Teddy: “Hey, don't you know anything? No skating when the Zamboni’s out.”
”Look, you wanna tell me what was in your head?”
Casey: “l've never skated on such a smooth surface before. I wanted to see what it was like.”
The story of ice resurfacers, also known as a Zamboni, starts with a man named Frank J. Zamboni in the year of 1940. Zamboni, with the help of his brother Lawrence and a cousin, built and opened a 20,000 square-foot ice rink. The two Zamboni brothers had previously opened an electric service business that specialized in the assembly and installation of large refrigeration units for dairy industries. The two brothers also expanded their business to help out the produce industry; by being able to produce block ice, shipment companies were able to keep perishable goods from spoiling while in transport. When refrigeration technology took off, the brothers capitalized on the growing popularity of ice sports in the golden state.
When the brothers first opened the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, California, the idea of having to resurface 20,000 feet of ice seemed like a daunting task. In early years, in order to resurface the ice, that could accommodate up to 800 skaters, the Zamboni brothers used a tractor with a blade that would scrap the top layer of the ice. Following behind the tractor, a crew of people would collect the ice shavings left behind from the top layer while others would spray the surface of the ice with hot water and the surface would be finished off with a final squeegee. The whole process of resurfacing the ice took an hour and a half and was a struggle to keep the ice clean and smooth. Frank Zamboni, who was also an engineer, thought that there had to be a better solution that would make the process faster and he worked toward finding the answer.
A majority of Frank Zamboni’s prototypes for an ice resurfacing machine were built out of leftover parts from the war and once a prototype had been created, Zamboni applied for a patent for his Model A resurfacer in 1949. This model of an ice resurfacer included a hydraulic chamber from a Douglas bomber.
So how does a Zamboni work? While the machine looks as if it magically glides over the ice, there’s actually a lot going on that can not be seen. Moving about 9 miles per hour, when the machine moves over the ice, a sharp blade is shaving off a thin layer from the surface of the rink. There is a horizontal auger (a screw like tool typically used to bore holes into wood) that collects the shavings and funnels them through a vertical auger. From here the shavings are moved into a large bin known as the snow collection tank. On the back end of the resurfacer water is released in order to clean the ice and it then goes through the process of being collected by a squeegee, vacuumed, filtered, and returned the wash-water tank where it originally came out. Water from a separate tank is then sprayed out ofholes in the back of the machine and smoothed over with a towel to fill in any divots in the ice.
Zamboni had reached a big break when figure skater Sonja Henie ordered two machines for her tour in 1950. The owner of Chicago Stadium and the man who was responsible for presenting the tour, Arthur Wirtz, remarked to Zamboni that ‘people will stay in the stands and watch it and not go down to the concession stands.’ Charlie Brown, the famous character of Peanuts , would agree with Wirtz. A Zamboni clearing the ice is one of the three things that people like to stare at, along with a crackling fire or a flowing stream. As for the hockey world, the Boston Bruins were the first NHL team to use a Zamboni in 1954. Zamboni also supplied six ice resurfacers in 1960 for the Winter Olympics held in Squaw Valley, California.
Although there is no exact number to be found, since their first manufacture in 1949, Zamboni has manufactured over 11,000 machines. The company’s two factories are able to produce about 200 Zambonis a year. Although Zamboni is not the only ice resurfacing machine manufacturer, they are still well known out of all of their competitors. The Resurface Corporation in Ontario, which has been operated by the Schlupp family, continues to produce its Olympia model. In 2010 their electric ice resurfacers for the 2010 Winter Olympics failed to properly clean the ice during a men’s skating event causing a delay in the program. This solidified that the Zamboni brand of ice resurfacing machines would stay in the spotlight as the more reliable company.
Along with the fame of the Zamboni itself, there comes the fame of those who get to say “I drive the Zamboni.” Al Sobotka is one of the most famous Zamboni drivers; he has driven and cleaned up octopuses at Detroit Red Wings games for more than 30 years. Jimmy Macneil won a Zamboni Driver of the Year contest in 1999 and had been able to drive the Zamboni at the All-Star game in Toronto. Macneil not only drove the Zamboni at the arena in Wayne Gretzky’s hometown, but he also drove Zambonis through the streets of Canada for four months leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in order to raise money for the Canadian Hockey Association’s grass-roots programs.
As mesmerizing as ice is after a Zamboni has passed over it, it is imperative that you stay off the ice while the Zamboni works its magic in order to avoid injury. Fatal accidents involving Zambonis have occurred and all accidents can be avoided.
You can head on over to Zamboni.com for more information about Zamboni® ice resurfacers as well as purchasing apparel.