Tim Johnson 

The man in charge at Boise Cold Storage happens to be the coolest guy in town

Chances are you've passed it a hundred times. Boise Cold Storage, founded in the early 1900s, covers more than 60,000 square feet between 15th Street and Americana Boulevard. Between housing tons of grocery and dairy products in perfectly chilled warehouses, and pumping out tons of ice every day, working for the company may be the most enviable task in town when Boise temperatures approach triple digits—something the Treasure Valley has been doing with record-setting regularity this summer.

Johnson's grandfather Farris Lind founded the iconic Fearless Fairless Stinker stations across southwestern Idaho. The Johnson clan purchased Boise Cold Storage in 2003 and today, Tim Johnson manages the unique business. He's a Boise State University graduate, his wife is a University of Idaho alumna and their two daughters—you guessed it—go to Boise State and the U of I.

On a particularly hot summer afternoon, Johnson sat down with Boise Weekly to share some cold, hard facts about his life and work.

History tells us that Boise Cold Storage was founded in 1903.

Railroad tracks ran right through here and they would load huge, 300- to 600-pound blocks of ice aboard the cars—that was way before refrigeration cars—to keep produce fresh until it got to California. In 1922, they drilled an artesian well, 630 feet deep. Several years after that they put up a building around it. It's geothermal, so the water comes out at about 71 degrees, instead of the normal 55.

It's stunning to know that there's an artesian well here in the middle of the city.

When we took over the business they had all of this equipment introducing chemicals to keep the cooling towers clean on the roof. We thought that was crazy. We shut them down; ripped out all of the chemical treatments. The only thing we use city water for is to hose off our loading docks or clean things up. But when we're producing ice, it's crystal-clean artesian water.

Who are your biggest clients?

There are two sides to the business. For cold storage, we have a number of school districts, AgriBeef, Franz Bakery, Deli Express, Krispy Kreme, a number of food companies. Almost all of our clients are commercial.

How about the other half of your business?

If you walk into any grocery or convenience store, most of the bags of ice say Boise Cold Storage. And most of the rest is probably ice that was packaged here. Albertsons, Costco, Cash and Carry, Rosauers, Whole Foods. That's our ice in their bags.

How much ice is coming out of your facility?

We're capable of sending out about 100 tons a day. If all of our machines were turned on, we could send out about 240 tons.

I'm presuming that your business is very seasonal.

Eighty-five percent of our business is done in 100 days.

And the Fourth of July weekend?

That's our Super Bowl. Memorial Day to Labor Day is our 100-day year. We start dismantling our pumps and machinery come the fall.

Years ago American families would require large blocks of ice for their ice boxes, but I'm assuming that you don't make too many of those anymore.

We have a compressed 10-pound block, but most of our ice—99 percent of it—is crushed. The machines send out 8-foot-wide, 5-foot-high plates of ice. We fracture it and size it into smaller pieces. At the height of this summer's heat we were running hard and supplying ice to some other producers in the Columbia Basin area, eastern Idaho and Utah.

You must be one of the biggest ice producers in the region.

Plus, we're one of the last independent ice companies, which means we'll get calls from other companies.

Are there significant events on your calendar?

Boise State football needs a lot of ice, especially the merchandisers inside the stadium. Plus, the Idaho Center, the fair and the Snake River Stampede are all great for us.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you why you're in a wheelchair.

A month before I graduated high school, I was riding a motorcycle and collided with a bus. The bus was bigger.

What kind of injury did you suffer?

A T-12 [spinal cord] injury.

Tell me how that incident turned your life inside out.

I went through some interesting times. It's life-changing and it's hard. It took a few years to figure out. There were a couple of people who were extremely instrumental in getting me back. I was a high-school athlete—I ran track and played fullback for Meridian High—so I like coaches. They don't soft-coat things. They kick your butt and tell you to get going.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to tell you that you would be a great coach.

I coached football—eight years in Optimist football and four years at Eagle High School. I also coached my daughters in softball. I loved coaching.

Speaking of coaches and your alma mater, we have a major duel coming up on Sept, 5 when [Boise State football coach] Bryan Harsin and [ex-Boise State and current University of Washington coach] Chris Petersen go head-to-head for the season opener.

But we all know who's going to win, don't we? Coach Petersen is a life-changing coach. I love him, but too bad he's about to be beat by Boise State.

I must say that you keep your office at a very comfortable temperature. At what temperature is your thermostat set at?

Too damn cold.

I don't think "too damn cold" is a setting.

Well, at least everyone else in the office thinks it's nice.

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