FORT KENT, Maine — Kenneth Lincoln doesn’t need a line to break the ice with a group of people.
Instead, the president of Thompson Ice House Museum in South Bristol lets a giant, gas-powered circular saw on skids do the talking for him.
On Saturday morning, Lincoln and a small crew from the museum were on Little Black Lake with a trailer load of gear — including that 3-foot-diameter saw — to harvest the more than 800 ice blocks needed to construct the Chateaux du Festival 12 miles away in downtown Fort Kent.
The 80-foot-by-28-foot ice structure will be the centerpiece of Main Street activities associated with the World Cup Biathlon races set to begin Feb. 10 at the 10th Mountain Lodge.
“Things are actually going pretty good so far,” Lincoln said during a brief break from sawing Saturday morning. “They’re struggling a little bit on the loading end, but that was to be expected.”
Lincoln’s crew had marked out a roughly 100-foot-by-100-foot square on the ice about 200 feet from shore.
A 3-foot-wide channel cut into the ice led from the shore to the area of active harvesting where Lincoln’s circular saw scored the ice to a depth of 10 inches.
From there, volunteers with ice breakers separated the blocks from the ice shelf and, using ice hooks, maneuvered them down that channel.
With each block weighing around 400 pounds, getting them loaded into trash containers donated by TNT Construction posed a bit of a challenge.
Volunteers at first used a backhoe blade fitted with special grabbing picks but soon realized the mechanical loader could not work as fast as a crew of strong, willing hands.
A wooden ramp then was constructed leading from the water to the back of the receptacles, and with help from ropes, picks and ice tongs, the blocks soon were sliding into the containers and piling up at an impressive rate.
From there, the ice traveled to town, where Tim Desjardins from Desjardins Project Place was working with brothers Pierre and Pascal Plourde from NPS Masonry, laying out what would be the first of many layers of ice blocks.
As Pierre Plourde used a propane-fired torch to heat the edges of the blocks, Desjardins and Pascal Plourde slid them into place. As the edges refroze, they formed a solid bond.
“It’s like any other construction when you’re working with materials that are not square,” Desjardins said with a laugh. “But there is no doubt we are going to make this work.”
Back up at Little Black Lake, Lincoln was spending as much time explaining ice harvesting as actually harvesting, which was fine with him.
“I really like it when the kids show up,” he said, watching a group of youngsters examine the antique ice saws and tongs. “It’s important they know every farm around here would have needed ice like this to keep things cold in the summer.”
Kris and Beth Malmborg brought their son Ethan, 3, and his cousin Isabella, 10, to check out the living history.
“I really wanted to see this,” Beth Malmborg said. “It’s not something you see too often anymore.”
Isabella said she found the harvesting interesting, but the young lady had her sights set a bit to the future.
“I can hardly wait to see the ice castle,” she said.
Raul Caron, whose farm borders the lake, said he never saw ice harvesting but remembers his parents talking about it.
“I remember my parents buying a farm 65 years ago, and it had an ice shed attached to it and it was still full of sawdust,” he said. “It’s really neat to see this and for the kids to get a chance to experience it.”
Of course, not everyone was there for the harvesting.
“I came to see this,” Andre Landry said as he looked over the mechanized circular saw. “People do need to see this part of our history, but I really wanted to see this equipment.”
For local history buff Roger Morneault, it was a chance for some practice with objects he had seen only on display until Saturday.
“I can’t feel my arms anymore,” Morneault said after about 20 minutes on that circular saw. “This is really fun — we have all these tools hanging on the walls at the St. Agatha Historical Society, and now I get to see what they can do.”
George Dumond and Jesse Jalbert, the two men heading up the ice palace committee, were thrilled with Saturday’s turnout.
“It went slow at first, but look at it now,” Dumond said with a wide grin as the ice moved in a steady flow from the lake. “We have a great crew here.”
Jalbert’s smile was just as wide.
“What could be better than this?” he asked.
The ice castle will serve as a nightclub during the biathlon event, with a DJ providing music for the three nights of the World Cup in Fort Kent.
Jalbert said lights would be strung up in and around the blocks of ice forming the castle with a nightly laser light show inside creating more special effects.
Down at the construction site, progress appeared slow, but Desjardins said it was all being done with safety in mind.
“It’s going to be strong and safe,” Pierre Plourde said. “In fact, it’s going to be safer than the bridge going to Clair.”
Moving a block into place, Desjardins nodded.
“We are here to get this done,” he said. “In typical northern Maine ingenuity, it will get done.”