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Cool memories on a hot day


hen the temperature reached 104 recently I began to reminisce about my childhood days at Beebe in the 1930s before we had home refrigeration or air conditioning. Some of my earliest memories are of the Beebe ice plant. My dad, Lawrence Rice, worked there several years, part of them as manager.

The plant was across the railroad tracks on the south side of Highway 31. There is a service station building there now, next door to Nick’s Garage. The plant had four sections – one large engine room where the machinery was located, a small office, a large room with the freezing tanks, and a storage room where the ice was kept until it was sold.

Behind the plant was a water-cooling tower. You could aways feel a cool mist falling from it. Dad planted a rose garden nearby. The mist kept it watered and he had lovely roses. Also, he made a flowerbed beside the sidewalks and grew a variety of flowers. Dad was into city beautification before it became a popular thing to do.

The plant had several names and owners. At one time it was Associated Utilities, then Southern Ice and later Standard Ice. One of the owners was Robert E. Lee III, the grandson of the Confederate general. He lived in Memphis and seldom came to Beebe. At one time, B.C. Huddleston from Searcy was owner or an official. Later when it was sold again and became Standard Ice, the owner was Harold Kendrick of North Little Rock.

Water was put into cans that were lowered into the tank. When frozen they were pulled up and transferred to a storage room. These cakes of ice weighed 300 pounds. I was always amazed that the men could just use an ice pick to break them into smaller sizes.

My picture of the plant shows the price list on the wall: $1.50 for 300 pounds, 70 cents for 100 pounds, 55 cents for 75 pounds, 35 cents for 50 pounds, 20 cents for 25 pounds and a dime for 12˝ pounds. They also sold a small piece for a nickel.

Some ice was sold at the dock, but most of it was delivered. The businesses that had ice delivered regularly were meat markets, drug stores, cafes and boarding houses. Any store or service station that sold Coca-Cola had a drink box that had to be iced. One of Coke’s ads said, "Enjoy an Ice Cold Coca-Cola!" The plant also made home deliveries. Regular customers had a card they displayed in their window indicating how much ice they wanted that day. If they didn’t want ice they put the back of the card forward. In those days few people locked their house so the deliveryman just carried the ice inside, using large ice tongs to carry it. He would take the leftover piece of ice out of the icebox and place the new piece in first. With all this dripping, the housewife had to mop after he finished. If the family was not home they would leave the money for the ice on top of the icebox. Some people had their icebox on the back porch. It was convenient for the iceman and since the box had a drip pan, it was not such a mess if you forgot to empty it. Children would follow the ice truck hoping to get a few chips of ice. Most homes that used ice had a cedar ice bucket and an ice pick but if you didn’t have one you used an old dishpan and a knife. Ice was a real treat and most families used it sparingly. We put a piece of ice in the pitcher instead of in each glass. Ice was not wasted. Children would chew on any little sliver. An article in the local newspaper reported about a family reunion where "Iced tea was served throughout the day." We thought that was real extravagant.

Some rural people would come into town, buy a 300-pound of ice. They’d wrap it in an old quilt and take it home and bury it in sawdust. That way it would last several days. The Fourth of July was one time ice was really enjoyed. Lots of people made ice cream and lemonade. This was the only time many families ever bought ice.

Some of the men I remember working at the ice plant were John Vandament, Thurman Dent, Leslie Roush, Dewitt Strayhorn and J.T. Atkins. I am sure there were others that I don’t remember. In the summer there was lots of work but in the winter only one person worked and that was part time.

When the plant was running someone had to stay on duty. That meant 24 hours a day. Most everything in town closed by 10 p.m. so night duty could have been lonely. However, the law enforcement person usually came by to visit. The men I remember in this job were Slim Adams, Rat Dailey, Arthur Rogers and Perry Head. Many times if a doctor had to make a night call he would stop by and tell the news of a new baby or a death, or just report on someone who was sick. Occasionally, a parent would come out in the night looking for a young person who did not get home when expected.

When ice was purchased at the dock, any kind of transport was used – wagon, truck, bicycle, even a wheelbarrow. Small pieces of ice were tied with a little rope so they could be carried. My husband remembers riding his horse to the plant to get ice. His father, Harley Reynolds, always wanted his ice tea for the noon meal. Some of the men who worked outside would bring big water cans and have a dime’s worth of ice put in to last all day. There was an icehouse at Cabot and the plant at Beebe sent a truck there two or three times a week and they sold the ice.

It is hard to imagine now but there were people who did not have even a nickel to buy a piece of ice to cool a fever when a family member was very sick. Dad never turned anyone away.

In the late ‘30s electric refrigerators became available. The war slowed this down a bit but after the war everyone wanted this appliance. Then businesses began to buy their own icemakers. Refrigerated rail cars and trucks became available to ship produce. So the ice plant was closed. I don’t remember the exact date but the building was torn down in the early ‘50s. Dad found other employment.

My niece and her husband own Sherwood Ice Company today. It is quite different from the old plant. The largest block of ice they make is eight pounds. Most of their ice is cubes sold in bags. Some businesses get deliveries, but most is sold in merchandise boxes. Summer is still a time they work at full capacity. A few plants still make the 300-pound blocks. I have heard they are sold to cool swimming pools.     

As long as my memory lasts I shall think of the fun just to step into the cooler on a hot summer day. Another summer treat was to eat a watermelon that had been really chilled at the old ice plant.

< p class="center"> (The author is a member of the White County Historical Society.)