Ice man refuses to melt away
JANESVILLE The Ice Man never minded going to work before sunrise in summer to prepare for the daily deliveries.
Nor did he mind lifting some 50,000 pounds of his frozen commodity before the day ended.
Earl Schultz knew early hours and heavy work came with the daily operation of Janesville's City Ice Co.
He loved it.
"I grew up in the business," 71-year-old Earl said. "This was never a job. It was my passion."
Since 1858, City Ice has been owned mostly by two Janesville families and operated on North Main Street. Earl was fond of telling his customers the business has been selling ice at the same location since the Buchanan Administration.
Earlier this month, he ended the long tradition when he sold his business to Arctic Glacier USA.
"It was pretty emotional," Earl said. "I loved the customers. I loved the history. But my health is declining."
He retains ownership of the historic building with an icehouse, probably dating to the 1880s.
"Tons of ice have come through this door," Earl said, standing inside the now empty structure, cooled by a 1934 compressor. "You can't find an ice house as old and as long in operation as this one."
In summer, a truck delivered ice from Madison or Milwaukee. Workers then stacked tons of ice inside the icehouse.
Later, Earl and his crew delivered the bags to convenience stores, taverns, groceries, campgrounds, marinas and liquor stores in Rock, Walworth and Jefferson counties.
Inside Earl's office, you can see the vintage machines of a man who did business with a handshake. On his desk, notice the rotary-dial phone and a 1920s-era typewriter, both still in use.
A drawer with hollowed out wooden dishes served as a cash register.
"We kept all these things here because they worked," Earl said. "We didn't need all those fancy things."
As a teen, he considered becoming a history teacher, but Earl realized his love of the past could be satisfied by collecting the cool history of ice.
He owns one of the largest ice-memorabilia collections in the world, he said. Included in it are five horse-drawn, ornate ice-delivery wagons; specialized tools for cutting ice from rivers and lakes; and a cast iron ice crusher from Janesville's former Monterey Hotel.
He also has numerous books, videos and catalogs relating to the industry. In addition, he fondly keeps the 1946 Dodge ice delivery truck, which he learned to drive as a teen.
In the past, the Rock County Historical Society featured some of Earl's extensive collection in a public exhibit. He easily has enough artifacts and information to create a unique museum, explaining how the economic growth of the United States could not have happened without the ice industry.
"This business was a natural fit for me," Earl said. "I fell in love with its past."
He can tell you that the Atwood Family started City Ice and owned it almost 100 years before Earl's dad, Edward Schultz, bought the business in 1954.
He knows that the last year workers cut ice from the Rock River in the city was in 1929. He also recalls that the last delivery to a residential icebox was in 1971.
Earl's dad started in the ice business in Watertown in 1939 before moving to Janesville. He put young Earl in the delivery truck at an early age, and the child often sucked on shards of ice to cool down in summer.
Richard Masterson, longtime friend of Earl, said Earl proudly carried on the legacy built by his dad, who died in 1986.
"When Earl was in that delivery truck, he was with his dad again," Masterson said. "Earl was devoted to his mom and dad and brother, who have all passed."
Earl learned the value of honesty from his father, and he instilled it in many college students who worked for him in summer.
"I was selective about whom I hired," Earl said. "I demanded that they be here on time at 4:15 a.m. Sometimes, they did not finish until 6 p.m. The first rule was that they had to have integrity."
Paraphrasing Shakespeare, Earl cautioned the young workers that, if they lost their honor, they would lose themselves.
"I hired kids smarter than I was so I could learn something," Earl said. "We talked about poetry and politics. They've all been successful. If they worked here, their parents knew they weren't running around."
Earl's nephew, Ed Schultz, has been a full-time employee with Earl. Ed began working in the business in 1975 when he was in middle school. Ed's brother Jim also worked in the business.
Ed is proud of the personal relationships he cultivated with customers.
"They were always more than customers," Ed said. "We got to know them very well. They were friends."
Earl didn't want it any other way. He called the success of the longtime business a team effort, which included his wife, Gwen, and nephews.
Janesville businesswoman Jackie Wood has known Earl since childhood. As adults, they served on the board of the Rock County Historical Society.
"Earl was so aware and proud that his family was part of Janesville's history," Wood said. "He went about his business everyday loving it. As anyone with a family-owned business knows, it is your life. That makes it an extra blow when it has to close."
Wood praised Earl for all his years of donating ice to nonprofit groups when they held fundraisers.
"He is a kind, dear person," she said. "We hope the best for him."
Doctors have not given Earl a diagnosis about his declining health. Still, he holds on to his dreams. He thinks about creating a restaurant with his ice memorabilia. He talks about giving ice-cutting demonstrations in winter. He so much wants to share his love of ice history.
"I want to restore my health and be active in the community," Earl said. "I don't want to be an iceman who melts away."
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.