News Column

10 Things You Might Not Know About Ice

Feb 18, 2013

Mark Jacob and Stephan Benzkofer

It's ice time in Chicago, with people scraping it off their windshields, cheering the Blackhawks as they skate on it and finding new ways to avoid having their cars slide on it. Northwest suburban Wauconda recently made news by saying it was considering switching to molasses from road salt on icy roads.

1. Ice sheets and glaciers cover about 10 percent of the world's land today. At its peak in the most recent ice age, ice covered nearly a third of the land, including nearly all of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Since the ice ages, Lake Michigan probably has never been completely frozen over, but in late February 1979, about 92 percent of it was covered by ice, and about 90 percent was covered in mid-February 1976.

2. When a piece of ice breaks off from a glacier, it is called calving. Depending on the size of that piece, it could be a growler (less than a meter above the surface), a bergy bit (1 to 5 meters above the surface) or an iceberg (everything bigger).

3. It's relatively common for football coaches to "ice the kicker," or call a timeout in hopes that the player will think too much and choke, but recent studies by The Wall Street Journal and ESPN show the tactic doesn't work and may even backfire.

4. Chicago was built on ice. The use of ice-cooled warehouses and refrigerator train cars allowed Chicago to become a meatpacking goliath and supply beef and pork to customers far away. Gustavus Swift pioneered the use of the cooled rail cars, knowing it would be cheaper to send dressed meat than live cows. But the railroads that feared losing a huge source of revenue refused to use his cars. Swift wouldn't give up and found a small railroad willing to take his business. Over time, competition forced the big railroads to accept the refrigerated cars.

5. You can start a fire with ice. How? Carve a chunk of ice into a lens so that it works as a sort of magnifying glass, concentrating sunlight on one spot. Outdoors experts can do this with special effort. The rest of us are better off starting our fires with a match.

6. A century ago, the Tribune ran headlines reading "Ice famine grips Gotham" and "Kenosha avoids ice famine." What the heck was an ice famine? Before home refrigerators were common, when people still relied on iceboxes to store their food, they needed real ice. Transportation problems or unusually warm weather sometimes disrupted shipments of ice from out of town, causing ice famines.

7. Contract riders for touring performers often contain unusual backstage demands, such as Van Halen's ban on brown M&Ms and Metallica's insistence on a constant supply of bacon. Singer Janet Jackson's rider declared: "We will not tolerate the use of anything but fresh, clean, crushed or cubed ice. NO FISH ICE! If it had never happened, I wouldn't have to write this."

8. Frank Zamboni invented the Zamboni in the late 1940s to fix the surface at the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, Calif. His company later branched out, building or selling such products as the Astro Zamboni (to vacuum water from AstroTurf), the Grasshopper (to roll up artificial turf) and the Black Widow (to place dirt atop cemetery vaults).

9. The polar ice caps, glaciers and those wandering icebergs contain about 75 percent of the world's fresh water.

10. Red Grange, the Chicago Bears and University of Illinois legend, is famously the Gallopin' Ghost. But back home, he was the Wheaton Iceman because of the delivery job he took every summer during high school and college that he credited with keeping him football-fit. According to one biography, many housewives dressed up for the delivery by the already well-known, well-built young man.



Source: (c)2013 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by MCT Information Services.