Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Mining ice in Minnesota January 2, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:15 AM
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The icicles and ice dams on our house, before my husband began chiseling away at the ice.


Removing ice dams via a hammer and chisel may not be the quickest and easiest way to accomplish ice removal, but it’s certainly the least expensive method (unless you fall and injury yourself, of course).

On Thursday, when temperatures here in southern Minnesota hovered around a balmy 40 degrees, the hardy Minnesotans in my neighborhood took to their ladders. They knew this was their single chance to pick away at the monstrous ice dams threatening their homes.

A view I took through the kitchen window of my husband on the ladder, chiseling at ice damns.

First, Bob across the street hammered for hours at the ice on his porch roofline. I didn’t worry about him until I saw him climb onto his roof and then stand there like he didn’t quite know how to get down. I kept the cell phone close by, just in case. But eventually he swung his leg around, planted his foot firmly on a ladder rung and descended cautiously to the icy ground.

A few hours later, in the dark of early evening, my husband planted his ladder in the backyard snow mountain, climbed a few rungs until he could reach the ice-dammed eave troughs and began hammering and chiseling away.

Occasionally I would peer out the window or door, checking on his progress, but mostly checking to see that he hadn’t slipped from the ladder.

For some two hours he hammered and tossed huge chunks of ice from the roof. I’ve never been to Antarctica, but I can only imagine our yard now resembles a mini version of a broken ice shelf with chunks of ice strewn haphazardly atop the snow. But better the ice littering our yard than weighing heavy upon the house.

While my husband-miner mined, the next-door neighbor also attempted ice removal. I don’t know that she’s cut out to be a miner as the clink, clink, clink didn’t continue for long. But then again, her mine (house) doesn’t appear to have the same rich, natural deposit of ore (ice) as our mine (house).

Ice dam chunks litter the backyard snow mountain.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A practical use for icicles from snowy Minnesota December 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:32 AM
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I HAD THIS EPIPHANY, this brilliant moment, the other night as I watched my husband swing his scoop shovel at icicles hanging from the house roofline.

He had just descended the ladder after scooping several snowstorms worth of snow from the roof when he began knocking mega icicles from the ice-dammed eave troughs with his shovel. Clank. Clank. Clank.

For days I had admired the growing length of those icicles, the longest of which stretched to perhaps six feet. What extraordinary weapons they would make for sword fights, I thought.

But, the practical homeowner in me realized we needed to remove the weaponry to protect the fort, AKA our house.


Ice dams and icicles on the west side of our house.

So, Thursday afternoon I walked across the street to borrow a roof rake from my neighbor. For perhaps 45 minutes I floundered in thigh deep snow banks, pulling snow from the house and garage roofs until I felt like my arms would fall off.

I also knocked down as many of those icicles as I possibly could until I came dangerously close to also knocking out the bathroom window.


I nearly hit the bathroom window while removing snow and icicles from the house.

Anyway, back to that light bulb moment.

“Do we have any ice for the cooler?” I hollered to my husband as he hammered away at the icicles I had missed during my earlier reckless attempt at destroying the ice build-up. By this time, the attack with a scoop shovel method was no longer working.

He looked at me with skepticism, wondering, I’m sure, what exceptionally brilliant idea I had now. I don’t like to boast, but my idea to use icicles, in lieu of purchased, bagged ice, to cool food in a cooler rated as an environmental, cost-saving good use of natural resources. (We needed ice to keep our food cold as we traveled on Christmas Eve.)

Fortunately for me, I have a husband who doesn’t always dismiss my seemingly crazy ideas.

I dragged a cooler up from the basement, handed it outside to him and he continued hammering the ice until we had a whole cooler full of icicles.


My husband begins the task of harvesting icicles with a hammer.

Ice chips fly as Randy breaks the icicles into smaller chunks that will fit into the cooler.

The cooler was only half full of icicle chunks when frozen fingers led me to stop photographing the ice harvest.

Our teenage son made some comment about saving the ice until summer, putting a modern day spin on the concept of harvesting lake ice and packing it in sawdust inside an ice house.

Now, if you were to peek inside the chest freezer in my basement, you would find, um, yes, broken segments of icicles that will work perfectly for chilling beverages this summer.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling