Jefferson County

STORIES OF A SMALL RAILROAD TOWN IN THE 1930'S, 40'S & 50'S George.       John R. Warren

The articles and pictures that you see within these pages about Bluford
were submitted by Janice Staples
Written permission was given by the Author the late
John R. Warren to use on this website.


The Bluford Ice Plant was built along the Bluford ICRR switching Yards, 
in the late 1920's. It was a very important part of the RR operation in 
those days, even though it was run by a separate company, not part of the 
ICRR. It had a double deck icing platform . and was 2700', or a little over 
1/2 mile long. That was purported to be the 4th largest in the country.. 
I'm not sure where the other three may have been, but it seems that one may 
have been in Chicago or Memphis. There was a track on either side of the
platform, in addition to the 15 switching tracks in the yards. They
were called the East Ice House and West Ice House tracks. There was
also an Ice House spur per track, which went right up to the plant
itself. The Ice House tracks were about 60 cars long which meant you
could get as many as 120 cars along the platform if you used both sides.
The Ice Plant consisted of 4 major areas: 1) The engine, machinery, and
refrigeration units; 2) the ice producing area; 3) the temporary
storage and staging area; and 4) the big main storage area. There was
also a locker room and office areas in a separate building. (See
Picture) The plant was connected to the icing platform via a large
wooden ramp and a conveyor chain would transport the ice from the
plant, out to the platform. Then on the first level of the platform,
there were 2 conveyor chains, one running north and one running south,
each to the end of the platform. The ice was made and handled in 300
lb. blocks. A man needed to be able to end up a 300 lb. block with a
set of tongs, and that was quite a chore. Up at the middle of the
platform, a man also had to head the blocks out to the north or
southbound conveyor chains, by moving a "direction controller" where
the ramp chain met the platform chain.
The 1st level of the platform was at just the right height of a
railroad car. When a 300 lb. block of ice was where it would be needed,
it would be kicked off the chain by a man. Then using about a 5 ft.
long "ice pick" it would be split into three 100 lb. blocks. There was
a wooden, 2-rail skid that connected to a sort of a rail on the
platform and the other end would go to the ice bunker of the reefer
(refrigerator) cars. Then the 100 lb. blocks would be shoved across the
skid and into the ice bunker. Reefer cars had an ice bunker at each
end. There were 2 lids, one on each side, on each end of the car. These
were rather heavy and could be opened to install ice, clamped down
tightly closed, or set partly open for ventilation. It took a bit of
skill and muscle to scoot those 100 lb. blocks across the skid and then
into the bunker. We also needed to make sure there were no people (car
knockers) beneath us, just in case a 100 lb. block went off the skid,
which it sometimes did. This was before the days of mechanical
refrigeration units on reefer cars and these cars were much like the
old ice boxes used in homes before refrigerators became available. In
the winter time, some cars would require charcoal heaters to be
installed and lit to keep the contents from freezing. Anything shipped
in a reefer car would be called "perishable", which meant that it
needed special attention to keep the contents at the correct
temperature, so they wouldn't spoil or freeze.
The refrigeration units in the machinery area ran constantly. Besides
producing the ice in the first place, they had to keep the temporary
and main storage areas well below freezing so the stored ice wouldn't
melt. I think they had auxiliary power generators in case the power
went out, and also extra refrigeration units, in case one failed or was
down for maintenance. They were not computer controlled, of course, and
required monitoring various gages, periodically to make sure they were
doing OK. Gaseous ammonia was used as the refrigerant and you could
always smell it.
The ice producing area had 30 rows of ice containers. Each row had 24
containers. There were 12 containers in a group, and 2 of the 12 groups
in each row . These would be filled with water and then lowered, with a
crane into the cold brine where the 300 lb. blocks of ice were frozen.
So if all were filled with ice or water, that would be 720 of the 300
lb. blocks, or 108 tons of ice! There was a compressed air hose which
kept air bubbles going thru the water as it froze. These were
connected  prior to lowering the groups of 12 containers and then
were removed when the ice was lifted out for transport to the ice
storage room. This somehow let clear ice be produced instead of milky
white ice blocks. I think it took an hour or two to produce a bank of
frozen ice. There were usually several in various stages at any given
time. When frozen, a bank would be lifted out with cranes and moved
over to the area beside the temporary storage area. The metal
containers were hosed down, so the ice could be removed, then the doors
to the temp area were opened and the entire bank of ice blocks turned
and dumped into that area. Quite a lot of ice was always kept in this
temporary storage. That is where  the ice was manually loaded onto
the conveyor chain to go out to the platform. When there was enough ice
there, the ice would then be moved into the huge main storage building.
It must have been about three storied high, and the ice blocks had to
completely fill one level, before another level blocks would be
started, on top of the previous layer. There was an ice elevator to
lift those 300 lb. blocks up to the right level. There was about 27
layers of levels of ice to get to the top of the building. Typically
the "main" would be nearly empty at the end of summer, then gradually
get filled back up during the winter. The ice used in the busy summers
could not be produced fast enough, so the extra ice needed came from
the main. Most of the ice plant workers could do most any jobs
associated with the ice plant. When we went to work, winter or summer,
we needed to take winter coats, caps, and gloves. We might end up for
about 8 hours in the temporary and main ice areas, where the temp was
down around 10-20 degreesF., or we might end up out on the platform
hauling salt or icing reefer cars, or maybe in the ice producing
building, making ice.
The upper level of the platform was for servicing the salt chutes.
Sometimes we added salt to the ice in the reefer cars. There was a big
salt bin at the south end of the platform. We first shoveled salt into
that big bin from a box car. We could fill big carts with salt from the
bin, via shovels, and then haul the carts to the salt chutes, and fill
then with salt, from that upper level of the platform. Salt chutes were
located along the platform about every two car lengths or so. Then
there was always salt available when it was time to ice cars, as close
as the nearest salt chute.

Besides the the railroad use of ice, which was by far the main purpose
of the ice plant, ice was sold for home use as well. Outside the
temporary storage area was a small loading platform where customers
could buy ice. The 300 lb. blocks would be put into a "scoring"
machine, which would use rotary saw blades to dig in a short distance
and "score" the ice block. Then it would tip the the block over and
score it the other direction. It was scored into six 50 lb. chunks,
which could then be separated with a common hand ice pick. There were
store owners, for example, like Barney Vance, who had a small "ice
house" outside his store. Byron Lee (Vance) would get a quantity of ice
each day. A lot would be delivered around Bluford, because there were
more ice boxes than refrigerators, well into the 40's. Ice would also
be kept at the Vance store in their ice house for drop in customers.
Ice was delivered to customers by the Vance truck, and customers would
have a sign, about a foot or so square, which had 25, 50, 75, and 100
on the four sides. The customer would turn the sign so that the amount
of ice needed, in lbs. would be on top. Thus Byron could pick up the
right sized chunks, with the ice tongs, and bring it on in and put it
in the top of the ice box.
The ice plant was an interesting place to work and the crews were
friendly. The work was usually pretty hard, sometimes very cold; other
times on a summer day, out hauling salt on the platform, very hot. The
pay wasn't as good as most RR jobs, but many made their living there
and some of us supplemented our income working there.
The icing platform burned in about 1959/60, but by then mechanical
refrigeration cars were taking the place of the old "ice box" cars

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