In a post earlier this month, I talked about the pea picker strike of 1935 in Teton County. There’s a quirky little story that I discovered in researching that. Let’s call it The Great Ice Fire of 1929.
Peas are highly perishable. They need to be harvested quickly and refrigerated so that they don’t lose their sugar content. Shipping the pea crop from Teton County necessitated ample supplies of ice in the days before refrigerated railway cars were available. Local entrepreneurs began farming ice in the winter and storing it in an insulated shelter during the hot days of the summer for use for shipping peas in August.
How do you farm ice? Well, you can gather it in the wild by cutting blocks of ice from a river or lake, or you can dig a pit and fill it with water, letting winter do its work.
The Hillman brothers had gone the pit route in 1929, covering the ice-filled hole with generous quantities of straw. Pea harvest was about to begin that August. Unfortunately, some careless smoker tossed a butt onto the covered pit, igniting the straw. The resulting fire burned about 500 tons of ice, worth about $1500.