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Everything You Need to Know About the Zamboni

We’re trying to make the best out the winter months, instead of gripping about the cold weather and snow. Typically, this includes hockey, and also, anything else that has to do with an ice rink. Besides watching, or participating, in activities that involve ice skates, we’re also completely fascinated with one of the coolest inventions ever known to mankind… the Zamboni.

The Zamboni was invented by one Frank J. Zamboni. Zamboni, the man, not the machine, was a consistent inventor/entrepreneur in the early 1900’s, yet he’ll be remembered for his ice resurfacer. The idea for such a machine came after Frank, his brother and a cousin built the Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount, CA in 1939. Since the Southern California weather did a number on the ice, a roof was built on top of it. This still didn’t help the ice conditions after use. Initially, a tractor pulling a scrapper, along with several men who scooped away the shavings and spayed the ice with water, were used to fix the ice. This process took more than an hour, so Frank started thinking of a faster, more efficient method.

Frank began experimenting on ice resurfacers in March of 1942. The first attempt was a tractor that towed a machine built within a sled, which didn’t work too well. By 1947, he came up with a different approach, “a machine that would shave the ice, remove the shavings, wash and squeegee the ice, and hold snow in an elevated tank large enough to last for an entire resurfacing job.” In 1949, Frank’s “Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer” succeeded in creating a consistently good sheet of ice. It was such a success that he applied, and received, a patent by 1953.

During the rest of the 1940s, Frank continued to improve his invention, since there was only the one at Paramount Iceland. As luck would have it, Olympic skating star Sonja Henie was practicing at Paramount and took a liking to the machine. She ordered on for her upcoming Chicago performance, which Frank delivered himself. 1954 was a landmark year for Frank and his company. His Model E Zamboni machine was the first that could be mass produced, and was obviously the most effective. It was also during this year that the Zamboni came to the NHL. In the fall of 1954, the Boston Bruins were the first NHL team to use a Zamboni in their arena. This Zamboni is currently in the NHL Hall of Fame in Toronto. Despite the success of the Model E, Frank kept improving the Zamboni. The 1956 Model F was able to carry more water and snow. The HD Series, first appearing in 1964, featured a faster snow dumping tank and vertical auger system to convey the snow. These aspects have never changed. The 1978 fully electric 500 Series is still in use today.

Here’s some facts about the Zamboni, so you can impress, or annoy, people during hockey games.

  • At approximately ¾ of a mile per resurfacing, if there are four resurfacings per game, the machines
    travel an average of three miles during each hockey game.
  • On average, a Zamboni machine “travels” close to 2,000 miles each year in the course of
    resurfacing.
  • Model E34 was in service for over 40 years and it is estimated that it traveled in excess of 45,000
    miles on the ice. This machine has been fully restored and is on display at Paramount Iceland.
  • Over 9,000 Zamboni machines have been delivered around the world.
  • Twenty Zamboni machines were on hand to resurface the various ice sheets during the 2002 Salt
    Lake Winter Games. Fifteen machines (all electric, Model 552 resurfacers) were used in 2006 at
    the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.
  • Interesting figures:
    a. Average number of resurfacings a day: 9.7
    b. Time in operation per day (12 min per resurfacing): 116.40 minutes
    c. Miles traveled per day (9.7 resurf. X .75 mile) 7.3
    d. Snow per resurfacing 60 cu. ft.
    e. “Snow cones” per resurfacing (28.3 cu. in./cone) 3661 cones
  • When the machine resurfaces the ice, it is capable of removing close to 2,500 pounds of
    compacted snow, while it can leave behind about 1,500 pounds of water.
  • The Zamboni machine does not measure its travel in “miles”. Instead, the hours in use are
    monitored as a point of reference.
  • The Zamboni Company sells more ice resurfacing machines than all of its competitors (around the
    world) combined.

Finally, the part you really want to know, how do you become a Zamboni driver? First, and foremost, you need to have a valid driver’s license, obviously. Make sure it’s a clean driving record at that too. From there, it can vary, depending on high up the chain you want to go. If you have a license, and a high school diploma, you can probably start applying at local skating rinks, where you’ll gain experience. Actually getting someone to hire you for the first time will be the hardest task. Once you’ve got your foot in the door, and you don’t wreck anything, you can begin to move up the ladder. The best way to do that is to join professional organizations or larger rinks, like colleges. A typical Zamboni driver can make about $13 an hour. If you want to make it to the NHL, it wouldn’t hurt to go to a technical college for two years and earn a degree in something like Arena and Operations Management. An operation manager can make about $40,000 to $50,000 a year, on top of watching hockey games for free and driving a Zamboni. Yeah, that’s a dream job.

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