Soon after school let out in June 1943, I got the best job I ever had at the best age to have it — 13. For years, “the Lehigh Street gang,” as my friends and I were known, used to follow the ice truck on our block on a hot summer day to watch the men divide the large blocks of ice with their picks. As the icicle-like slivers flew off the blocks, we’d grab them to suck on to cool off. The icemen used tongs and sometimes leather or canvas bags, so that the ice wouldn’t drip on the floors as they placed the ice chunks into the wooden or metal ice boxes in people’s homes.
One day, the iceman asked me if I’d like a job on a small ice truck that delivered ice in the Pennsylvania country to farmers’ homes and some hotels in far-off Tannersville, Little Gap, Kresgeville, Brodheadsville, Saylorsburg, and Kunkletown. The man who had the route lost his partner, who was drafted for the war, and the ice plant in Bowmanstown needed someone to take his place.
I said sure and couldn’t believe it when he said the man in the small ice truck would pick me up the next day at 6 a.m. in front of my Grammy’s house. I could hardly sleep that night and waited for the truck a whole hour early. I didn’t have to pack a lunch — my breakfast and lunch were part of the deal, and I got about three dollars a day besides.
The man I worked for was a very nice person, about 20 years old, maybe younger. We got along well. Our first stop was the diner on Delaware Avenue in Palmerton, where he told me to eat anything I wanted for breakfast. I couldn’t believe it. At first I’d only have milk and cereal, while he would have coffee, toast, bacon or sausage, and eggs with home fries. After a couple days of coaxing, I began eating big breakfasts too. What a way to start the day!
We’d then get back in the pickup truck with the eight large blocks of ice and head for the country. Every other day we’d drop off four large blocks at a dairy in Little Gap, which left us only four large blocks, which we cut into smaller blocks, to deliver.
I remember one farm home where I would deliver a small square of ice. There was always a note on the ice box that read “Take the two pieces of pie” — or cake — “for you and your buddy.”
I remember also, vividly, the hotel in Kunkletown where an old woman was the bartender. I started to take in the ice with a bag, but my buddy said, “Take the tongs.” I said, “You always use a bag.” He said it was OK to use the tongs, so I did, and, unusually, he followed me inside. As I walked to the ice box with the ice melting and dripping on the floor, the old lady yelled at me, “Use the bag, go [expletive] wildcats, you little [expletive], you’re getting my floor all wet!” I was scared as hell. She looked meaner than hell. But then everybody laughed. I never took ice in there with tongs again.
I finished work at 1 o’clock and my buddy dropped me off at Grammy’s house and paid me.
The job lasted until I went back to school. The next summer, my buddy was no longer on the ice truck. When I asked where he was, the old man on the truck said he was drafted into the Army Air Corps. In the fall of 1944, I saw his photo in The Morning Call. The story said he was shot down over Germany. He was a tail gunner on a B-17. It also said he used to work for the Bowmanstown Ice Company delivering ice in the country.
Mike Martin is 92 years old and lives in Quakertown, Pa.