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Prime Time: Back in the days of home-delivered milk, ice and groceries

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

In the 1940s, you who lived then will remember the man who mysteriously delivered milk several times each week very early in the morning. The first thing we did when we came down for breakfast was to go to the front porch and bring in the milk. It came in quart bottles. No plastic and no gallon jugs. Just good old glass. Mom was already busy in the kitchen preparing breakfast.

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I can't imagine what time the milkman got up in the morning, but there were eight bottles of milk waiting for us when we got up. We went through a lot of milk in our family. Dad, who lived through the Depression, was thankful just to have a roof over his head and food for his family. The simple things were appreciated.

We put the milk in the ice box. I don't remember when we bought a refrigerator. Sometimes in the latter part of the '40s, but before then, the ice man pulled up in front of 500 Emory in his large truck (probably a two and one-half ton) with his ice. There was a large wood box on the bed of the truck which contained the ice and lots of sawdust to slow down the melting process.

During the winter the ice men went out to Lake Shetek and cut long blocks of ice out of the lake. They used a large saw six-seven feet long to cut down through the ice and then cut the blocks into two-three foot pieces. Then they brought the ice into town, and on the southeast side of town down by the railroad tracks was a huge warehouse. The blocks were placed in the barn, and each layer was covered with sawdust. I do not know where the sawdust came from, but they had to use a lot of it. By spring they had enough ice to last until the next winter. Imagine that happening with the hot, humid summers in Tracy.

When they arrived at our house, they cut the blocks into smaller pieces one foot by one and a half feet which would fit into the top part of the ice box. The ice box itself was about four and a half feet high and a couple feet wide and deep. Kids, there was no ice cream at home in those days. If we wanted ice cream we had to go to Steinbergs (Stinkies) or Allenbaughs for a cone or hand-packed quarts which obviously had to be used before they melted.

In the winter, we made our own ice cream. We carried large kettles of water outside, threw it over the snow and let it freeze. The ice cream maker itself was a large tub with a crank on top and with a paddle at the bottom. It had a metal container in the center with room to place chopped up ice and rock salt around it. I guess the salt made the ice water colder. The cream, sugar and egg mix was placed in the container, and we would then manually crank the handle for the longest time until the mix froze up. When it was done, there could be no better ice cream made. This was done only a couple times a winter, so ice cream was a real treat.

The top portion of the ice box is where the ice was stored and kept the rest of the box cold enough to keep the food fresh. Because of the lack of refrigeration, there was a lot of canning. Everything was canned: fruit, vegetables and some also canned meat. Meat from the butcher at the grocery store had to be used within a day or two after it was purchased.

When the ice man chiseled down the ice to fit into the ice box, he then washed the sawdust from it with a hose which extended from a tank on the upper part of the truck. He picked the ice up with large, metal prongs which were pointed on each end and dug into the ice. He then carried it into the house and placed it into the box. Manual labor was the name of the game in those days. Everything had to be done manually and with a lot of muscle.

Back in those days, there was a lot of home delivery. Ice, milk and groceries were delivered. World War II required the consumption of a lot of everyday materials, so there were not many cars, plus there was a shortage of gas. If your job was not essential, you could only buy four gallons of gas each week, and the speed limit was 35 miles per hour so as to conserve gas.

Things that were rationed were sugar, butter, meat, tires, shoes, chicken wire and nylon for stockings. Fuel oil, stoves, liquor and cigarettes were also rationed. Recycling was encouraged. Old tires were recycled along with garden hoses, rubber shoes and bathing caps.

We didn't mind the sacrifices. They were minor inconveniences, and the fact that all of us were going through the same things made it seem normal. At first, the federal government tried volunteer rationing which did not work out, but then it required mandatory rationing which worked out much better.

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