Q. Does anyone remember the old Boyle Ice Company, located near Smiths Creek? It served to ice the rail cars and tractor trailers carrying local produce to northern markets and closed in the early ’60s.
A. Thanks to a series of emails from local resident Jerry Hardee, we now have more information on this almost forgotten Wilmington business. His father, Swain Hardee, was supervisor/assistant manager and head of maintenance for Boyle Ice Company.
“My father worked at the ice plant in the late 50′s until it closed in 1961,” recalls Hardee. “During the summer, starting when I was about 10 years old, my father began taking me to work with him at Boyle Ice Co. It was more commonly known as simply the ‘ice plant.’”
According to Hardee, the plant provided ice for railroad box cars and for long-haul truckers, facilitating the shipment of local produce and flowers to cities in the North. Farming was still a thriving industry in the Wilmington area at the time.
That all changed as the railroad changed where it was based and how it operated.
Hardee said, “By the early 60s, the Atlantic Coast Line had announced its move to Jacksonville, FL; and self-contained refrigeration units that could be installed on boxcars and semi-trailers were becoming more available and cheaper. Both spelled doom for an aging ice plant.”
Hardee describes Boyle Ice as a large, red brick structure, 60 to 70 feet long across the front. Located to the left were the huge refrigeration compressors, while to the far right of the building was the office area.
“In between was where the ice was produced and stored in sub-freezing temperatures,” said Hardee. “A wooden platform, equal to the height of semi-trailers, extended about two-thirds the length of the building from the office end. The motor room was ground level. A large portion of the plant near the railroad tracks behind the office had been torn down by my first visit so I never witnessed rail cars being iced. My only recollections are of the semi-trailers being iced.”
Hardee said a machine on the platform blew shaved ice into the semi-trailers. Truckers would back in and open the back doors to their trailers loaded with produce.
“The ‘blower’ was a machine with a hopper where big 50-pound blocks of ice were thrown; and below the hopper was a huge powerful rotating cylinder with what looked like 4-inch bear claws. As the cylinder rotated it shredded the ice and propelled it through a 6-inch rubber hose. An employee would direct the spray of shaved ice with the hose to insure that the interior of the trailer and its contents were ‘iced down’ as they called it.”
Hardee said ice blocks were made in large steel container shells, which were about 34 inches wide by 12 inches thick and 6 feet long. A shell of these dimensions produced a block of ice weighing around 2000 to 2200 pounds each.
“I basically remember the shells being filled with water, while in a vertical position in what looked like a pit until frozen,” said Hardee. “At that point, the shells were removed from the pit by an overhead crane system; and the ice blocks taken to the storage area, at which time, the process was repeated.”
Most records of the Boyle Ice Company appeared to have melted away, but Historian Janet Davidson of the Cape Fear Museum found a listing for the company in the 1942 Wilmington city directory.
Boyle Ice Company was located at 1600 North 10th St. The listing named James T. Boyle as president, F.A. Westrick as vice president, and John J. Rockford as treasurer.
Date posted: August 3, 2012
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