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A Warm Send-Off : Retirement: Ice plant employee Don Moore hangs up his parka after 50 chilly years on the job.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The iceman goeth.

But after his 50 years on the job, Don Moore’s bosses at the Union Ice Co. in Commerce wouldn’t let him go far after he retired the other day.

He’d started as an ice delivery boy driving a Model-A truck and worked his way up to being the man in charge of keeping the plant’s 27 huge refrigeration compressors pumping zero-degree temperatures.

So as Moore hung up his parka and walked from the plant Friday afternoon, officials ran after him--to ask if he could stay and fix the office air conditioner that suddenly conked out in the 100-degree weather.

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No sweat, said Moore, 66, of Covina.

It was a fitting finale for a man who thought nothing about slipping into insulated overalls and crawling into giant freezer machines to break up ice jams. Or racing to the ice plant in his pajamas in the middle of the night and climbing on the roof with a hose to keep a nearby fire from spreading to it.

“It doesn’t feel like I’ve spent 50 years here,” Moore said. “In some ways it feels more like 100.”

Indeed, it was a different era in 1944 when Moore hitched a ride on an ice truck--and on a lark filled out a job application at Union Ice’s Redlands plant. The plant manager picked up Moore the next day at his home in Yucaipa and said, “Let’s go to work.”

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“We’d carry 300 pounds of ice in a 1929 Ford and put 25 or 50 pounds on ice carts and take them up to houses,” Moore recalled. “People would leave money or coupons for us. In many cases we had keys to peoples’ homes. A lot of times they didn’t even lock the door.”

After World War II, home refrigerators were available and the wooden ice box disappeared. In time, ice companies branched out into the cold-storage warehouse business to handle supermarkets’ frozen food supplies.

But the ice plant remained a cool place to work, according to Moore.

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Along with making ice for such places as the Rose Bowl and Dodger Stadium, Moore and his co-workers provided “snow” for outdoor winter events around Los Angeles. And they often froze objects in ice for local movie-makers.

“We’ve put fish, car batteries, motor oil, shoes, money, you name it, inside 300-pound blocks. We actually froze a car for a commercial. We sprayed water on it and encased it. Its engine started right up: it was insulated like an igloo inside there.”

Summertime always meant increased demand for 50-pound bags of party ice. And that meant that Moore rarely got a vacation. In fact, he had 690 hours of unused vacation time on the books when he retired.

“I never wanted to take vacation in the winter. I didn’t want to go skiing because I never liked the snow. I was born in the Midwest and I’d had my fill of cold,” he explained.

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Working in the cold became second nature, however. He didn’t even notice the chill of a 40-degree ice-bagging room, where he spent part of his last day on the job working in shirt-sleeves. “By now, I’ve got ice water in my veins,” he joked.

But Moore admitted he never turns on the car air conditioner unless his wife, Katie, is with him. “I like warm weather better than cold,” he said.

During his Union Ice career, the firm changed hands three times and he worked for seven company presidents. Rich Burke, the current president, said Moore has agreed to sign on as a consultant to help keep the ice plant machinery--some dating to the 1930s--running.

Saturday night, ice plant co-workers staged a farewell party for Moore. They said picking his retirement gift was easy.

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They’re sending the iceman on a vacation to sunny and warm Hawaii.


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