Below is the opening paragraphs from a chapter of "Buildings and Structures of American Railroads." I'm always fascinated by how 19th Century folks stored ice. As a writer I'm also curious as to the reasoning behind how and why things were done in the past. So, enjoy this little tidbit.
Railroads have to supply ice for drinking purposes at depots, offices, shops, and in passenger-cars, and for preserving perishable freight while it is in transit in refrigerator cars or stored in freight-houses. The consumption of ice on railroads has reached such propor tions that it has been found advantageous to build special ice houses, so as to allow the railroad company to have control of its ice supply, and to be independent of local ice companies.
These houses are stocked by the railroad company during the winter season, either from convenient sources under their own control, and with their own men, or the work is let out by contract. Ice-houses should be so located as to admit of a track being run alongside of them, in order to reduce the cost of handling the ice to a minimum. Two systems have been adopted by railroads for obtaining their ice supply. One is to locate large storage-houses at lakes, ponds, or rivers, in other words, adjacent to the sources of the supply, and to ship ice daily or at intervals from these large storage-houses to smaller houses along the line, from where it is dealt out in such quantities as required. In the other system, the ice, when harvested, is immediately loaded on cars and transferred, while the weather is cold, and hence with small wastage, to large storage-houses at important stations along the line, where considerable quantities of ice are used, as at junction or terminal stations, or where passengertrains change engines and cars are iced, or at division yards where refrigerator-cars require icing before continuing on to their destination.
Ice-coolers of passenger-trains are usually iced at stations where engines are changed, the work being done by car-inspectors or station hands. For this purpose ice is generally carried in baskets from the ice-house to the station building before the arrival of trains. Where the ice-house is some distance from the station building, ice is brought in hampers or on trucks, once or several times a day, to a spare room or enclosure at the station building, and there washed, cut to size, and held ready for use. Refrigerator-cars are iced in the same way while en route, if necessary. Where feasible, however, they arc run on to a special siding, as near the ice-house as possible, with a trestling or elevated platform alongside the siding at about the height of the top of the cars connecting with the ice-house to facilitate the handling of the ice from the house to the cars.
Relative to the quantity of ice used for various purposes, it is impossible to give data that will hold in all parts of the country. The following information can be taken as a fair average obtained from actual observation on one of the leading Eastern trunk lines. There are, generally, one or two coolers in every passenger-car or Pullman coach, each cooler holding from 30 to 40 lbs. of ice. This amount will last about 16 hours in summer and about 24 hours in winter, although, if the cars are kept well heated in winter, the ice will melt about as fast as it does in summer. Thus, with the knowledge of the number of regular trains running on a road, the approximate amount of ice required for the passenger service can be ascertained. Provision should be made, however, for irregular and summer excursion trains, which latter require fully twice as much ice as regular trains. The quantity of ice needed for station and office use is determined by the number of coolers. Small stations, on the road referred to above, receive 30 lbs. of ice daily in summer, while large stations receive from 75 to 125 lbs. The amount of ice required at shops varies according to the number of men employed. Probably from 200 lbs. to 1000 lbs. daily during the summer months will answer, the latter amount being ample for the largest shop system. The data at hand relative to the ice capacity of refrigerator-cars varies considerably. According to the kind of car used and the service expected of it, one charge will take from 1000 to 4100 lbs., which charge will last from 2$ or 3 days to a week. Ice melts faster in cars that are in motion than when they are standing.