Intriguing ice expedition recalled

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MEMORIES: Holding on to the handle of her dad Allen Kelly’s ice pick, Jan Cockburn, with Judie Ryk at the exhibition honouring their dads’ and Jack Pattle’s journey to cut from the Tasman Glacier for an extravagant dinner party in New York.
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An exhibition at the Ashburton Museum has evoked memories of an intriguing expedition undertaken in 1958.

Tasman Glacier to Table Service opened in December and closes February 11.

It details the journey of three Ashburton men who flew to Tasman Glacier to get some of the glacier’s ancient ice so it could be used for drinks at a prestigious New Zealand-themed event in New York.

Wilf Holland, Allen Kelly and Jack Pattle journeyed to the glacier on the world’s first retractable-ski plane, flown by Don Middleton.

COOL DELIVERY: Jack Pattle loads ice blocks, weighing about 23kg each, into the plane.

Today the daughters of Holland and Kelly, Judie Ryk and Jan Cockburn respectively, both of Ashburton, say they are delighted with the exhibition.

It was an item owned by Judie which had inspired the expedition to start with – an information and picture board, made by her son Richard Hastings, detailing the story.

Judie said she had vivid memories from when the expedition was undertaken all those years ago.

She was 12 at the time.

‘‘It was all very exciting and I really wanted to go but I wasn’t allowed,’’ Judie said.

‘‘It was our family Frigidaire freezer that was used to keep the ice cool once it had been flown off the glacier to the Hermitage at Mt Cook.

EXHIBITION PHOTOS: A home freezer belonging to Wilf Holland is loaded into the Stewart and Holland van by Holland (left) and Allen Kelly, ready for transporting their haul of glacial ice.

“They took a generator with them to plug the freezer into as there had ben a fire at the Hermitage and so they were unsure of how reliable power might be,’’ Judie said.

The ice needed to be kept at minus 10 degrees.

She remembered her dad waiting for a report about the ice, only to learn it could not be used for its intended purpose.

‘‘The report was about how clean the ice was as it was going to be used in the drinks and under the oysters.

“In the end they deemed it wasn’t safe to go in the drinks because it could have been contaminated.

“It was used instead to chill the wine,’’ Judie said.

Meanwhile, Jan, who was born later in 1958, said her dad would probably have been outwardly embarrassed by his humble hardworking efforts being the subject of the exhibition.

‘‘However, inside I think he would have been pretty chuffed,’’ Jan said.

The ice was for the prestigious New Zealand Night, being held by America’s largest association of journalists covering international news, the Overseas Press Club of America.

ICE VOYAGE: Wilf Holland, from left, Allen Kelly and Jack Pattle were Ashburton mountaineers tasked with getting ice from a New Zealand glacier to a hotel in New York.

It was an extravagant dinner in the Waldorf Astoria Banquet Hall, for promoting New Zealand products and international relationships. The menu featured several New Zealand foods, drinks and ice.

Ashburton Art Gallery and Museum director Shirin Khosraviani said the exhibition showcased not only the journey of the ice, but also the ingenuity of the people who made such an improbable feature of the dinner a reality.

‘‘It was the OPC’s wish to adopt the Alaskan custom of serving glacier water in drinks- rather than cubes of frozen tap water- and asked for ice from the Franz Josef Glacier,’’ Khosraviani said.

The story began in March 1958, when Stewart and Holland received a request from General Motors asking if it could assist with the refrigeration of ice from Franz Josef Glacier to America for the dinner party.

Wilf Holland was one of the owners of Stewart and Holland, while Allen Kelly was a staff member. Both were members of the Erewhon Branch of the Canterbury Mountaineering Club. They were joined by fellow member and Ashburtonian Jack Pattle.

COOL DELIVERY: Allen Kelly prepares to remove a block of ice from the Tasman Glacier destined for a dinner table in New York.

‘‘Dad was asked because of his skills in mountaineering and his knowledge in refrigeration,’’ Judie said.

Because of flooding, an alternative glacier had to used, so the Tasman Glacier was chosen.

‘‘Recent heavy rains had made the lower areas of the glacier dirty so the plane, had to go up the glacier and land at a height of 6500 feet for suitable ice.

The mountaineering party, was equipped with ropes, ice axes and a mechanical chain saw.

‘‘A small crevasse was found some distance from the plane. Down inside the crevasse surface ice was scraped off and three cubes of ice, each one 300mm, were cut with a power saw lent by Smallbone Brothers Ltd of Ashburton.

Each cube, weighing about 23kg, was loaded into an ice cream bag, flown to the Hermitage and placed in the waiting freezer,’’ Khosraviani said.

OYSTER FAVOURITES: Jan Cockburn, left, and Judie Ryk look at the table setting display at the Ashburton Museum honouring their dad’s and Jack Pattle adventures to get ice from the Tasman Glacier to put under oysters being served in a hotel in New York.

The van used to transport the ice from the Hermitage was a Stewart and Holland Bedford van.

A stop was made at Fairlie to connect to a power source to keep the freezer at the right temperature.

Once back in Ashburton, 17 hours after beginning their expedition, the freezer was connected to power again.

The following day, Holland took the freezer containing the ice to Christchurch for the ice to fly to Auckland before being load on a ship destined for San Francisco and then transported across the country to New York.

An article in The Press, on April 22, reported that the New Zealand dinner had been voted “the most wonderful the club had ever had”.

Cables were sent to the Prime Minister Walter Nash and the Leader of the Opposition Keith Holyoake, and Edmund Hillary.

Hillary replied: “Let me know if you run out of ice. There’s plenty more in the glacier and a bit to spare down in the Antarctic. Hope you enjoyed our dinner. Very best wishes. Ed Hillary.”