When pioneers first came to what would be Coryell County they had to spend many hours a day to provide their own food. They would be amazed today to see how easily we have a wide variety of foods available, year round, because of refrigerators in our homes.
In 1897 the Sears, Roebuck and Company had 10 ice boxes for sale at prices ranging from $5.60 to $17.60 for a fancier model, but others were homemade by pioneer men. Many families had these “new” inventions for their home, helping them keep food fresh longer.
According to ice history online (frozen61.tripod.com/id5.html), these ice boxes were listed as “refrigerators” but had no motor. They were much like our ice chests that we take on picnics. The pioneer’s ice boxes were simply a sturdy, well insulated hardwood box with a door and shelves to hold your foods and ice block. Most were made of oak, or other hardwoods, and lined with galvanized metal or wood. The insulation between the walls was charcoal, cork, flax straw, or mineral wool. Coryell Museum has an ice box on exhibit in the pioneer kitchen upstairs.
The ice wagon plus the ice box allowed women in town the luxury of storing their butter, milk, fresh vegetables, and leftovers in a cooler place preventing foods from becoming rancid or growing mold as quickly. Ice chips could be used in tea or for ice cream.
Still, even in the ice box, the ice block lasted only ONE day!!
The Gatesville Ice Company would deliver ice, in town only, daily to customers using an ice wagon and a team of mules or horses. It was in operation near the square from 1922 until 1931 or 32. Coryell Museum has one of these original ice wagons in the museum on the first floor in the exhibit area with the Log Jail.
Mr. George Wymer, who had a horse shoeing business in Gatesville for 55 years, gave us an accurate and interesting look into the use of ice boxes and the ice wagon. In an article from the Gatesville Messenger in 1962, titled “Personalities I Have Known”, he looks back to the 1920’s and tells about the old ice wagon and deliveries. Mr. Wymer is a gifted storyteller and certainly knew how to make the past come alive with his words. A part of his article is reprinted here.
“One man I remember well was John H. Hill, at one time owned and operated the Gatesville Messenger and Star-Forum paper, the same paper that is in operation today under different management.
At that time they owned the Gatesville Ice Company and Mr. Hill was boss of that. They worked about 10 men and operated five horse and mule teams that I kept shod for them. Mr. Hill’s hired hands were all grown men, as a kid couldn’t handle a 300 lb block of ice.
At that time everybody bought ice—there was no such thing as Electrolux or a Frigidaire, G.E. or R.C.A. ice box (similar to our electric refrigerator today). They (the ice wagons) delivered ice to customers every morning, in town only, and when a woman stuck her head out the door and yelled at the iceman for 50 lbs. of ice, she got 50 lbs, because he cut it off the block then and there and when he put the ice in the box, the lady paid him off in tickets out of an ice book. You could get an ice book for $4.50 and get $5.00 worth of ice back, so you see it was a saving of 50 cents, while the ice house man had your cash in hand to operate on. It was a smart deal on the ice company’s part, as they never had to redeem any tickets.
Saturday was a big day for the ice house as the country folks came to town to trade and they all bought ice to take home to make ice cream. It was an interesting sight to see the wagons, buggies, hacks—all lined up like soldiers from the public square to the ice house. They brought quilts, blankets, cotton sacks, tow-sacks, tubs to wrap the ice up in to carry home. Some preferred wrapping it in paper—it had to be wrapped well for some of them had to haul it maybe 25 miles. (A walking and trotting horse travels at about 8 to 10 miles per hour, making a 25 mile trip 3-4 hours). When they got home they had to run the cows up and milk them to get fresh milk for ice cream. Maybe had to milk 4-5 cows to get 2 gallons of milk because the early day milk cows were generally the range-type of cattle and not heavy milkers like the Jerseys and Holsteins we have now.”
Boy, do we all have it easy! It makes you wonder if this was the beginning of Ice Cream Suppers!