Ice Harvesting In The New England States

Engine Activity In The Off-Season:

Hay carrier

Running converted hay carrier.

Content Tools

303 Fisher Road Fitchburg, Massachusetts 01420

When show season ends in late October or early November in New England, most engine buffs tuck their equipment away except for maybe one or two pieces they intend to refurbish in the shop during the winter. They can sit back, catch up on all past issues of GEM and club newsletters that they neglected during the summer show season, or they can attend or participate in an ice harvesting program.

Early harvesters used teams of horses to pull ice cutting saws over the surface of a frozen pond or stream, making ever-deeper grooves in the ice to about 2/3 its thickness. The 'cakes' were then broken free using splitting forks, floated down a channel, fed to a conveyor belt and stored in the ice house. Insulation was provided by packing the blocks in hay and sawdust.

Commercial gasoline ice harvesting saws were marketed circa 1915, ranging from 1 to 4 cylinder engines driving either a conventional ice saw or the newly developed circular ice saw with its insert teeth and special heel design. It was claimed that one man with a gasoline saw could replace between six and ten teams of horses. Unfortunately, this advance in the industry came at the same time that mechanical ice making was being perfected. The ice harvesting industry survived through the Great Depression, but was surpassed by refrigeration during the second World War.

Phil Whitney and his wife, Shirley, along with their son, Donald, start right after the New Year's holiday demonstrating the almost forgotten technique of harvesting ice. The Whitneys, like all other engine people, spend their summer weekends exhibiting tractors, engines, farm tools and other related material, but they hate to hibernate for the entire winter so some five years ago they started these demonstrations.

Over the years they have evolved from using a few hand tools to haul out a few cakes of ice to where they now have a Gifford-Wood Model C gasoline saw powered with a Leroi engine and they have fabricated a sleigh loader that operates on the Sattley engine. They average from 500 to 2,000 spectators per show, and in many places they are able to let the spectators actually help cut the ice.

This past winter the Whitneys went from New Hampshire to Connecticut to New York and then finished up with five cuttings in Massachusetts. Many members of the engine clubs in the area attend these weekend programs and have learned the technique of harvesting; they pile out on the ice and assist Phil and his son with the demonstrations. The Whitneys have the largest mobile collection of ice tools in the country. It takes two 20' trailers, one designed as an exhibit and the other carrying the bigger equipment, to get them to the display area and carry on a demonstration.