The Ice Capades
Long before Philip Kingston became a lawyer or was elected to the Dallas City Council as the District 14 representative, he was just like anyone else looking for some extra cash during the summer.
Before going off to college, Kingston knew he was going to need tuition money. He had held down a few after-school jobs, but he was looking for a summer gig that would give him plenty of hours so he could make some real money.
Luckily, his father was comptroller of an ice factory in San Antonio.
Today, most ice is made in fully automated factories, or on site. The factory where Kingston worked, by comparison, was more than a century old.
The factory operated on a very old system using compressed ammonia that would circulate through tubes and freeze a 200-pound block of ice. After the chiller, the blocks were put into rectangular cans before heading to a crusher. The ice was then placed into 10-pound bags and stitched closed before being stacked 5-feet high on a pallet and wrapped in plastic for transport.
Most of the factory workers “had arms as big as your legs,” Kingston says.
After proving himself on the line, Kingston eventually was assigned to the snow machine. That, Kingston says, would take all the leftovers — the smaller pieces of ice that escaped the bags — and eventually work those into a block of ice to be crushed.
“It didn’t pay a high wage,” he says. “I think $5 an hour. I’d work 80 hours a week and then I’d get 40 hours at $7.50. That was really good in 1991.”
At one point that summer, Kingston says he worked 240 hours in a three-week stretch. But he was able to do what he set out to accomplish. Almost all of the money he made that summer went toward his first semester of college.
Furthering his education, he says, wasn’t really a choice. He was told he would be attending college. So finding a way to pay for it was a must.
The factory wasn’t in a good area of town, Kingston recalls, and many of the employees had a checkered past. Kingston says he was the only person under 18 who hadn’t already served a prison sentence.
“My best friend at plant … had served seven years for murder. I don’t know how you get seven years for that. But he was a really good guy and tried to help me fit in with all the other workers,” Kingston says.
The word around the factory was that managers’ toughness matched the laborers. People in the factory always told the story about one worker who attempted to unionize.
“So the plant superintendent took him into the parking lot and beat the tar out of him.”
Other than the colorful cast of characters, Kingston says his job in the ice factory was punishing.
“It was a horrible job. It was incredibly, mind-numbingly dull. You would think 100-degree heat would make you want to work in a freezer all day, but it doesn’t, because after a while you’re just in a freezer. It just sucks,” he says.
The entire summer was brutal and boring, but Kingston says the job did teach him to value his money.
After one frozen summer, Kingston vowed never to return to the factory.
“By the next year I had gotten into waiting tables and making really stupid money for a kid that age.”
It turns out, Kingston says, he was better suited for the hospitality industry, where he probably served his drinks neat.
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