ice wagon

Ice Wagon is Risky Work for Jack Hollearn

Born in Virginia, John Hollearn (1854 – 1920) was the first-born child of John Hollearn (1829-1893) and Margaret Barry Hollearn (1833-1913). It’s likely they named him for his father, but went by Jack, a common nickname for John. It’s not known where in Virginia he was born or why the family was there.

Coming to Kentucky

His parents were born in Ireland and settled in the Montgomery County area of Kentucky. They had thirteen children but only six would survive to adulthood.

His birth year fluctuates during each progressive census, but it is generally around May 1854 even though his tombstone says 1853. His parents consistently answered he was born in Virginia.

The family name is consistently misspelled. It can be Holleran, Holern, or Holland as shown in the 1870 US Census for Montgomery County, KY [Source: Public Domain]

After his father passed, his mother purchased two properties a few blocks from Main Street in Mt. Sterling.

The star shows the whereabouts of the first property on North Sycamore St. The other home was on Winn Street which is a few blocks to the north. Map: Sanborn-Perris from Oct 1895 Source: KyGenWeb – Montgomery County

Jack was never married nor had any children. After his mother died in 1914, Jack purchased her Winn Street property at auction.

He had only lived there a short time when a robber approached him on the street. He broke loose from his assailant. In that same week, a gang burglarized several homes on the block, including Jack’s home. Nothing further was said about the incidences.

Work was a Dangerous Occupation

Jack had limited education. He could read and speak English but not write it. All of his life he was a laborer.

In April 1906, Jack appears in the the Mount Sterling Advocate, the local newspaper. He is endorsing T. F. Rogers Insurance Agency. In a short letter, he states his hand was mashed rendering him unable to work for three weeks. Lucky for him, he had an accident policy and was paid in full.

By 1900, Jack drove the ice wagon for the Mt. Sterling Water, Electric, and Ice company, which would eventually become Kentucky Utilities. It was common at that time to have ice delivered. Electricity was just arriving in Mt. Sterling and it would take longer for refrigerators to be a common appliance.

Mt. Sterling Court Day ~1900  The arrow on the right points to the Mt. Sterling Water, Electric, and Ice company sign. (Source: Mt. Sterling County Clerk’s Office Facebook Feed)

While most of the jobs in the early 1900s were dangerous, Jack seems to be accident prone. In 1911, he was injured while unhitching the horses from the ice wagon. Jack somehow lost his balance, and the horse became excited, pulling the wagon over Jack. It was a painful but not fatal injury.

When the Ice Wagon Met the C & O Express Train

In the summer of 1914, Jack was the victim of another workplace injury. As the ice wagon was making its way for the deliveries one morning, the horse pulled the wagon in front of an oncoming Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad express train. When the train hit, it shattered the wagon, killing one of the two horses, and his 16-year-old co-worker, Ray McCarty (1898-1914).

Jack escaped with a severe gash to his head and was badly bruised. You can imagine who would be the winner when an oncoming train hit a wood wagon. As he was recovering, Jack contracted pneumonia. It wasn’t clear if he would survive.

Mt Sterling Advocate, 19 Aug 1914, Page 1

It was more tragic for Ray McCarty. His family was not wealthy. In fact, his mother was bedridden because she was dying of cancer. His father worked away from home to support the family. The boy had only been working for the company for a few weeks.

Initially, it was reported that the boy was driving and his head was down as if he was asleep. Jack was driving the wagon. In later court documents, Jack alleged the design of the wagon made it difficult to see around the sides, so he couldn’t tell if the train was coming. Thus, his employer was at fault.

The boy’s family and Jack filed suit against the railroad and his employer. The jury awarded Jack $500 for his injuries. The McCarty’s battle with the ice company was more complex. They alleged the company was violating child labor laws. But the ice company said the parents were aware and should have stopped it. The family of the young boy’s legal battle lasted several years, and I couldn’t find how it eventually ended.

A similar accident had happened at the same spot a two-years earlier to the same engineer, Ollie Garr. The train had killed, Florence McCormack, as she was crossing the tracks. Garr stated that he had tried to slow the train but was not successful either time. This was known a dangerous crossing and Garr reported that he was difficult to see anyone on the track until it was too late. These events surely had a traumatic toll on Garr.

No Worker’s Insurance for Stomach Ailments

In the 1910 census, while Jack’s mother was alive, he and his youngest sister, Ella E Hollearn McRohan (1874-1938), live with her. His sister was a seamstress. This must have created a closer bond than he had with his other siblings.

Gravestone from Find a Grave Image courtesy of Susan Cross Shouse

When Jack was 65, he began to have issues with his stomach. For several weeks he was sick. He stayed with Ella, so she could care for him. He died in her home on February 12, 1920. His funeral was at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. They buried him in the St. Thomas Cemetery in Mt. Sterling, KY.

The newspaper said, “[Jack] was an honorable citizen, a loyal friend and a devoted brother. His many friends will learn with deep regret of his passing.”


FamilySearch Bio: John “Jack” Hollearn


  • The Mt. Sterling Advocate contained many stories of Jack’s life.
  • An excellent reference about the ice industry was in this essay: Ice Industry and Ice Wagons
  • The Lexington paper listed the cause of death as pneumonia. I was not able to locate a death certificate so I used the cause from the Mt. Sterling paper, since it was closer to the family. The death certificate can be ordered from the state but I don’t know if it is worth the money.
  • The feature image is “Beaumont Ice Truck delivery wagon. A cake of ice is being weighed in the back. ” from the Beaumont California archive. Date unknown.

About the author

Tricia Aanderud has been researching her Kentucky family since 2008. While the genealogy is interesting, the stories are what makes their lives compelling.

Surnames include Watkins, Hudson, Mann, Payne, Abney, Hollearn, Martin, Salyer, Spencer, and Hadley.

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