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Friday, February 3, 2017

A perfect day for cutting ice By Stephen Signor



Last Sunday saw over 60 people gathered at Dundee Pond, a small shallow bay of the Penobscot River in Gorham. Merrifield Farm, located at 195 N. Gorham Road, was the scene of ice blocks being cut and removed with the use of tools, at least 100 years old. With favorable temperatures and a blue sky; not to mention a history lesson, there was plenty of reason to remain for the entire scheduled time of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Reporter, Stephen Signor, takes his turn cutting ice.
It has been five years since the last time an invited crowd assembled on Dundee Pond. “We haven’t cut ice in five years because of the weather conditions and I broke my ankle; otherwise it is every two years,” shared owner Lyle Merrifield. Using a device which he custom-made specifically for this purpose, a chain saw is guided as it makes its way to a depth that equals three quarters of the block’s total thickness.

But, it really all begins the day before the event, when roughly 3 hours are spent lying out and cutting the gridlines for the ice blocks, using a hand-held ice plow. “Yesterday we came down and scored the field of ice and then using a chain saw, the ice blocks are cut ¾ of the way through,” explained Merrifield. And that is where the use of modern technology ends. “All of the tools we use for the actual removal are at least 100 years old,” continued Merrifield.

Strewn across the ice, but most often in the hands of eager volunteers of all ages, are ice breakers, saws and ice clamps which were used to break-up, release and guide the ice blocks into a precut channel leading to a cart. From there, 10 blocks at a time - weighing 135 pounds each, are driven up to the ice house.

“We built the ice house in 2004 or 2005, I can’t remember,” shared Merrifield. The ice house, although rather small looking was big in volume. “The house will hold roughly nine tons but we usually only store about seven tons,” continued Merrifield. With an ice field that can yield roughly 12 tons, there is plenty to go around.

100 year old ice cutting tools are still used today.
Moving all that ice up the ramp and into the ice house requires power and leverage. However, using a team of oxen and a pulley system to do the job, it doesn’t take long. Once stacked inside, sawdust will be packed in to keep the ice cold for months - just as it has always been done prior to the invention of the refrigerator. “We’ll have ice next summer whenever we need it,” said Merrifield. The rest will go to vendors at the Cumberland Fair in the fall. The remaining amount cut from the field will be for the children to amuse themselves.

Among the interested onlookers and participants were members of the 4-H Club and the Historical Society. There were also those who have made it a tradition to come here during the spring for Maple Sunday. One participant was Brittany Taylor, a teacher from Windham Middle School. “This is the first time we have been here for this, but we will definitely return next year. It’s fun and good for the kids to get out and see something like this,” shared Taylor. Her two year old son, Trenton wasted no time in participating.

It wasn’t all work however. Lunch was available and served at picnic tables overlooking the pond and the increasing view of the newly exposed water surface. A feast of hot dogs, chili, soup and a macaroni and beef dish were among the served hot choices. Finger foods and a variety of desserts were also available; all made possible by the Merrifield family and many others.  

When all was said and done (and eaten) eight and a half tons of ice was removed. A job well done by those interested in participating. “It was a great day! I enjoyed seeing a large crowd and especially the children enjoying themselves,” concluded Merrifield.

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