Different Slants

Seeing the World from a New Angle

Chicago Iceman: 1930…by Robert M. Katzman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bob at 8:46 am on Saturday, July 17, 2021

By Robert M. Katzman © August 10, 2014

Galesburg, Illinois antique store

Rickety shop by a ripening cornfield

Dirty windows, cracked glass

Door with a spring that slammed against my ass

As I edged inside

Gloomy, long wooden tables 

Seemed to me even the shadows had shadows


Shaggy old man sitting behind a counter

Didn’t look up as I nosed around

Must be the worn clothes I wear

Never gives shopkeepers a glint of hope

I wander from table to table

Some sagging from the heavy tools

Piled upon them


Once a carpenter

Grandson of a carpenter

Tools, good tools, matter to me

What they’re capable of in the right hands

My hands were the right hands

Until my old body screamed: Stop!

Doesn’t mean I’m not still interested, though

I moved closer to the sagging table


A shiny set of red-handled screwdrivers

Still in their package

Next to a gleaming metal box of

A wide selection of socket-wrenches

Squinting in the gloom I saw I guessed right 

Damn tools were made in China

Every damn thing is made in China

Use ‘em twice and they break


This country used to make things

Durable things that a man could depend on

Not anymore

I kept moving this ‘n that around

Bitching to myself about, oh, everything

Then I see the tongs

Buried under a sledgehammer and a torn canvas tool belt

I took a closer look

“Made by The Pittsburgh Forge”


Made in the USA


Big heavy thing 

Completely covered in orange rust

Two looped handles on one end

Mean sharp claws on the other

A serious marriage of steel and purpose

Ice tongs 

Slave-type labor for the truly desperate

And the memories came flooding back


Right after the crash of ‘29

Came the soul-killing Great Depression

Millions lost farms, homes and stores

Grandpa Jacob and Gramma Rose

Were hellbent on keeping their house

On the tough West Side of Chicago

All five kids went to work

Pooling all they made


In 1930, my Dad, Israel, eighteen

Nabbed a job on Teivel’s ice-wagon

Old guy’s back was gone

 Word was he needed some help

Wearing a torn straw hat 

To keep the sun out of his eyes

Long twitching ears poking up through slits 

Mendel, the ice-man’s horse, knew all the stops


My Dad grabbed a heavy block of ice

With the wide steel tongs 

A square block weighed about sixty pounds

And he ran up the tenement’s echoing steps

First floor

Second floor

Third floor

Ice block after ice block after ice block

By the end of his day

He wanted to die

But with Jacob and Rose’s 

House on the line

That kept him going


Delivered those blocks of ice

 To the mass of local immigrants:

To the Irish 

To the Jews

To the Poles

The ice wasn’t Catholic

The ice wasn’t Jewish

The ice was, well, just ice


My Dad’s hands grew callused and hard

His arms became muscular

And he kept at it for two years

Carpenter jobs opened up for Jacob by ‘32

Sylvia, his daughter, found a job with a lawyer

Milton, his other son, worked at a grocery

All their kids worked and their house was saved


I stared at the ancient grimy ice tongs

Wondering where they’d been

How many blocks of ice they dragged 

How many hands bled clutching 

Those unforgiving steel handles

Seventy, eighty years ago

When Hoover and Roosevelt

Were our Presidents


Rubbing my wrinkled hands 

Over the tongs’ sandy rust

Over the proud faded words:

Pittsburgh Forge

No one needs you anymore, tongs

No one remembers you anymore, tongs

You’re just scrap now, tongs  


Then, abruptly moved

By my love for 

My long dead father

Unexpected tears 

Rolling down my cheeks

Spilling onto those

Damned dusty tongs

I bought them


Publishing News! 

Bob Katzman’s two new true Chicago books are now for sale, from him!
Vol. One: A Savage Heart  and Vol. Two: Fighting Words

Gritty, violent, friendship, classic American entrepreneurship love, death, heartbreak and the real dirt about surviving in a completely corrupt major city under the Chicago Machine. More history and about one man’s life than a person may imagine.

Please visit my new website: https://www.dontgoquietlypress.com
If a person doesn’t want to use PayPaI, I also have a PO Box & I ship anywhere in America.

Send me a money order with your return and contact info.
I will get your books to you within ten days.
Here’s complete information on how to buy my books:

Vol 1: A Savage Heart and Vol. 2: Fighting Words
My books weigh almost 2 pounds each, with about 525 pages each and there are a total together of 79 stories and story/poems.

Robert M. Katzman
Don’t Go Quietly Press
PO Box 44287
Racine, Wis. 53404-9998                                                                                                                     (262)752-3333, 8AM-7PM

Books cost $29.95 each, plus shipping

For: (1)$3.95; (2)$5.95; (3)$7.95; (4)$8.95 (5)$9.95;(6) $10.95

(7) $11.95; (8) $12.95; (9)$13.95 (10)$15.95 (15)$19.95

Shipping by air to most of Europe, due to the weight of my books is $99.00

I am also for hire if anyone wants me to read my work and answer questions in the Chicago/Milwaukee area. Schools should call me for quantity discounts for 30 or more books. Also: businesses, bookstores, private organizations or churches and so on.


Comment by Brad Dechter

July 17, 2021 @ 9:34 am

Very cool story Bob! Sorry, the old guy there gave you such a frosty reception.
You give new meaning to the phrase “You have ice in your veins”. Sorry if my email has me walking on thin ice, but honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg! Now that I am done breaking the ice with this paragraph, I’ll put my writing on ice.
Hopefully, you consider this email to you the “icing on the cake”.

Comment by James Myles Payne

July 17, 2021 @ 12:33 pm

Sturdy tongs to remember him by.

Comment by David Griesemer

July 18, 2021 @ 3:28 pm

The tongs that saved a house.

And a family.

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