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Ice rink still standing after I drove the Zamboni

August 15, 1997

I could all too easily see the headlines: "40 Foot Gash in Wall Delays Ice Rink Grand Opening."

If Walter Dill, the driving force behind the new ice rink, had any such fear he didn't show it as he pumped water into the Zamboni.

He did mention in passing that the machine cost $70,000, a figure that made me far less enthusiastic about driving the shiny red rig.

I'm not certain how this all happened. If you had asked me a week ago I would have thought an accompaniment for Zamboni would have been not water, but Alfredo sauce.

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The newspaper was asked if we had someone who wanted to drive the thing, perhaps as some sort of publicity venture. Or perhaps because the people over at the ice rink just like to see people make idiots of themselves.

At the newspaper, whenever a wacky project that guarantees a chance at fooldom raises its ugly head, it always lands squarely in my lap. Especially when it allows colleagues to use unkind phrases like "a zombie for the Zamboni" to my detriment.

So off I went to the spiffy new ice house, which has all the signs of being a huge success. On its grand opening Friday it attracted 2,000 people - my favorite being the girl who was quoted in the paper as saying that if she weren't at the rink she'd probably be home watching TV. The rink could be a stout nail in the "there's nothing for kids to do in Hagerstown" coffin.

And can you believe how fast it was built? You have to hand it to Dill. This went up before you could say the words "committee to appoint a blue ribbon task force for the purpose of naming a panel to conduct a study that will issue a report over the feasibility of an ice rink."

This in a county that can't hire a single employee for its economic development commission in anything less than two years.

Anyway, as it turns out, I knew what a Zamboni was, I just didn't know it had a real official name to it.

A Zamboni is the tractor-sized machine that circles the rink every so often to smooth out the ice. It does this with a blade that scrapes off the nodules and tanks of water that are applied to the surface to make a new, smooth glaze of ice.

Dill said it was easy to operate and backed up this statement by pointing to the roughly 10 bazillion levers, switches, wheels and knobs on the control panels.

At this point it was just a matter of what was going to freeze up faster, the thin veneer of water or me. Dill took me for a quick loop, explaining the mechanical theory behind all the levers, switches, wheels and knobs as I said things like "uh-huh" and "oh, I see," even thought I was understanding absolutely nothing about what any of the controls had to do with frozen tap water.

Then, in perhaps his first critical error of this entire ice rink project, Dill turned the operation over to me. It felt exactly like something out of Animal House. I turned the wheel for the water, pushed the blade-activating levers, put the pedal to the floor and prayed.

At this very moment, ice rink chairman of the board Mathew McIntosh strolled out into the arena. I'm not certain precisely what Dr. McIntosh was expecting to see as he approached the ice, but I'm sure the sight of me barreling down on him full throttle on a Zamboni wasn't it.

Everyone survived, though. I became used to the Zamboni, as will Hagerstown. Pretty soon we'll be having Zamboni pulls out at the Speedway.

And best of all, Walter and Debbie Dill's young daughter Tina even presented me with a stuffed, red bulldog, the team's mascot.

She gave it to me in a relieved sort of fashion. Her way, I believe, of saying thank you for not crashing the monster through the side of the rink.

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