(Photo: Some rights reserved by charliebarker)
Ever since I can remember I’ve had a profound love for ice. I realize that ice is just frozen water and this isn’t as hip or groundbreaking as the iPhone, but I can never get enough of it. My enthusiasm for ice was not shared by everyone in my childhood household. My father would become greatly annoyed whenever I would retrieve a single ice cube from the freezer and begin crunching loudly upon it. Why taint a perfectly good ice cube with juice or soda when I could simply cut out the middle man and get my frozen H2O directly? Those were the good years when my parent’s ice-maker was still functional. For most of my time living next door to my grandparents, however, we made ice the old fashioned way…in trays.
Nabor had to fill and empty the tank where he froze water into ice at least 28 times in a single day. These tubs, as he referred to them, functioned much in the same way as an ice tray functions today in freezers across the world; with a few exceptions, of course. One exception is the use of salt to slow the rate at which ice melts. Also, the Chancla-Time Ice Factory used ammonia as a refrigerant back then which was banned long ago since it is toxic if it leaks. He would also stick an air hose in the water as it was freezing and aerate it to make the ice come out clear and not white. When the ice was finally ready he would poke, pry, and wet the ice to break it free from the tank. Once it was free, Nabor would then hoist the 150 pound block of ice out of the tub with a manually cranked lift and rinse all of the salt off of it. Then he would lower it onto a plank and drag it to where it would be broken up for delivery with a long, metal pole that had a hook at the end.
Grandpa Next Door talks about this job with a grateful heart, but he was well aware of the potential dangers of that workplace. First of all, there was the cold itself which Grandpa swears he can still feel to this day and could have only contributed to the many aches and pains that he suffers in his old age. Second, there were the 150 pound blocks of solid ice that he had hanging above his head and sliding around on wooden planks down below. Third, there was the toxic ammonia. As if that wasn’t enough, the ice factory was only half of the building and half of the danger. The other half of the factory was the flour mill where he was earlier employed as a truck loader. On that side, there was an endless battle to keep everything clean which is quite difficult when working with powdered, sticky flour. The workers used diesel fuel to wash the floors and the walls because it was cheap and practically useless for anything else back then. Add a highly flammable liquid being spread all over the floors and walls to the list of workplace hazards, and we have ourselves a party!
Even with all of these potential dangers, the most dangerous factor of all was human error. Nabor himself was part of this factor as he was most definitely a human being capable of making mistakes and poor choices. For instance, once Nabor accidentally gouged himself with the hook that he used to move around the large blocks of ice. He also adjusted the amount of ammonia that was used from time to time because he grew impatient with how long the water took to freeze during the incredibly hot, Magdalena summers. This wasn’t necessarily a legal thing to do which is why Nabor only did it when no one was looking. Young Nabor would also climb up onto the roof of the ice factory and jump to the flour mill side from time to time because he was young and a bit reckless; even younger and more reckless than this guy!
Generally speaking, Grandpa Next Door said most of his co-workers were pretty reckless themselves. This only made him even more leery of working on the ice factory side. He would try to spend as much time as he could on the mill side where there were at least a few guys who paid attention to what they were doing. He remembers one mill’s assistant who was a very serious young man and wouldn’t clown around during his work. And there was the son of the factory owner who was always extremely strict. This strictness didn’t earn him any love with his workers who would make fun of his obesity and baldness by calling him Gordo(Fatty) or Camel behind his back. Now that I think about it, every time Grandpa Next Door talked about the factory owner’s son he referred to him as Camel.
One day, Nabor was hard at work trying to make his quota of 28 blocks of ice while managing to keep all of his fingers and toes when something caught his attention on the mill side of the factory. After walking over there to investigate, he didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary at first. The mill workers were caring on in their usual oblivious manner, but this time something was horribly wrong. Nabor soon realized that the entire second floor of the mill was beginning to catch on fire.