This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.
Prior to the days of refrigeration, people the world over relied on ice to keep perishables fresh as long as possible. The ice business was certainly alive and well in the American South, especially in summer months.
Waco native Helen Geltemeyer recalls the trips she and her sister would take in the twenties and thirties to keep their house outfitted with the frozen substance:
"What Allene and I did, went up Seventeenth to Ross, and they had a man who sold ice. And he had these little two-wheeler things that he would let you take home if you brought back. So Allene and I would go get that little old piece of ice and take it home, and we'd fight all the way there and fight all the way back. But that's the way we got our ice."
Geltemeyer remembers the event leading up to a new contraption in their kitchen:
"Then when I was fourteen or maybe—yeah, I'd say I was fourteen and going to South Junior, my daddy said, "We're buying an icebox because I'm tired of wanting a cold drink.' And he'd been working in the yard because we had hedge all around our place, I mean, and he would trim that just perfect. We just had all that yard fixed. And he wanted a drink of water, and he said he wanted ice-cold water. So he bought an icebox. He didn't buy it for us; he bought it for himself. But we enjoyed."
Thomas Wayne Harvey discusses the ice industry in Waco in the 1940s:
"We had Geyser Ice and Southland Ice, two different companies here in town that would go by up and down the street in their ice trucks. And if you had a Geyser card in the window, well, you could get Geyser ice that day. If you had a Southland card in the window—and the cards was twenty-five, fifty, seventy-five, and a hundred. And whatever you wanted, you'd set it where you could read a hundred from the street, and they'd bring in a hundred pounds or twenty-five pounds or whatever you wanted from the street. And the men packed the ice in on their backs with ice hooks and things like that, in those days."
He explains that finding an iceman in your kitchen was no cause for concern:
"They came on in. In those days, you never locked your door. You knew them; they knew you. They was just basically, "part of the family' because you could be in there eating supper and they'd come in: "Hello, how are you doing?' Or they'd knock at the door: 'Hope you're decent; iceman coming in,' you know, things like that. You'd get your ice, and they would come once every two weeks and collect for it."
Since the advent of electric refrigerators, the demand for ice has drastically decreased for the typical kitchen in the South, and gone is the need for a nearby company like Geyser or Southland. The bags of ice for sale in convenience and grocery stores today serve as a reminder of the business that ice once was.
Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For more information about this program or the Institute for Oral History, visit us at baylor.edu/livingstories.
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