Bringing back the past - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Bringing back the past

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By Heather Sawaski

WISCONSIN RAPIDS (WAOW) -- Back before refrigerators, ice cube trays, and makers, if you wanted something cold, you had to work for it. It's called ice harvesting.

For the past 12 years, members of the Historic Point Basse have been keeping their cool on Nepco Lake, harvesting ice like in the days of old.

"In the city like in Wausau or Wisconsin Rapids, you would actually have guys on ice wagons who would come around to your house and deliver ice 2 or 3 times a week," explained group member Rob Nurre. "They put it in your ice box to keep your food cold.

"In those days ice was a commodity that was very rare and very precious to them," said group president Michael Hittner. "So I think we're trying to recreate that preciousness."

But it's a process that hasn't gotten much easier over time. The men use antique equipment. And with 21 inches of ice to dig through, it doesn't take much to get stuck.

"The teeth on the saw are kind of angled and bent out a little bit and if they aren't set that way, they don't shut as well. So we're cutting by friction," Hittner said.

 Each blocks weighs close to 150 pounds. So getting them out of the frozen water is a matter of physics.

"When you've got a block of ice in the water, you can actually bounce it," Nurre said. "Think about dropping an ice cube into a glass of water. When you drop that ice cube in, it sinks down then it pops back up. So when you're trying to pull a block out of that water, instead of doing a dead-lift, you push down and then it bobs up and you just go with the momentum."

It's all in a day's work for this group, who's dedicated to keeping memories of the area's history rock solid.

"It's kind of neat that cutting ice warms you when it's cold, and in the summer when it's warm, it chills you with the ice," Nurre exclaimed. "So what more could you ask for."

The group harvested more than 50 blocks of ice Sunday. That weighs in somewhere between 2 and 3 tons of frozen water. It all gets stored, under sawdust for insulation, at an ice house. It'll come back out for the Point Basse Pioneer Festival in June. They'll use it to make ice cream and keep all the beverages nice and cool.

Online Reporter: Heather Sawaski

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