The IceBox by Deborah in the UP

Posted on: February 16, 2010

The Ice Box

Moving to the UP I knew I was going to need to make some major adjustments. Yes, I was prepared, even anxious, to learn how to cook on a woodstove, no more quick and easy gas. but that left me with another dilemma…. refrigeration! Since the solar battery system wasn’t big enough to handle a refrigerator, and we didn’t want the utility bill of gas, I figured an icebox was the answer, I mean.. if it was good enough for gramma, it’d be good enough for me. Things changed and progressed from there.

Before I left downstate, I started searching for an old fashion icebox. My thoughts were that up here they might be in use and not as available. (Wrong. Most camps have gas refrigerators, but I didn’t know that then.) The few I found were too small. I saw an ad in the local paper from an antique hunter. I called and gave him my price range and requirements. His guarantee was there was no obligation to buy if I didn’t like what he found. Three weeks later he called, and I went to his house to take a look. He had a ‘commercial’ size, four door, solid oak ice box. It measured 37″ wide x 23″ deep x 53″ high. (Interior space is 10.8 cu. feet. Big by 1900 standards.) It was beautiful! It even still had the brass plate on the front that identified it as a “B.A.Stevens – Manufacturer – Toledo, O”. Cool. The shelves were intact and no damage. He pointed out that one door had been repaired which brought down the antique value. I didn’t care, I wanted it functional. I bought it without hesitation. $550. It was a beautiful piece of furniture regardless of a repaired door or cost.

Once it was at the house in the woods, however, and in use, I realized how inefficient the old ice boxes really were. No wonder there was daily ice delivery! Even with it sitting in the very cool basement, I was buying (lots of) ice every two days, and things were just barely cool. Something needed to be done.

The icebox sat in the basement the several months while the kitchen was completed, but even when ready, we realized the icebox was too heavy for the two of us to move it up the stairs. We ARE talking oak here. What a sight it was come November and the first good snowfall…. We pushed and shoved until we got the icebox back to the walk out basement door. Then pivoted it until we got it close to the toboggan we set in place, tipped it carefully on its side and into the sled. Whew! Once on the toboggan, we pushed and tugged and slid it up hill around the back of the house, then around the end to the front where the porch was closest to the ground, just a step up. Standing it back up, we laid out moving blankets, not wanting to damage the ice box OR the decking on the porch! And once again, tipped it on its side up onto the waiting padding. Once safely on the moving blankets, we then pushed and dragged it 40 feet into the house! Comical, but it did the job. It got moved only once after that, and that was to do the flooring.

Anyway, at the risk of destroying any remaining antique value, I gutted it. The interior was lined with tin to reflect and hold the cold. That’s it, but that was typical for back then. There was absolutely no insulation at all. Out came the shelves. Out came the tin lining. To the sides, ceiling and floor, I put in 2″ thick Styrofoam insulation board, and 1 1/2″ in the doors. Over that, I fitted shower paneling, making a very washable surface, and screwed it in place. I found snap together plastic coated shelves and added three plastic drawers stacked on the side. Everything fit perfect. I still put the ice on the top shelf, but the interior was basically all open. One block of ice frozen in a dishpan, rotated before it melted, kept the icebox at 45-50 degrees. It was easy during the winter to just put a dishpan of water on the porch, let it freeze solid, usually overnight, and switch the pans every morning. It became part of my routine. Problem solved… sort of.

During the really, really cold months (below zero), about 6 weeks in Jan/Feb. I would make ice. Lots of it. We had ordered 1000 heavy duty bread bags that I would fill with water from the tap, twist tie it, and set it into a plastic flowerpot out on the porch, much like the store owner I spoke of else where. I would set up a dozen of these. It would freeze enough overnight to remove the block from the flowerpot form and I would start over. The frozen bag would sit on the porch to finish freezing solid. When there was 3 dozen or so, I would load up my sled and take them to the sawdust filled icehouse. Now, you’re probably wondering why the plastic bags…. to keep the sawdust off the ice so we could chip it for drinks 🙂 and of course it was the only way I knew to create a form.

During April and May when the temperatures warm up to above freezing, and again in October and early November as they start to decline, I put the perishables in a second ‘icebox’ that sat on the back porch. It was constructed much like the antique one, but without the insulation, (my son Jason made it for me… ). I figured, why try to keep things 45* inside, when it’s 45* outside? Plus, having the outside icebox, let me keep some things frozen in the winter, and away from the critters.

Funny story: One May, when most of the stuff was locked in the outside box, we left for the weekend on a much needed entertainment trip…. returning to discover that a bear had eaten my box of wine that I had left on top of the cooler! That bear came back often..LOL… maybe looking for oreos too…. 🙂

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