We had Janet's family's Thanksgiving celebration on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. After being married to her for 40+ years, her family knows of my interest in trains and most anything railroad related. So it was with a little excitement in his voice that her brother approached me and asked, "Where's your car? I've got something for you!"
We walked out into the parking lot and he gave me the item pictured above. "I was told they were tie movers," he told me. "The guy I got them from said that the railroad gave them to his father as a 'sort of' retirement present." Well, this was interesting. I'm not really a hardware collector but do have a few odds & ends laying around that I've accumulated over the years and these are certainly hardware. They measure about 24 inches long and probably weigh around ten pounds. They are made of heavy gauge steel rod and could very well be used to drag around ties. But something bothered me about them so I went online and did a bit of research.
I was able to find a name on the side of them; Warren. So I did a search on Warren tie tongs and came up empty. When I did just tie tongs, I got some results but none of them looked at all like what I had. So I tried my second hunch, Warren ice tongs and came up with pictures & descriptions of very similar looking items.
Railroads needed ice to transport perishable items from various parts of the country, primarily to the East Coast. Meat, vegetables & fruit were obviously time and temperature sensitive so those cars needed to be moved as quickly as possible and kept as cold as could be before the days of mechanical refrigeration. I won't go into details here but the regrigerator cars or reefers were packed on the ends with ice and air was circulated through the inside of an insulated car to keep things cool. The ice only lasted so long so every so often, these crack trains had to take the siding and get "iced."
Again, without mechanical refrigeration, ice had to be harvested from the lakes in the northern part of the country and shipped then stored where it would be needed to ice the trains. The ice was cut into manageable sized blocks then stored in ice houses. When needed, the ice was shipped to other icing stations along the lines and used to cool the contents of the reefers. These tongs were used to grab & slide the ice around on the icing platforms so that it could be dropped into the ice bunkers on the refrigerator cars.
Icing was a very efficient process. A train would pull onto the ice house siding and icing crews would go to work loading the bunkers. As soon as one section of the train was iced, the engineer would pull ahead and get the next section completed until the entire block of reefers was ready to go on to either its destination or the next icing station.
I'll need to find out a little more from my brother in law to see if I can determine where these came from. I didn't see any railroad names stamped on them but the location that they came from may very well determine where they were used. Nonetheless, they represent a very interesting period in railroading history... when cars used ice for cooling long before the days of mechanical refrigeration.