The Ice Man

A Brief Memoir
By Jake Jakubuwski

Today it is hard to imagine horses on the streets of Baltimore, but when I was a kid they were so common that no one took any real notice. It was not unusual to hear a horse plodding up our alley with its harness bells tinkling, and the steel banded wagon wheels making a metallic racket all their own on the Belgian block pavement stones. Most often, the fellow driving the wagon was the “Junk Man,” looking for old newspapers, magazines, scrap metal, used clothes — anything that he could turn into cash. Also, of course, there were the “Arabbers” — hucksters that sold produce from their colorful (bright reds, yellows and blues) horse-drawn wagons. Like many kids in Baltimore, I used to work for the Arabbers. The pay wasn’t the greatest, but it was usually enough for a movie and a candy bar, and, perhaps, a Coke.

When we were living on Light Street, in South Baltimore, even the ice man delivered his ice from a horse-drawn wagon. Ice man? Yeah, ice man. In the late 1940s there were still lots of folks that didn’t have electric “Frigidaires,” but they did have thick-walled ice boxes, and the ice in them needed to be replaced on a regular basis. The ice man would come every other day or so, driving his wagon loaded with huge blocks of crystal-clear frozen water, a heavy canvas tarpaulin thrown over it to slow the melt. And you could hear him coming because, besides the clangor of his wagon wheels, he had his own chant to alert his customers. Slowly moving down the street or up the alley (with a dozen kids following behind, trying to snatch a piece of ice out of the wagon’s bed, the shards being viewed by them as a cool summer treat) he’d yell: “EyeEESE-mannnnnn! EyeEESE-mannnnnn!”

Many residents had signs with changeable numbers on them in their front window, so the ice man could tell how much the customer wanted. If you needed ice and didn’t have a sign, you could just holler and tell him how much. A dime’s worth? A quarter’s worth? Or, maybe a fifty cent block, if you thought that would be enough to make it through the weekend. The ice man would stop his wagon (shooing the kids away from the back ) and begin using an icepick to hack at one of the larger blocks to give the customer whatever amount they were willing to pay for — 25, 50, 75, even 100 pounds. After chopping the larger block to the proper size, the ice man, or his helper, would grab it with a large pair of black tongs and, using a burlap bag on his shoulder to help protect him form the cold, he’d leverage it onto his shoulder and carry it into the house and put it in the icebox.

During the winter months, we didn’t need to buy ice because our family had a window box. That was a box with a wire bottom to allow for drainage that hung outside of a window on the shady side of the house, in which we stored our eggs, butter, milk and other perishables. The window closed down on the top of the box and had a door in the front so you could easily get to the stored items. Folks that didn’t have a window box often had an open back porch where they would keep perishables in a crate, or other container. On top of the container would be a piece of wood with a brick or stone or piece of scrap iron holding the “lid” down so that stray cats and dogs — and any other free-roaming urban creatures — could not get at the goodies.

Our ice man came around even in the winter, too, with the difference being that he now delivered coal. If you had a coal stove or furnace, as we did, he’d back up to the basement window (or coal chute if you had one) and shovel the coal into the coal bin. Then, suddenly it seemed, when I was about eight or so, the ice man showed up driving a truck — the end of an era! The ice/coal truck had a large wooden body, and when delivering coal in the winter it backed up to the coal chute, the man raised the bed of the truck with a crank and the black lumps of energy ran out of the truck like a noisy, dusty river.

It was only a couple of summers until we had a Frigidaire and didn’t need the ice anymore. I guess a lot of folks in the neighborhood bought Frigidaires as well, because I have no memory of the ice man making his rounds after that.

Copyright © 2009 Jake Jakubuwski.

Jake Jakubuwski spent nearly two decades as an active locksmith and door service technician. He has been writing physical security related articles since 1991. Seventeen years ago, Jake wrote his first article for the National Locksmith Magazine and has been their technical editor for fifteen years. Pure Jake Learning Seminars©, his nationally conducted classes, are designed for locksmiths and professional door and hardware installers. For more information, click the “Pure Jake” link in the sidebar blogroll and under the “business” label. (And to read about Jake’s adventures as an “Arabber’s” assistant, see a short piece on the subject posted September 14, 2009 on this blog.)

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4 Responses to The Ice Man

  1. Jacquie Roland says:

    Thank you for the memory, Jake… and the photos. I remember the Arabbers and the ice man fondly as well. (Because I was small for my age, the ice man always handed me an ‘ice pop’ before the bigger kids got them all.) Like you said though… one day the ice man was just… gone… and he never came again.

  2. JoAnn Harting says:

    Thanks for the memories. I lived on a farm & the Hucksters wagaon would come with grocery items. Mother would always get something from him & I would get a penny piece of candy. Later we lived in Terre Haute & I remember the ice man & have an ice pick from one of the ice wagons. I was one of the kids who was always waiting for a piece of ice. Steve asked if he could have the ice pick. Nice keepsake.

  3. Jacquie and JoAnn …

    Thanks for the kind words and I’m happy to have been able to spark some fond memories.

    I also vividly remember milk deliveries, bakery deliveries and the street photographers that came around with a pony and a western outfit to snap the childrens pictures dressed in Western gear and sitting on the back of the pony.

    Do either of you remember the “Yo-Yo Man”? Usually an Oriental gentleman who first mesmerized us with all sorts of yo-yo “tricks” and then offered to sell us his wares for maybe a quarter … a veritable fortune to a kid in those days!

  4. Jim says:

    I can’t speak for Jacquie and JoAnn, but I sure remember the neighborhood “invasions” of Yo-Yo Men, hula-hoop and marble peddlers, etc., targeting kids on street corners, in public parks and playgrounds to sell stuff. Talk about “product placement!” (These days, for reasons legal and otherwise — including much more protective parenting —they couldn’t get away with it.) It appears that Jake may be warming up to write another of his short memoirs about those innocent times — something we all can look forward to.

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