Ice Harvesting In The New England States

By Staff
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Running converted hay carrier.
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Cutting ice in Rockland Lake, NY, assisted by son Don, and Lee Pedersen.
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Circa 1915-1920 Gifford-Wood model C gasoline ice saw, powered by a 2 cylinder LeRoi.

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.

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