|Lassen's Restaurant on Cedar Lake, Indiana (1940's)|
Ice is nice on Cedar Lake
Back in the real old days during the summer, the Monon Railroad came to Cedar Lake, Indiana, from Chicago. The train brought Chicago city people who wanted to get away to the farm country for a weekend. On the way back the train would take big blocks of ice cut out from the lake in the winter time. They stored the rest of the ice in a wooden ice house. People didn’t have refrigerators back in the old days, they had ice boxes and the ice man would bring a block of ice to your house and put it in the ice box. The ice man was usually strong and he’d carry maybe a twenty-five pound block on his shoulder pad. He wore gloves, but he wouldn’t hold the ice block cause it would be melting and water would drip and it was cold work. He used ice tongs to hold the ice on his shoulders. The tongs were made so if you grabbed one handle, the tongs would close up and dig in to the ice and it wouldn’t slip off his shoulder and fall on the ground. The ice man also carried a real sharp ice pick. It sort of looked like a pointed needle. He used the pick to chop the ice block up into smaller squares. Ice was always important around Cedar Lake.
Winter winds howl loudly from the north and snow piled up high against the white picket fence bordering the road where the school bus couldn’t make it. Ernie, our bus driver, would have tried to get us to school if he could, but they called him and even told it on the radio, “No School today…” The paperboy would make his delivery though cause he had a horse and sled. I admired the way he’d stand up on that big flat-bed sled with one hand holding the reins of his strong high stepping work horse and throw papers with the other hand. With a wave hello, he and his horse just kept on moving through the hushed sounds of a horse breathing and the thud of hoofs in the silence of snowfall. The best part was when Cedar Lake froze over with almost a foot thick sheet of ice. Billy Johnson got out his sailing sled ice boat and fly across the lake from one end to the other. The lake, shaped like a peanut, is over five miles long and a half mile wide at its narrow center. Billy would tighten up the sail and skim across the ice at speeds that neared fifty miles an hour before reaching the end where he’d have to turn around and tack back and forth to get home. I got to ride with Billy one time and what a thrill ! I never knew that sailboats could tip over on one side real far. With an ice boat one of the runners lifts high up in the air and we had to lean far out on the other side to keep the boat from tipping over. The worse scare I got was when Billy headed for shore and didn’t see the big metal pipe sticking up out of the ice. That pipe was where some rich guy anchored his big boat off shore. Lucky I yelled in time and Billy turned. We watched the top of that pipe pass right under the lifted sled runner of our ice boat. Good thing Ma didn’t know about that one!
The lake can be very dangerous even when you think there’s a foot thick wall of ice under you. Sometimes foolish people would drive their cars out on the ice and laugh and slam on the breaks to spin around. One time the ice broke and I guess the car is still down at the bottom of the lake. Us kids would get together and play hockey. We had pretend hockey sticks and used a tin can for a puck. Best when we could find an old snuff tin cause it looked like a hockey puck. There were some pretty fierce games batting that crumpled can around on the ice. There were thousands of things to do on a winter day when there’s no school. One particular day I got out on the ice early before the other kids and was skating backwards. All of a sudden it was like I disappeared off the face of the earth. Someone had cut a big hole in the ice to do some fishing and I skated right into that hole. I had on some of those heavy hockey skates, a couple pairs of pants, thick shirt and jacket and down I went under the water. I remember going down and my skates hitting the mud bottom. My parents had told me not to open my eyes under the water cause the lake was pretty polluted back in those days, it’s a good thing I didn’t obey them this time. When I opened my eyes I could see the thick ice and silver pockets of air bubbles trapped under the hard shell surface. There was the dark square hole where I’d fallen through. It was up there above me almost nine or ten feet to the surface. I shoved my feet with all my might and propelled myself upward toward that hole. Made it out of that watery grave with my elbows over the edge. No one was around to help or even hear me if I did yell. Gradually, kicking and pulling against the slippery surface I pulled myself out of the ice water. By the time I got back to our house my clothes were a solid sheet of ice, but I sure was glad to be alive.