Winter on the Farm

Winter time farm life was a rugged experience in years past. This exhibit covers the days before electricity, refrigeration, and centralized house heating. Over fifty items from the Pasto Agricultural Museum's collection plus a few on personal loan are displayed. In addition, farm and home meat processing and preservation was a cold weather activity so the special P. T. Ziegler exhibit fits well with Winter on the Farm.

Farm House
Activities - Some winter indoor activities were required for survival. These included candle making, spinning, sewing, and quilt making. All family members participated in indoor recreation which included board games, checkers, and various card games. A rocking chair by the stove was a favorite place for old and young. Ice cream making (and eating!) was a common and enjoyable activity.

Heating - Centralized heating did not exist. Living rooms were heated with wood burning "parlor" stoves or smaller cast iron stoves. Kitchens were often the warmest rooms because of large wood burning cast iron cook stoves.

Bedrooms were not heated so bed warmers or foot warmers heated on stoves were placed under the bed covers to reduce the shock of getting into a cold bed.

Outdoor Recreation
Winter outdoor recreation revolved around whatever nature offered. Snow covered hillsides and frozen ponds provided skiing, sledding, tobogganing, snowshoeing, skating and ice sliding. The home-made crutches fit here for obvious reasons

Horses pulling a variety of specialized vehicles equipped with runners provided transportation of people and produce. Cutters or sleighs provided faster transportation for people while heavy-duty double bobsleds or box sleds hauled produce, fire wood, ice and other products.

Ice Harvest
Ice has long fascinated humans. Egyptian and Roman emperors had ice brought to them from glaciers in other lands for desserts and drinks. In the United States harvesting ice for shipment to other areas began in the early 1800s. Huge fortunes were made shipping ice taken from lakes and rivers in the northeastern states to India and other hot weather areas of the world.

Methods of cutting ice for storage were standardized and revolutionized in the United States about 1825. In 1829 the horse drawn ice cutter was invented. This tool, supplemented by other devices, was the primary reason for the growth and development of the ice industry in America. Ice was shipped to cities for use in ice boxes, cooling drinks, and for refrigerated railroad cars. Usage of natural ice in 1880 for the total United States exceeded five million tons. Harvesting ice was a big-time winter activity in northern Pennsylvania, New York and the New England states. It provided extra winter work for rural people.

Meanwhile, back on the farm, as the dairy industry began to develop in the late 1880s, the commercial sale of milk gave a higher return than cream. Milk was transported to towns and cities. In the process dairy farmers were required to cool the evening milk especially in summer.

A block of ice from the farm ice house was placed in a trough of water with cans of milk for overnight cooling. The morning milk was shipped warm.

Blocks of ice were stored in the ice house and insulated with straw or sawdust. The ice houses were made of wood with double walls. The space between was filled with sawdust for insulation. With careful management ice could be stored indefinitely.

Harvesting ice required specialized equipment and tools. In addition to the horse drawn ice scorer and ice plows, a variety of hand tools were utilized. These included axes, saws, tongs, breaking bars, picks, pikes, and sleds. Also a hand cranked ice breaker is displayed. Although not generally used on farms they were common in stores and meat processing plants. These machines were advertised as "the quickest and easiest way to break ice for packing, icing and freezing purposes."

All items exhibited are identified by use and carry the donor's name. As you look at the ice harvesting process and imagine the grueling and cold physical labor involved, give thanks for modern refrigeration. The ice man commeth no more!

Darwin G. Braund
Volunteer Curator
February 2004