116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A chunk of Cedar Rapids history that’s been on ice for nearly a century is ready to be paraded around town, if some horsepower can be found.
“We definitely put the wagon before the horse,” David Chadima of Cedar Rapids said with a laugh.
He and local cousins Bill and Jim Chadima spearheaded an effort to create a replica Chadima Brothers Ice wagon, and 40 cousins around the world chipped in to pay for it, roughly the equivalent of a new car, by the time it was designed, built and delivered to Cedar Rapids, David Chadima said.
Where: When not in use, the wagon can be seen in the parking garage at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 1400 Inspiration Pl. SW, Cedar Rapids
Event: Visitors can get a snow cone from the wagon during the museum’s Old World Christmas Market, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 4 and 5
He’s confident they can find a draft horse to pull the wagon for the next Freedom Festival parade and similar events. The bright yellow creation debuted Sept. 17 at BrewNost, held on the grounds of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. It’s being stored in the museum’s parking garage, in a nod to the family’s Czech immigrant history, and will be wheeled out again to greet visitors to the Old World Christmas Market on Dec. 4 and 5 at the museum.
Chadima’s great-great grandparents, Thomas and Anna Chadima, are believed to have immigrated to Iowa from the Bohemia/Moravia border area in 1866. They lived in Cedar Rapids for a decade, then bought an 80-acre farm near Walker, where they raised their eight children.
Four of their sons — David Chadima’s great-grandfather, Joseph T. Chadima, and brothers William, John and Thomas — founded Chadima Brothers Ice in September 1900. The company was among several in Cedar Rapids, harvesting “thousands” of pounds of ice from the Cedar River during the winter. The blocks were sprinkled with sawdust to preserve them, then stored in ice houses and delivered by horse-drawn wagons to customers to chill and preserve food in the summer.
By 1910, Chadima Brothers Ice Company was cutting 2,000 tons of ice per day from the river, employing 90 men for the task. The horse wagons were put out to pasture when ice trucks came into the picture. In 1932, Joe Chadima donated 14 wagons to Grant Wood to use for student housing in the Stone City Artist Colony. Soon, Wood and the others were painting their wagons.
History buffs might recall that the art colony wagons came from Hubbard Ice Co. The Chadima brothers collaborated with Hubbard from the beginning, but didn’t buy that company until 1922. They retained the Hubbard name, since it had wider recognition.
Fast-forward 100 years. In 2020, David said he and cousins Bill and Jim Chadima “thought it would be fun to preserve this piece of Cedar Rapids history,” but the original ice wagons had been given to area farmers, and were history. So they turned to Amish buggy makers in Kalona, but re-creating an ice wagon was outside their scope of work.
Online research turned up Weaver Wagons of Dalton, Ohio. Chadima outlined the project and supplied vintage photos of the family’s wagons, and the Weavers jumped onboard.
“That was probably the best choice we ever made. Their attention to detail, their craftsmanship is just amazing,” Chadima said, noting that the company specializes in making and restoring horse-drawn wagons, many of which end up in Hollywood films.
The entire project took about six months, with three or four months just for construction. The team included Emery Weaver, project manager; Vernon Weaver, construction; and Wayne Troyer, painter.
Chadima and his wife, Lijun, stopped by the Weaver operation this past July, on their way east to visit family in Charlotte, N.C., and explore other cities, including Nashville and Savannah, Ga.
With family flung far and wide, this ice wagon project is pulling its weight.
“It’s just a really fun family project,” Chadima said. “It just helps everybody connect together. We’ve got this Facebook group now, and we're all exchanging genealogical information. … Next time we do a family reunion, obviously we're going to haul this out and make that the centerpiece. …
“And I think everybody's really excited to be able to preserve a little bit of Cedar Rapids history. It's really unique to our family, too.”
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