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From the Record-Courier, 1967.


Trip to Barn Loft Takes Him Back 30 Years

by Maxwell Riddle

I was hunting around the farm for a pole long enough to knock down icicles. And my hunt took me into the loft of a barn where, perhaps, I had not rummaged about for 30 years.

Ridddle Farm barn
The barn at the Riddle farm.

There I found a pole which would be suitable. But I was puzzled as to what its purpose might have been. It was 12 feet long. A spike of railroad tie size protruded straight out from one end. And another was hooked wickedly backward.

I carried the pole out, thinking about it as I went. And about the time I poked it at the first big icicle, it all came back to me.

loft
 
loft funiture
The loft where Max found the pole.

There would come a morning in dead winter when my father would say to me:

"Maxwell, before you get your breakfast, take the ax and a yard stick and measure the thickness of the ice on the pond." Few orders would be obeyed so quickly. For in the days before refrigerators, cutting ice on the farm pond was one of life's bonuses for any farm boy. It might even mean escape from school for a day.

My job would be to shove snow from the ice. I did this with the hand snow plow, while skating. Then workmen would come from the town. Planks would be laid on the ice at measured intervals, and the ice would be scored with the hooked-back spike on the long pole.

This was not, however, the main purpose of the pole. It would be used to push or snag the big square cakes of ice in the water. The ice saws seem, in memory, to have been six or eight feet long. Like any other saw, they would "bow" if you didn't use them carefully.

Once I was allowed to saw. I did this so enthusiastically that the saw bowed and neatly flicked a three-inch gash above the left knee. On another occasion, I fell into the pond. The workmen, with vast delight, fished me close enough with the ice pole to haul me back onto the ice. Mother was angry.

The big work horses, bored with a winter of inactivity, would be hitched to a wagon, whose wheels had been replaced with runners. Sleigh bells would be put on their harness so that, for once, they could upstage the carriage horses. They would be conscious of this honor and would pull mightily up the hill, to the icehouse. This was a double-walled building with a double roof.

The ice would be laid one cake upon another, starting about a foot from the walls Sawdust filled the space between and was used to cover the top when the icehouse had been filled. In summer, the icehouse was cool. When a boy was sent with wheelbarrow and tongs to get ice, the sawdust covering was wonderfully soft to lie upon. A boy could look out at the blue sky and dream the long, long dreams of youth until a mother rang the farm bell to warn him to get to work.

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