2011-06-08 / News

Block by block

Bobby Braswell remembers boyhood days at the Waynesboro Ice Plant
By Elizabeth Billips lizbillips@yahoo.com

Bobby Braswell, left, grew up working alongside his father Robert, right, and grandfather Jim inside the Waynesboro Ice Plant. Bobby Braswell, left, grew up working alongside his father Robert, right, and grandfather Jim inside the Waynesboro Ice Plant. He spent his boyhood on ice.

Bobby Braswell, 71, looks at the Barron Street ice plant and remembers how cold air poured out of the corked wall storage room.

“When my granddaddy Jim Braswell went to work there in 1919, it was already in operation,” he said, figuring the cityowned plant was producing ice before the turn of the century. “I grew up from a baby there.”

It was the early 1940s and Bobby’s favorite pastime was hitching rides on the ice delivery wagons. His father Robert ran the rural ice route while two horse- drawn wagons made rounds in Waynesboro.

The wagons were loaded with 300-lb. blocks of ice that were frozen using an ammonia process. The ice was frozen in a swimming pool-sized vat that produced 200 of those blocks every 24 hours. An entire block could be bought for around $3.

“The ice was heavy and dangerous,” Bobby said. “If a block fell, it could mash your foot up.”

Every weekday, the delivery men covered their loads with canvas and went house to house. Behind each home, they’d fill orders by sawing off smaller blocks, mostly in squares to fit in ice boxes.

“There would be children all over the streets,” Bobby remembered. “They’d follow that wagon picking up the little chips that fell.”

Out on the farms, there were still plenty of people without ice boxes.

“They just dug a hole and put their ice in a croker sack,” he said.

The sheer size of the blocks kept city workers from worrying about melting.

“Once a truck hauling ice turned over and it took four or five days for that ice to melt … and that was with the sun shining on it,” Bobby laughed.

As he grew older, he quit hitching rides and began working after school with his brothers Johnny and Tommy. In the 1950s, his father made ice the family business by securing a private lease from the city. In the back room, they continued to run the “meat room” where residents paid by the pound to have their meats salt or sugarcured and stored.

But as technology improved, the business would wane. “People were buying refrigerators by then,” Bobby recalled. “We just couldn’t afford to keep the ice plant going with the cost of electricity.”

In the early 1960s, he would shut it down himself.

It’s been nearly 50 years, and he still can’t look at his old stomping grounds without remembering how happy he was there.

He thinks of the cold air coming off the wagon and the sound of the saw making clean cuts. He remembers the crane and the clink of ice being stacked.

“I loved it there,” Bobby said. “I guess it was the only job I ever really enjoyed.”

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