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A cold reminder of days gone by

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Stacy Vogel
January 11, 2008
— Those hamburger patties in your freezer didn’t always magically stay frozen.

It used to take a lot of work to keep food cold.


Jeannine Schrank remembers very well. For decades, her family made its living cutting huge blocks of ice from Clear Lake in Milton Township and selling them to local homes.


The Milton House Museum will remember Lakeside Ice & Coal Company, the business Schrank’s family owned from 1910 to 1962, at an exhibit through the rest of January.


Peggy Hirschberg, Schrank’s neighbor and a member of the Milton Historical Society, put the display together to remind people of a piece of Milton’s history. She’s also working on a book about Clear Lake.


“Half the people in Milton probably are younger than 50, and they don’t know what an ice box is,” she said.


Janesville and Milton residents used to buy ice from Lakeside in blocks ranging from 25 to 100 pounds. They’d hang cards in their windows indicating how much ice they wanted when the delivery trucks drove by.


Schrank’s grandfather, father and uncles handled the yearly “ice harvest” to collect the blocks.


“It was natural ice, and they harvested it off the lake, and of course it depended on the weather,” said Schrank, 75.


She described how the men would pull a huge motor attached to a saw across the ice on skids to cut the blocks. Originally, horses brought the ice back to the ice house, but Schrank’s father, Milton Dix, eventually bought a conveyor belt to transfer the blocks.


Local farmers would assist in the harvest, glad for the opportunity to make some extra money in winter.


The work was hard and could be dangerous. Schrank remembered a time a neighbor took his horses to a place where the ice wasn’t frozen solid.


“He got out to a place where it was soft, and he lost his team of horses,” she said.


The company went out of business in 1962 with the advent of electric refrigerators and freezers. But Schrank kept many of the tools and photos from the business as family souvenirs.


Those mementos make up the bulk of the Milton House’s exhibit. The exhibit also boasts a home movie Schrank provided showing the ice harvest.


Schrank and her husband, Harold, will be on hand for a free open house at the museum Sunday. Normally, the museum is only open on weekdays, but organizers wanted to give working people a chance to see the exhibit, too, Hirschberg said.


Although Schrank contributed most of the items in the exhibit, she hasn’t seen it yet, Hirschberg said.


“I’m anxious for her to come in and see all this,” she said.


IF YOU GO
What: “An Afternoon with Harold and Jeannine (Dix) Schrank” at the Clear Lake Ice Harvest Exhibit.
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit also is open during museum hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Where: Milton House Museum, 18 S. Janesville St., Milton.
Cost: Free.
More information: Call (608) 868-7772.

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