Being a Zamboni driver

First off, I'd really like to thank everyone who read my previous blog post, it was incredibly interesting to read how many different people have been affected by depression in some way and the support was so very appreciated. Thank you.
 
Anyways, more importantly. 
 
Zambonies. 
 
 



 
If you've been to any event that's taken place at an arena (save for Curling), you've likely seen one. (Or an Olympia, another brand of Ice Resurfacer) They are big, they are cute and they are mesmerizing. Seeing dirty, white ice transform into clean, reflective ice has a hypnotic quality to it. 
 
As a Canadian, it wasn't uncommon when you were a kid to sit around at your local rink during a minor league hockey game and spend the intermissions pressing your face against the glass to watch the whole procedure - it seemed magical. As an Olympic level Speed Skater (short story: qualified for Olympic trials, didn't want to give up 150% of my free time), I'd even spend some of my warm-up and down time watching the thing. I think it's safe to say that anyone who's experienced this euphoric effect has wanted the opportunity to drive one of these mythical mechanical beasts.
 
I've spent the past year (and a bit) working in order to help afford my education for fall 2011 onward. I ended up getting a job working for the city I live in as a maintenance person as well as 'manager' of the local outdoor stage they own. (I have lots of sound/music background, that's what I'm continuing my education in) This was a pretty cool gig! I spent my whole summer outdoors working with musicians (and some actors for a while, but we don't speak of thespians) and enjoying the fresh air. Below this text was a picture of where I was working.
 
It was picturesque, beautiful and a perfect job for summer.
 
But... Being Canadian....
 
So much for the cushy, outdoor stage job.
 
Seeing as the stage is not heated and that it wasn't going to be used for the 10 months of winter we have, (exaggeration, just so you know. Barely...) I had to be relocated until next season. I was scared of ending up doing too much outdoor work now! Thankfully, it finally got decided (plus, you already know where I'm going with this) - I was to be 'stationed' in the arenas until the grass came back out.
 
At first it didn't settle in. "arenas, huh? Cool, so I'll be picking up garbage after games, cleaning dressing rooms..." 
"Ready for your training on the machine?"
"Machine? What?
 
Oh....
 
Hell yes"
 
It took about an afternoon's worth of learning to get the basics, but I could essentially start driving a Zamboni! I let loose with the thing in the empty arena, got it up to top speed and felt the cool air running through my hair (it can go pretty quick!) before turning in for my first few practice floods. Sure, my ice didn't look perfect the first few times; but after a few weeks it was starting to get consistent! Now, having done it for around a year, I can do pretty good ice fairly consistently (not perfect though, it takes a ton of experience to nail it every time - I'll touch on that in a second) but the controls are no longer an issue; it's simply the gauging of how much water to leave, how much ice to take off, etc.
 
Let's talk about how a Zamboni works.
 
People see these machines all the time, but unless you play these sports or are maintaining the ice, you rarely think about what the thing is actually doing. The Zamboni is essentially performing two tasks: 

1) Slicing off a thin layer of ice with an extremely (read: EXTREMELY, ARM SEVERINGLY) sharp blade, and the snow that is produced is taken via a horizontal and then vertical auger into the hopper (The big blue part in the picture provided earlier [our machine's hopper was white]).  

2) Spreading water behind it with a skirt which acts as a giant squeegee.
 
This is simplifying it to its extremes, but these are the basic principles of the Zamboni. 
 
There is also a very specific path which is followed, I have attempted to draw it out. (Sorry I suck at drawing)
 
 
As you can see, we start with the edges then work to the middle, then start a series of loops which are the exact same size around whilst overlapping at the ends. The tricky part comes from knowing how to balance your water at the ends (if you don't leave enough, it'll look dry and crappy. If you use too much, it'll build up and start melting that ice [we use hot water]) as well as adjusting your blade (you're going over the same spot over and over again, if you leave your blade down you'll wear it down).
 
You do get used to that though, haha. Allow me to show you the controls =)
 
This is taken from the seat of the Zamboni. From right to left: 

1) This is the control for the blade. It controls the incline as well as the height, so it is not just a simple up-and-down motion.
2) This controls the water. When away from you (as it is here) the water is off, and towards you the water is fully on.
3) This controls the smaller water tank (see the number 708? It's located on that tank) that is used for, well, more water.
4) The plunger. That helps clear up the bottom of the vertical auger in case ice/snow is building up.
 
All the while, this is being controlled via a hydrostatic (constant RPM) motor. The significance of this motor means that the auger is constantly moving at the same speed and you can go as fast or as slow as you want - your speed will have no effect on the auger.  (The aforementioned Olympia machines run on a regular motor, so you have to watch your RPMs in the corners)
 
This thing also runs on natural gas, in case you were interested. That's why we can run it indoors for a long time with minimal amounts of ventilation, seeing as natural gas burns fairly clean =)
 
Lastly, I'd like to show a view from behind the driver's seat during a flood.
 
This was during my last flood of the season, 2 weeks ago, before the ice came out =)  
 
We're now doing summer maintenance in this arena, and my first time back at the stage will be this Sunday! Hoorah =)
 
Feel free to ask any questions! I'd love to take some.
 
Hope you guys found this somewhat interesting =)
 
-Alex
24 Comments
24 Comments
Edited by bassman2112

First off, I'd really like to thank everyone who read my previous blog post, it was incredibly interesting to read how many different people have been affected by depression in some way and the support was so very appreciated. Thank you.
 
Anyways, more importantly. 
 
Zambonies. 
 
 



 
If you've been to any event that's taken place at an arena (save for Curling), you've likely seen one. (Or an Olympia, another brand of Ice Resurfacer) They are big, they are cute and they are mesmerizing. Seeing dirty, white ice transform into clean, reflective ice has a hypnotic quality to it. 
 
As a Canadian, it wasn't uncommon when you were a kid to sit around at your local rink during a minor league hockey game and spend the intermissions pressing your face against the glass to watch the whole procedure - it seemed magical. As an Olympic level Speed Skater (short story: qualified for Olympic trials, didn't want to give up 150% of my free time), I'd even spend some of my warm-up and down time watching the thing. I think it's safe to say that anyone who's experienced this euphoric effect has wanted the opportunity to drive one of these mythical mechanical beasts.
 
I've spent the past year (and a bit) working in order to help afford my education for fall 2011 onward. I ended up getting a job working for the city I live in as a maintenance person as well as 'manager' of the local outdoor stage they own. (I have lots of sound/music background, that's what I'm continuing my education in) This was a pretty cool gig! I spent my whole summer outdoors working with musicians (and some actors for a while, but we don't speak of thespians) and enjoying the fresh air. Below this text was a picture of where I was working.
 
It was picturesque, beautiful and a perfect job for summer.
 
But... Being Canadian....
 
So much for the cushy, outdoor stage job.
 
Seeing as the stage is not heated and that it wasn't going to be used for the 10 months of winter we have, (exaggeration, just so you know. Barely...) I had to be relocated until next season. I was scared of ending up doing too much outdoor work now! Thankfully, it finally got decided (plus, you already know where I'm going with this) - I was to be 'stationed' in the arenas until the grass came back out.
 
At first it didn't settle in. "arenas, huh? Cool, so I'll be picking up garbage after games, cleaning dressing rooms..." 
"Ready for your training on the machine?"
"Machine? What?
 
Oh....
 
Hell yes"
 
It took about an afternoon's worth of learning to get the basics, but I could essentially start driving a Zamboni! I let loose with the thing in the empty arena, got it up to top speed and felt the cool air running through my hair (it can go pretty quick!) before turning in for my first few practice floods. Sure, my ice didn't look perfect the first few times; but after a few weeks it was starting to get consistent! Now, having done it for around a year, I can do pretty good ice fairly consistently (not perfect though, it takes a ton of experience to nail it every time - I'll touch on that in a second) but the controls are no longer an issue; it's simply the gauging of how much water to leave, how much ice to take off, etc.
 
Let's talk about how a Zamboni works.
 
People see these machines all the time, but unless you play these sports or are maintaining the ice, you rarely think about what the thing is actually doing. The Zamboni is essentially performing two tasks: 

1) Slicing off a thin layer of ice with an extremely (read: EXTREMELY, ARM SEVERINGLY) sharp blade, and the snow that is produced is taken via a horizontal and then vertical auger into the hopper (The big blue part in the picture provided earlier [our machine's hopper was white]).  

2) Spreading water behind it with a skirt which acts as a giant squeegee.
 
This is simplifying it to its extremes, but these are the basic principles of the Zamboni. 
 
There is also a very specific path which is followed, I have attempted to draw it out. (Sorry I suck at drawing)
 
 
As you can see, we start with the edges then work to the middle, then start a series of loops which are the exact same size around whilst overlapping at the ends. The tricky part comes from knowing how to balance your water at the ends (if you don't leave enough, it'll look dry and crappy. If you use too much, it'll build up and start melting that ice [we use hot water]) as well as adjusting your blade (you're going over the same spot over and over again, if you leave your blade down you'll wear it down).
 
You do get used to that though, haha. Allow me to show you the controls =)
 
This is taken from the seat of the Zamboni. From right to left: 

1) This is the control for the blade. It controls the incline as well as the height, so it is not just a simple up-and-down motion.
2) This controls the water. When away from you (as it is here) the water is off, and towards you the water is fully on.
3) This controls the smaller water tank (see the number 708? It's located on that tank) that is used for, well, more water.
4) The plunger. That helps clear up the bottom of the vertical auger in case ice/snow is building up.
 
All the while, this is being controlled via a hydrostatic (constant RPM) motor. The significance of this motor means that the auger is constantly moving at the same speed and you can go as fast or as slow as you want - your speed will have no effect on the auger.  (The aforementioned Olympia machines run on a regular motor, so you have to watch your RPMs in the corners)
 
This thing also runs on natural gas, in case you were interested. That's why we can run it indoors for a long time with minimal amounts of ventilation, seeing as natural gas burns fairly clean =)
 
Lastly, I'd like to show a view from behind the driver's seat during a flood.
 
This was during my last flood of the season, 2 weeks ago, before the ice came out =)  
 
We're now doing summer maintenance in this arena, and my first time back at the stage will be this Sunday! Hoorah =)
 
Feel free to ask any questions! I'd love to take some.
 
Hope you guys found this somewhat interesting =)
 
-Alex
Posted by McGhee

Oh, man. Zamboni. I'm jealous.

Posted by Crono11

My father used to work in an arena and drove the Zamboni. 

Posted by CrazedMaverick

oh man. that's pretty awesome.

Posted by SSully

This is the most random ass, yet one of the most interesting, blogs I have ever read. I am pretty jealous of your job. 
 
So do they have to change the blade often on the Zamboni?

Posted by bassman2112
@SSully said:
This is the most random ass, yet one of the most interesting, blogs I have ever read. I am pretty jealous of your job.  So do they have to change the blade often on the Zamboni?
I aim to be randomly entertaining =)  Thanks for reading!
 
We usually change it at least once a week, and it usually takes about half an hour from the moment we start taking the old blade off and have the new one installed.
 
Oh, also, we put this tag on the old ones:
 
Posted by SSully
@Bassman2112: Haha I love the tag, hopefully none of your coworkers have been hurt by one yet. 
 
Also welcome to the community. I just read your last blog and it was heartbreaking. Glad to hear you are doing better, I have seen multiple people in my life suffer from depression and it is not an easy road. I wish you the best amigo
Edited by Commando

I'm guessing a Zamboni is one of those ice cleaning machines for hockey rings/ice skating rings? 
I've never seen one in person. I don't think there's an ice ring within 500 miles of me. 
But it seems like a pretty laid back job. I'm glad you enjoy it!

Posted by bassman2112
@SSully said:
@Bassman2112: Haha I love the tag, hopefully none of your coworkers have been hurt by one yet.  Also welcome to the community. I just read your last blog and it was heartbreaking. Glad to hear you are doing better, I have seen multiple people in my life suffer from depression and it is not an easy road. I wish you the best amigo
Not as far as I know! We're actually extremely safety oriented there, we won't hesitate to shut down everything happening in the building if we think something may be dangerous (we did it a few times when there was danger of ammonia leaking from the plant [that machine could get a blog of its own, easily... But it'd be far more technical and boring haha]) and have
 
Also, thanks a ton for giving that a read too - it definitely wasn't an easy write, but I sincerely appreciate the thought and kind words <3
Posted by bassman2112
@Commando said:
I'm guessing a Zamboni is one of those ice cleaning machines for hockey rings/ice skating rings? I've never seen one in person. I don't think there's an ice ring within 500 miles of me. But it seems like a pretty laid back job. I'm glad you enjoy it!
Indeed, it gets discussed in great detail on the post =) Haha, I'm guessing you're from somewhere in the southern states, then? (none within 500 miles makes the States a giveaway =P)
 
Actually, it's an extremely stressful job when it gets busy! We also look after the rest of the building, so when there's an NHL level game going on (or, in the case of our arena, ex-nhl guys) it is 10 hours straight of hard work =)
Posted by Slaker117

Never thought I cared about Zambonis passed going "well, that's a funny name", but that was an interesting read. And being from Southern California, my mind can't comprehend how those two pictures are of the same place.

Posted by yoshimitz707

Whatever, bro. 10 months of winter isn't even an exaggeration for Alberta. I'm so glad I moved out of there to B.C.

Posted by bassman2112
@Slaker117 said:
Never thought I cared about Zambonis passed going "well, that's a funny name", but that was an interesting read. And being from Southern California, my mind can't comprehend how those two pictures are of the same place.
Haha, man, after spending some time in SoCal I can hardly believe you guys can live with that humid heat day-after-day! It's just so vastly different from here =)
Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

Haha that was a hella entertaining read, and the before-and-after photo was hilarious.

Sydney is pretty even weather-wise, it's snowed here like twice in the last hundred years. Crazy to see something like that!

Posted by Commando
@Bassman2112 said:
@Commando said:
I'm guessing a Zamboni is one of those ice cleaning machines for hockey rings/ice skating rings? I've never seen one in person. I don't think there's an ice ring within 500 miles of me. But it seems like a pretty laid back job. I'm glad you enjoy it!
Indeed, it gets discussed in great detail on the post =) Haha, I'm guessing you're from somewhere in the southern states, then? (none within 500 miles makes the States a giveaway =P)  Actually, it's an extremely stressful job when it gets busy! We also look after the rest of the building, so when there's an NHL level game going on (or, in the case of our arena, ex-nhl guys) it is 10 hours straight of hard work =)
Well now I went back and read the whole thing (skimmed it the first time). But you qualified for the olympics but chose not to!? Man I would've totally done it. 
You nailed it though, I'm from south Alabama. I've seen them on TV, and being the ignorant southerner that I am, assumed it was a preset automated machine that just required steering. 
I see now though that if you screw up, it could affect something. I don't know what it would affect because I've never ice skated, but I'm just going to guess it either affects how slick or hard the ice is, or if you take too much off it could cost the facility money to replace the ice?   

I still don't completely get it after reading it, but I'm probably the only one haha.
Edited by BombKareshi

This looks like a good place to introduce more people to the Zomboni.

 

 The Zomboni
That said, interesting blog post. I don't see these machines often myself, but it was a good read.
Posted by Gamer_152

Nice post, I know more about Zambonis now. I must say they place where you worked looks beautiful as well.

Moderator
Posted by Gizmo

Blog of the year?

Posted by Sparklykiss
@BombKareshi said:
This looks like a good place to introduce more people to the Zomboni.

 
 The Zomboni
That said, interesting blog post. I don't see these machines often myself, but it was a good read.
I was wonder how many posts it would take to see a Zomboni. I also just love those words. Zamboni... Zomboni... This was an interesting read, strange and random, but interesting, haha. I look forward to even more crazy trivia, dude.
Moderator
Posted by Slaker117
@Bassman2112 said:
@Slaker117 said:
Never thought I cared about Zambonis passed going "well, that's a funny name", but that was an interesting read. And being from Southern California, my mind can't comprehend how those two pictures are of the same place.
Haha, man, after spending some time in SoCal I can hardly believe you guys can live with that humid heat day-after-day! It's just so vastly different from here =)
Yes, well, the concept of seasons scares me. :P
 
The general area where I live is actually too dry most of the time, but my specific corner is cooler than the surroundings, so I really have nothing to complain about. The weather here is mild year round, so that's nice, but we miss out on the strikingly beautiful transformations like the one you pictured. Can't say I would trade though.
Posted by Vodun

Wouldn't this be a perfect job for an automaton? I mean, roombas (or whatever they're called) are useless because they can't handle the random nature of a room. Chairs, thresholds etc. But an ice rink is a known quantity...to my mind an automatic machine should be able to do it. Non?

Posted by bassman2112
@Commando said:
@Bassman2112 said:
@Commando said:
I'm guessing a Zamboni is one of those ice cleaning machines for hockey rings/ice skating rings? I've never seen one in person. I don't think there's an ice ring within 500 miles of me. But it seems like a pretty laid back job. I'm glad you enjoy it!
Indeed, it gets discussed in great detail on the post =) Haha, I'm guessing you're from somewhere in the southern states, then? (none within 500 miles makes the States a giveaway =P)  Actually, it's an extremely stressful job when it gets busy! We also look after the rest of the building, so when there's an NHL level game going on (or, in the case of our arena, ex-nhl guys) it is 10 hours straight of hard work =)
Well now I went back and read the whole thing (skimmed it the first time). But you qualified for the olympics but chose not to!? Man I would've totally done it. You nailed it though, I'm from south Alabama. I've seen them on TV, and being the ignorant southerner that I am, assumed it was a preset automated machine that just required steering. I see now though that if you screw up, it could affect something. I don't know what it would affect because I've never ice skated, but I'm just going to guess it either affects how slick or hard the ice is, or if you take too much off it could cost the facility money to replace the ice?   I still don't completely get it after reading it, but I'm probably the only one haha.
Haha, it would have been fun to do but I'm way happier with the music path anyways =) The sports world has a lot of loud, annoying and boisterous people whereas music is pretty laid back =)
 
They can definitely negatively affect the ice in huge ways if you don't know what you're doing, but as long as you're careful that shouldn't be the case.
 
As for how much you take off/how much you leave affects the ice in its hardness/slickness, you're not too far off! If you leave lots of water on the ice, it will take longer to freeze and will be slicker but also more unpleasant to fall on (who likes getting wet in a cold arena?). You aim to leave enough water on so it'll be just enough to freeze 5 minutes after you get off the ice (except at the end of the night where you leave as much on because it has a whole night to freeze). The longer the water has to freeze, the harder the ice will be =) 
 
Also, taking off too much isn't too bad =) The way we work with the ice is we measure 32 points around the surface every week to make sure they have at least an inch of ice from the cement floor to the top. If less, we aim to leave more water there when we're doing our floods. If more, we turn the water down and put the blade down a little to try to even it out. Luckily it doesn't cost the facility much either way as all we're using in this case is water =) It's the plant room that could end up destroying the wallet of the facility if there's problems though =)
 
Hopefully that all made sense! You should definitely give skating a shot if you ever have the opportunity =)
Posted by bassman2112
@Vodun said:
Wouldn't this be a perfect job for an automaton? I mean, roombas (or whatever they're called) are useless because they can't handle the random nature of a room. Chairs, thresholds etc. But an ice rink is a known quantity...to my mind an automatic machine should be able to do it. Non?
There's indeed a certain level of automation you can have with resurfacers (some have automatically controlled water flow); but there is a lot that requires human prediction. For example: f there's a huge gouge out of the ice over 2 meters, automation wouldn't pick that up and would place the same amount of water/wouldn't adjust the blade to compensate for it, and it wouldn't get filled properly. There are lots of scenarios in which automation just simply would be too consistent and wouldn't compensate for how crappy some parts of the ice can be haha =)
Posted by spudtastic

I'm a Muny worker, and while never on a regular shift as an operator , received complete Zambonic training. Definitely the coolest paid task I've ever had! Excellent posting, BTW!