“It’s not quite a culture but ice resurfacing can be addictive, especially if you play hockey. You’d think it would be simple because it’s just ice, but there is an art to it."
— Lennie Gillam, Moffat County grounds department director, about resurfacing the rink at the ice arena.
Americans have a certain affinity for high-powered machines and each year several rallies are hosted around the country to bring like-minded enthusiasts together.
Bikers have Sturgis, drivers have the Gumball 3,000 and even tractor owners — more than 1,100 of them — convened this summer in Grand Island, Neb. to set a new Guinness world record for the most antique tractors in one location.
But there is one American invented machine that doesn’t breed the same fanatic culture. And although Moffat County Grounds Department Director Lennie Gillam doesn’t expect ice resurfacers around the country to begin flocking once a year to Zamboni Company’s Paramount, Calif., headquarters, he did say it takes a certain personality to properly smooth the surface of an ice rink.
“It’s not quite a culture but ice resurfacing can be addictive, especially if you play hockey,” Gillam said. “You’d think it would be simple because it’s just ice, but there is an art to it.
“I’ve got guys that are meticulous. They’re always looking at the ice and trying to figure out ways to make the surface faster because that definitely has an impact on the game.”
Frank Joseph Zamboni, Jr., invented the first working ice resurfacer in 1949 for the family-owned Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount.
Though all ice resurfacers are commonly referred to as Zambonis, only machines built by the Paramount manufacturer can bear the inventor’s name.
The one operated at the Moffat County Ice Arena is manufactured by Olympia, a subsidiary of Ontario, Canada-based Resurfice Corp.
Gillam described the Olympia as simply a modified, reverse dump truck powered by a propane-fueled Chevy 350 motor with full four-wheel drive.
But the real action, and what requires the most practice to master, is in the conditioner, Gillam said.
At the rear of the Olympia is a table that, when dropped, positions a blade to cut the ice, and augers to scrape the deposit shavings into the belly of the ice resurfacer.
The Olympia also features a board brush, and utilizes cold and hot water to clean and finish the ice surface.
Each of the features are controlled by independent levers that all need to be engaged almost simultaneously while running the Olympia at a consistent 1,100 rpm.
“The hardest part is getting everything set up because you basically have to get going, drop your conditioner — I like to put the board brush out — and turn on your augers all at the same time,” Gillam said. “When you watch the guys at the Pepsi Center, or even my staff, they do everything so fluently it looks simple, but getting out there and actually operating all of the levers can be tough, especially in front of a crowd.”
Though the story behind Moffat County’s acquisition of the Olympia is not nearly as labor intensive as when Zamboni first set out to invent the first ice resurfacer in 1942, the motivation for having one is the same — to make hockey as fast and public skating as enjoyable as possible.
“You have to have it,” Gillam said. “I was on one of the first hockey teams and we had a three-man shovel — three snow shovels that were welded together — and three of us would push it around the rink to scrape it. You’d scrape it off, fill in the large cracks and play hockey.
"Now it’s a little more refined.”
To stay true to Zamboni’s original vision Moffat County is always looking for ways to improve the ice rink.
The grounds department recently started filtering the water it uses to clean the ice and for the first time this year added hot water to the Olympia’s conditioning component.
“I wasn’t sure what the hot water would do for us, but after the first couple of days the guys were like ‘wow,’” Gillam said. “Hot water bonds to the ice better, makes it a lot harder and faster, and believe it or not it freezes a lot faster than cold water.
"It’s amazing the difference it’s made in the quality of our ice rink.”
The Olympia can be seen in action after every public skate session and in between every hockey game.
Public skates take place from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 2:45 to 4:15 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Public skate costs $4 per person.
Rental skates are available for a one-time, annual fee of $3.
The ice arena is open for about six months each year until about mid-March.
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or email@example.com.