Carmen Powell is a life member of the Dandenong and District Historical Society. She attended Dandenong East Primary School and Dandenong High School before getting a job at K. L. Farm Equipment in Gladstone Road. This week Carmen continues her memories of growing up in Dandenong where her Dad Alf and Uncle George ran an ice and fuel delivery business.
By 1945 my Dad Alf Cruickshank and my Uncle George Smyth owned Cruickshank and Smythe, Ice and Fuel Merchants, a business situated on the corner of Walker and McCrae streets, Dandenong.
They would begin their ice rounds at about 5am.
This was not just a summer job, people needed ice for their ice chests the whole year round so even in the dead of winter Dad would pick up Uncle George and they’d drive around the corner to the ice works in McCrae Street and load the required amount of ice for the day onto the open tray truck.
This they would cover with canvas and begin their rounds. I wonder what time they began deliveries. I imagine all the ice had to be finished before the sun became too hot.
I remember a set of large pincers they used for dragging the big blocks of ice to the back edge of the tray where they could be reached and cut. I can see the 10-inch long ice pick they cut the ice with.
The larger blocks had barely perceptible divisions in them for cutting into three or four smaller blocks. It always seemed like a miracle to me that the blocks split off so evenly into perfect rectangles.
Dad would wrap the smaller block in a hessian bag and hoist it onto his shoulder and walk at a brisk bouncy trot to the back door of a house yelling ‘ice’ loudly once or twice as he neared the back door.
Then he would simply open the door and walk in yelling once more for good measure.
Doors were never locked in those days, people trusted each other. These two men were well-liked and respected throughout the country township of Dandenong.
The ice chest was a two-door wooden cabinet with galvanized iron lining which kept food cool and away from flies, a wonderful invention after the meat safe.
The lower cabinet had two wire shelves and you stored meat, milk and butter and could even set a jelly or a junket.
The upper smaller compartment was a large box with a hinged drop down door at the front.
The ice box itself was drained at the back through a long pipe to a drip tray below.
This tray would be emptied daily – when remembered – and the overflow wiped up the next day if forgotten.
Dad would sit the new block of ice on the floor on his hessian bag and he would remove what
remained of the previous block laying that on the bag also.
Then the new block of ice would be lifted up with bare hands and slid into the box with the remains packed in at the sides.
If the householder was not at home the money was left sitting on the top of the icebox. How times have changed.
I remember the excitement of seeing Dad’s ice truck coming down our street, probably only in the school holidays.
I was more excited than the other kids because this beautiful man with the cigarette stuck to his lip was my Dad. I thought he looked important going into so many houses.
The tray of the truck would be continually dripping onto the roadway, and the tiny freezing ice chips sprayed your face as Dad stood on the road at the back of the truck and chipped off a block.
He would jump up onto the tray and drag a large block by the pincers up to the end of the open tray and work while standing on the ground.
Local kids would come from everywhere and wait for the splinters of ice so freely given. These precious pieces were so cold to handle that you had to toss them from one hand to the other to ease the pain in your fingers.
Your hands were hurting, your lips were frozen, your teeth aching and freezing water was dripping up your sleeves but you would never throw them away.
After much slurping to keep pace with the melting you finally bit off a small piece but had to keep rolling it around in your mouth, too cold to keep still, slurping, crunching and sucking in your breath, while still tossing the piece in your hand back and forth.
Dad would always come home for a late morning tea/ early lunch.
Eventually they had two flat tray trucks, a Rio and a Fargo and employed one or two men as well.