ice tale: Clap for the Zamboni

A Zamboni ice resurfacing prototype at Paramount Iceland in the 1940's (photo courtesy the Zamboni trivia page,
A Zamboni ice resurfacing prototype at Paramount Iceland in the 1940's (photo courtesy the Zamboni trivia page,

Clap for the Zamboni

(an ice-tale memory for The Ice Cubicle’s latticework of files, from Vancouver writer Luella Iwasiuk)

Each year, as Christmas would grow closer, my parents would deposit my siblings and me at the Prince George coliseum ice rink so they could “meet with Santa to discuss our presents” – in other words, do the shopping without us in tow. It was on the coliseum’s smooth surface that I first learned to skate.

Ice skating became one of the only physical activities that I really enjoyed. I took every opportunity to strap on those blades and cut a swath in the ice. I yearned to take figure skating lessons, but finances prevented it. I taught myself to do small spins and little leaps; to stop without running into the boards. (Sadly, I was never able to master the art of skating backwards.)

And ice rinks were easy to come by. The tennis court near my elementary school was transformed into a rink during winter; there was a pond in my neighbours’s backyard, which was accessible to our blades once the snow was cleared. One year, my father even made a small skating area for me in our own backyard. However, those outdoor pieces of ice were never enjoyable as they were uneven and bumpy, making it more likely that I would fall or not be able to use a move from my limited bag of tricks. I preferred skating at the indoor rink.

At the coliseum, the buzzer would ring after about half an hour of skating, and we would have to leave the rink so the ice surface could be cleaned and refreshed. I would stand at the boards, eager to get back out onto the fresh ice so I could witness the tracings I would draw upon it with my blades. As I watched the Zamboni ® perform its ballet, I grew to appreciate how vital the machine was to my enjoyment: it leaves behind a smooth, slick sheet of ice, no nicks, no lumps. It has been years since I’ve gone skating, but every time I go to a hockey game — I try to get to at least one junior hockey league game a year — I prefer to remain in my seat between periods and watch the Zamboni® dance.

It might be silly to clap for the Zamboni® cleaning the ice, but I’m really honouring its inventor: Frank Zamboni.

Frank started out as a mechanic, who, with his brother George, became a refrigeration installer. The two started by servicing the dairy industry in southern California during the 1920s, then expanded their business into block ice production as the produce industry began using then-new cooling methods for railway shipments. The entrepreneurial Zamboni brothers noticed two things: improvements in refrigeration led to a decreased need for block ice, and ice-skating was growing in popularity. In 1939, Frank and George, together with a cousin, took advantage of the second trend and used their ice knowledge to build an open-air skating rink: Iceland — in Paramount, California — still open and often used for testing Zamboni®s built at the plant down the street.

Because of the dry winds and hot sun of southern California, the 100 x 200-foot rink was quickly covered to improve the ice quality. At that time, the ice was re-surfaced by a scraper pulled behind a tractor to shave off the top-most surface. The shavings were scooped off the ice and water was then sprayed on it. This water was then “squeegeed” off and the ice was allowed to freeze. The entire process was labour intensive and time consuming, taking more than an hour to complete. Frank set out to invent a machine to make the process faster. In 1949, the first self-propelled, single operator ice re-surfacer was put to work.

Over the next 5 years, the design was improved upon and in 1953 a patent was issued for the Zamboni Model A. The Zamboni 550, first introduced in 1978, remains the most popular ice re-surfacer world-wide.

Here’s how it works. The unit that hangs down behind the driver houses the mechanisms responsible for the process. A blade shaves a thin layer from the surface of the ice. An auger then gathers the shavings, which feed into the “snow tank” – the boxy front of the machine – by traveling up a vertical rotating screw.

Just behind the blades, water from a “wash water” tank sprays onto the ice to remove any foreign materials from the ice. The water collects in front of a large rubber squeegee and gets filtered as it is vacuumed up into the tank. The clean water re-circulates back onto the ice through a pipe and is evenly distributed upon the ice by a towel being pulled behind the conditioner. For a great illustration of this impressively efficient invention please see:

Just thinking about the Zamboni® gives me an idea for surviving the summer heat: there are ice rinks that operate during the summer and usually the “snow tank” needs to be emptied at some point. Wouldn’t it be great to have a snowball fight in the parking lot behind an ice rink in the middle of summer? It would be another thing we could thank Frank Zamboni for.

Sources: and

Luella Iwasiuk is an indoor cat who likes coffee, pie, jelly-fish, birds, blogs, books and music. For more writing by Luella (including a side of sarcasm), visit

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