“There are three things in life that people like to stare at: a flowing stream, a crackling fire and a Zamboni clearing the ice” – Charlie Brown
Ah yes..the Zamboni. The mystical machine that motors it’s way around the ice in between the three periods of a hockey game, magically smoothing the ice that was sliced and diced by the two teams during 20 minutes of play. We watch them go round and round while honored guests ride alongside of the operator.
The inventor of these motorized ice-resurfacing machines, Frank Zamboni, was recently added to the list of those who will be enshrined in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this year. To be honest, I’m somewhat surprised that Mr. Zamboni hasn’t already received the honor.
Frank Zamboni was born January 16, 1901 in Eureka, Utah… the son of Italian immigrants. He grew up near the town of Pocatello, Idaho where is parents bought a farm when young Frank was just a year old. It is on this farm that he developed certain mechanical skills that would benefit him later in life.
In 1920, he and his younger brother Lawrence relocated to the Los Angeles area where Frank’s older brother George owned an auto repair business. After a couple of years tinkering with cars, in 1922 Frank and Lawrence opened up an electrical supply company in the Los Angeles suburb of Hynes… now a part of Paramount. That business built and installed the large refrigerator units that local dairy industries used to keep their milk cold.
In 1923, Frank married and the couple went on to have three children.
As the demand for their cooling devices grew into the produce industry, the Zamboni brothers built a plant that produced block ice that was used to transport the product cross-country in rail cars. However, as the technology surrounding modern refrigeration improved, and demand for the block ice shrank, Frank and his brother Lawrence looked to other ways to make their expertise with ice pay off.
The brothers capitalized on the growing interest in ice-skating. The activity was very popular in southern California, but there were very few rinks. So in 1939 they, along with a cousin of theirs, built the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount…which is still open and operated by the family today and the Zamboni factory is nearby.
Originally an open-air facility, it had 20,000 square feet of skating surface and could accommodate as much as 800 skaters. However, they soon came to learn that the California sun and the dry winds of the desert played havoc on the quality of the ice surface…so the rink was covered.
Over the next few years, Frank devised a process that eliminated the rippling effect on the ice caused by pipes that were implanted under the surface to keep the ice frozen. In 1946 he obtained a patent for that invention.
However, the biggest problem for the rink had to do with the amount of time and labor it took to resurface the ice. To do this job, a scraper needed to be pulled behind a tractor along the ice. Then, three or four workers would come behind and scoop away the shavings. Water was then sprayed over the ice surface, then the workers would squeegee it. Once the water was allowed time to freeze, it was ready for the next round of skaters. This process could take up to an hour and a half to complete.
In 1949 Zamboni invented a device that completely revolutionized the entire ice resurfacing process. It took the 90-minute, three-man chore and reduced it to a 10-minute, one man job. That very same year he applied for a patent for the new machine and created Frank Zamboni & Company in Paramount in order to build and sell his new invention. He was granted the patent in 1953.
Zamboni’s ice resurfacing machines were first built on top of a Jeep CJ-3B. Then, between 1956 and 1964 they were built upon stripped Jeep chassis.
As demand grew for the “Zambonis”, a second factory was opened in Brantford, Ontario as well as a branch office in Switzerland. In the 1970’s Zamboni created machines that could remove water from outdoor artificial turf fields, remove the painted stripes from those surfaces and rolling up/laying down artificial turf in stadiums. His last invention came in 1983…an automatic edger that removes ice buildup from the edges of rinks.
Two years after his wife died, Frank Zamboni lost his battle with lung caner in 1988 at the age of 87. His Zamboni company is still owned and operated by his son and grandson.
Zamboni is the word used to describe any and all ice resurfacing machines… even though other companies manufacture other similar-type machines. And today, Zambonis are as much a part of ice rinks as open-iced check and double axles.
Hockey fans consider it a thrill to be able to ride the Zamboni during intermissions of games. In fact, last month when many of us gathered at TJ’s for the NHL draft Party…and many great prizes that were given away…none was more coveted and sought after than the prize package that include four tickets to a game plus a ride on the Zamboni between periods.
I was happy to see a 9-year old young as the winner! The look on her face…priceless!
So well done, Mr. Zamboni…I hope you enjoy watching the induction ceremonies from the great ice rink in the sky when you and your invention enter into the U.S. Hockey Hall of fame.