such as Gardner’s Market west of Kinnear, offered cold storage lockers long after electricity arrived in Fremont County in the early 1950s. Most people had a refrigerator, but the freezer was miniscule, only able to hold a few items, and maybe an ice cube tray.

    Cold storage, in big baskets, was the answer until large freezers arrived in the 1960s at a price people could afford.

    As a college student, they still offered cold storage in Laramie. We didn’t have a freezer aside from the small one on top of our refrigerator, so my roommate Frank and I rented lockers downtown at the cold storage building off Second Street.

    We filled it with the hog my parents gave us one year, a few dozen pounds of hamburger they also donated, and dozens of ducks, geese, sage grouse, and trout. The wild game came from our weekly ventures into the wilderness surrounding Laramie.

    Like much of the technology in the modern era, people take it for granted.

    Refrigerators are now so small, and so inexpensive that many people keep one next to their favorite chair in front of the big screen so they don’t have to get up to grab a pop or beer.

    Many others have them in their offices for the same reason, and mini fridges have become a feature in every college kids’ dorm room.

    We had a refrigerator in our dorm. That’s singular, one refrigerator in Crane Hall, a swarming mass of idiot late teens and early 20-somethings.

    The old trap-door-style refrigerator was in my friend Bob Budd’s room. Bob kept an ample supply of Pabst Blue Ribbon inside it on the honor system. Take a beer and pay 50 cents. It worked perfectly for those of us living on the second floor north wing. It wasn’t for anyone else, and we guarded it like a medieval fortress.

    You don’t see icemen portrayed very often in films, but from the 1850s to the early 1960s, they were a fixture in every American city.

    In winter they cut ice from nearby frozen lakes and rivers, hauled it by horse and wagon, and later in trucks and stored it in heavily insulated buildings under deep layers of sawdust. In summer, they cut the blocks into various sizes and sold it by the pound.

    In tenement areas, they often carried these heavy blocks of ice up several floors on their back.

    It was a cold way to make money, but far from cool.

    Riverton, Lander, Shoshoni, Hudson, Dubois, and Pavillion all had cold storage facilities.

    We used the Riverton Cold Storage business the summer after I graduated from UW in 1980 since we didn’t have a full-sized freezer in our apartment. Clark’s Meat House used to have a cold storage business there as well.

    It’s now a lost technology, an atavistic remembrance of days and techniques long past their prime. But once, it was the only game in town. (or out of it)


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