The recent news features on ice harvesting on the river in Bellevue have sparked a few fond memories of a couple Bellevue men.
Gerald Koppes and Larry Michels, who are both now in their 80s, were children in the 1940s and 1950s, but were front and center in terms of both ice harvesting and fishing here in Bellevue back in the day.
The men brought down to the newspaper office a few items from their boyhoods that they purchased with money they made on the river decades ago.
Michels brought a .22 caliber rifle he still has that he purchased from Gib Tebler at the old Western Auto Store in Bellevue.
“When I was growing up in 1950, there was an Ice House between where the new brewery is going to be and where the new chamber building is, down over the bank. It was built of rough lumber, and used sawdust for an insulator,” recalled Michels. “On the bank of the Mississippi was a fishing lodge where they rented boats, sold bait, and cleaned fish. I remember Walt and Hally Florence owned it. They used to ship fish to Chicago and other places and used the ice to keep the fish cold. I used to pick up night crawlers and sold them to Walt for a penny a worm. Bought myself a nice 22 automatic rifle that I still have, with some of the money. I paid $20 down and $5 per week until the rifle was paid for.”
Jerry Koppes of Bellevue, a friend of Michels is a few years older, but remembers much of the same places. His father Cyril Koppes was a towboat pilot and helped C.C. Putman haul gravel out of the sand pit and took it to Savanna to the foot of Crooked Slough where people from Bellevue were dropped off for work at the Army Depot. Cyril also worked for President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression and helped build Lock and Dam 12.
While Koppes still has some of his father’s time books and rule books on piloting the Mississippi, as a boy he came with his own ways to make money, and was able to buy his first outboard motor.
“I read with interest the article on the ice harvesting operation on north Riverview which took place from the early 1900s up to the 1950s.
I can recall when that used to take place every winter. I did, however, participate in an ice harvest that filled the ice house of Holmes and White Fish Market, located between the Bob Ernst building and the old Button Factory building.
The ice was cut out on the river in front of the old clay pottery factory and hauled up by truck to where the road goes down to the river. At that point, the ice slabs were placed on a chute made of rough-sawed lumber and were placed in the icehouse which was also built with rough-sawed lumber,” said Koppes. “The following summer of 1948, as a young teenager, I picked up night crawler worms after dark with a flashlight and sold them to Holmes and White for 10 cents a dozen. I wasn’t uncommon to pick up 20 to 30 dozen a night. I saved my nightcrawler money and bought a 2 and ½ horsepower Eglin outboard motor from Sears and Roebuck. The motor cost $75 at the time. I paid $37.50 and my parents paid $37.50.
I used that motor and my homemade wooden boat to tow rowboats across the river to the stone rip-raps below the dam on the Illinois side of the river. When the party was finished fishing, they raised a white flag on a willow pole and I would go over and bring them back.
I charged 25 cents each way.”
Koppes later worked for the Department of Defense in Rock Island in the Engineering Department and made a fine career of it.