In 1902, before the town of Tucumcari was named and before New Mexico was even a state, Tucumcari Ice & Coal provided the necessary fuel to keep food fresh, beverages cold, the townsfolk warm, cook a hearty meal, and power the steam locomotives rumbling through town to boot. To guarantee continuous production of their “crystal clear taste-free ice,” the company dug their own well in 1924 that was capable of pumping 30 gallons per minute, no small feat in the desert back when both the ice and the coal was lugged around in horse-drawn buggies.
We don’t have a specific date for this pencil, but we’re pretty sure that was made after 1902 when the company was founded and before 1963 when brass ferrules fell out of favor. We believe it’s most likely from the 1930’s or 40’s, primetime for the coal needs of a young railroad town. In a burg whose population always remained under 9,000, the ice and coal company was more than just a business - it was a social hub of the community, so there was plenty that Tucumcarians and TI&C workers alike would need to jot down.
Several photos and comments full of fond memories about the “ice plant” and what it meant to them and the town have made it to the digital age in a Facebook group, appropriately named, Tucumcari Then and Now. Whether it was getting ice for the hotel, getting married (no, really) at the TI&C store, picking up vacation ice (whatever that is), or buying ice for their fruit stand on Route 66, many residents of a certain age have good memories from the old ice store on West Railroad Avenue. You can still practically imaging the rumble of those 50-pound blocks of ice coming down the huge galvanized metal chutes out back.
While the community had the warm and fuzzies about the place where they all got their ice and coal, the happenings behind the scenes were much weirder. A TI&C ice delivery man who we can easily imagine with one of these white pencils tucked behind his ear as he made his rounds, Kenneth S. Booth had an unfortunate accident in 1915 that could have ended much worse. While filling the big icebox of one of the town businesses, the ladder Ken was standing on slipped and threw him onto a table with a meat block that had several knives sticking up. To save his face from mutilation, he put his hands out to brace his fall and ended up severely cutting his right hand.
Not to be outdone, a few years later TI&C’s president disappeared completely after eloping with a mystery woman, leaving no clue except a curt telegram. Perhaps he even filled out the telegram form at the local depot with one of his own company pencils. According to a story in the July 2, 1922 Albuquerque Morning Journal, Tucumcari Ice & Coal president J.W. Corn’s telegram said, “am leaving for parts unknown” with no other information provided about who he married, where they were headed, or if he was ever coming back. Talk about making an exit! The same year, TI&C began the process of filing for bankruptcy and then suddenly they were not. Could it have been some creative math and accounting, possibly with a pencil just like this, that saved the company?
It’s easy to imagine this pencil kicking around the office making notes of whose turn it was to shovel the horse poop from in front of the building, cool orders, hot deliveries, when the train with the next “good clean coal” delivery was due into town, the best recipes for taste free ice, and the odds on whether or not J.W. Corn was ever coming back. We know the company eventually did go the way of the coal stove, but as late as 2013, the sign lived on, memories of a time when you could get your chill on and your grill on route 66. —Chris Alan Jones