"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Monday, December 04, 2006

The ice machine cometh

Zamboni: The Coolest Machines on Ice

By Eric Dregni

Voyageur Press, 128 pp, 19.95 dollars

Some brand names become so identified with a particular product that they enter the lexicon. North Americans Xerox papers at the office, eat Jello for dessert, and wipe their noses with Kleenex. In Britain, one cleans up with a Hoover and writes notes with a Biro (ballpoint pen). In Japan, most offices are equipped with at least one Hotchkiss (stapler).

At last count, at least five U.S. companies and eight Canadian firms have made ice resurfacing machines, according to Eric Dregni, but only Zamboni is listed in the dictionary.

This is just one of the many facts in Dregni's corporate hagiography of Frank J. Zamboni & Co. The slim coffee-table book is extensively illustrated with photos from the company archives detailing the evolution of the world's favorite ice resurfacing machine.

Dregni has mined the company archives heavily, bringing forth informational nuggets about the development of the Zamboni and bons mots from its late inventor, the company's namesake. The author obviously spent time with several members of the Zamboni family, who continue to run the company, as Frank's descendants provide numerous anecdotes about the company's early days and the founder's penchant for innovation.

While it may be every Canadian kid's dream to one day drive the Zamboni at the local hockey rink, the big, boxy ice smoothing machine was born in Paramount, Calif., where the Zamboni brothers started one of the state's first skating rinks in 1940.

The ice proved no match for southern California's hot, dry climate, and skaters were reluctant to wait the 90 minutes it took to resurface the ice with a tractor-drawn planer and four-man team armed with scrapers, squeegees and hoses. By March of 1942, Frank had built his first prototype, a tractor-drawn model, but he didn't settle on the design that won him his first patent until 1949, when war surplus vehicles made parts easier to find.

A year later, figure-skating star Sonja Henie bought the third Zamboni--built onto a Jeep chassis--for her touring ice show, and the resurfacers spread to areas across North America overnight.

Dregni brings a light touch to what is essentially a company history, adding plenty of anecdotes of rink-rat hijinks and cross-country voyages to leaven the dry statistics.

(Dec. 2, 2006)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That's one of the things I want to do before I die...drive a zamboni. Luckily I still have quite a while to work on achieving this goal.