Residents go back in time for ice harvesting demo at Dreibelbis Farm

Item photo by Shea Singley Mark Dreibelbis and volunteers try their hand at ice harvesting.
Item photo by Shea Singley Mark Dreibelbis and volunteers try their hand at ice harvesting.

Dreibelbis Farm, Virginville, held its first event of 2014 and its first winter event this past weekend with a presentation of 18th century Pennsylvania German ice harvesting.

Obviously were fighting the elements right here, said Mark Dreibelbis. This ice storm put a real wrench in our plans.

Having the cold weather was great for the ice part of the demonstration, but made the usual driveway and parking at the historic Dreibelbis farm a sheet of ice. The Virginville Grange kindly donated their parking lot so that attendees could park and walk what used to be part of the railroad to the meeting place for the demonstration. Most of the guests were in snow boots and a few even had walking poles to make it through the ice covered snow.

This is the first time weve done a winter activity here and we certainly havent done ice harvesting before, said Dreibelbis.

As attendees gathered around the fire and looked over photos, brochures and tools displayed, Dreibelbis gave a brief history of the farm and spoke about the Dreibelbis Farm Historical Society. Guests were also able to enjoy hot chocolate before and after the presentation.

All the ice tools have been on the farm here, explained Dreibelbis who thanked others who also loaned a few tools for the demonstration. Really you could go back to the 1860s and the Civil War and start farming with all of the equipment here.

In the past, PA German settlers in the area would be preparing to make use of the ice at this time in order to preserve food during the warmer months. The demonstration took place at a pond located on the property that was frozen with about five inch thick ice.

This was about the hardest job on the farm, harvesting the ice, said Dreibelbis. Between sawing these blocks, hoisting them out, loading the wagon, bringing them up here and stacking them.

Dreibelbis used the various tools that were needed to harvest the ice as he explained the process.

If it snows on the ice, youve got to go down there with a shovel and get that snow off as the ice is accumulating so it gets thick enough, explained Dreibelbis. Minimum was eight inches. They liked it more like 16 to 20, even 22 inches thick. The bigger the block the more efficient it was to harvest.

The first thing that the settlers would do is line the ice with a tool pulled by horses so that the blocks would be the right size. Then they would chisel a hole and start using the large hand saw.

It was a tremendous amount of work, said Dreibelbis.

Once the piece of ice was free floating, a pike (a long stick) was used to push the block over and then the ice would be grabbed with ice thongs.

After the explanation and some demonstrations with volunteers from the audience, the group trekked down to the pond to watch Dreibelbis start harvesting the ice. The crowd gathered around and on the ice. Some even took their own turn sawing through the thick ice. Once the ice was free, the demonstration continued by hauling the ice to the ice house and loading it in.

We pre-harvested some ice, said Dreibelbis earlier in the presentation. We got luck. These huge icebergs floated up from the Maidencreek on the back bank.

Attendees young and old had fun taking part in what was an annually chore for PA German settlers in the 18th century. Even the snow and ice covered trails on the property could not keep visitors away nor the threat of more snow and a few flurries that day.

For more information on the historic Dreibelbis Farm and upcoming events, visit www.dreibelbisfarm.org.

Check out videos of the demonstration at www.tout.com/hamburgitem and follow The Item on Twitter @hamburgitem.

About the Author

Shea Singley

Shea Singley is the editor of The Hamburg Area Item. She grew up in Berks County and spent three years at the University of Arizona, Tucson, where she double majored in Creative Writing and English before transferring to Kutztown University where she majored in Professional Writing. Shea graduated from Kutztown University in 2012 and during that time completed an internship in the publication department of a non-profit organization in Washington, DC. She joined Berks-Mont Newspapers in March of 2013 and had enjoyed getting the chance to explore the Hamburg area and meet the readers. Reach the author at ssingley@berksmontnews.com or follow Shea on Twitter: @hamburgitem.

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