Love That Ice-Maker!

The winter issue's "From the Archives" picture elicits a big response

Neal Burdick '72

The picture of the forerunner of the University’s Zamboni on the inside back cover of the Winter 2016 St. Lawrence magazine elicited more responses than any other single topic in many, many years. Excerpts from a few appear in the Spring 2016 print edition, but all of them are presented here, with minimal editing.

We received 54 responses, from classes spanning 61 years and from as far away as Austria, from alumni, parents, friends and one unabashed Clarkson fan, to our “What the Heck Is This?” question accompanying the Archives photo in our Winter 2016 issue. That’s by far the most under the magazine’s current management, which began in 1977. Answers included salt spreader, liquid manure spreader and maple sap collector, but most people identified the device correctly as a manually operated precursor to the iconic Zamboni ice machine. Several called it a “flooder.” Many also pointed out that this particular specimen is missing a couple of key parts. 

One question the inclusion of the picture prompted was when St. Lawrence acquired its first Zamboni. Lacking accurate information on campus, we went to the source.  A spokesperson for Frank J. Zamboni & Co., Inc. of Paramount, California, replied, “The records we have show Zamboni Model FL Number 87 being shipped to St. Lawrence University in October of 1957. [This was one of the first ones conveyed to a college or university -Ed.] It was later donated to the Village of Canton [Pavilion] and then in 2004 to Donald Martin Civic Center in Waddington, N.Y.” Anecdotal evidence indicates it was still in use as late as approximately 2010.

"I believe this contraption lays a fresh layer of water down over existing ice after the old chip and snow has been removed following a period of fast-paced SLU hockey, so when the next period starts the ice is fresh, hard and fast. The large tank obviously holds the water and the frame has an attached gauze bag that touches the ice. Water runs into the gauze bag from the tank and the entire thing is pushed by a couple of “rink rats” on skates. The old Madison Square Garden, where SLU used to play a Christmas holiday tournament, which was my first introduction to the best college hockey in the land, used two of these. Four guys would push shovels or blades with handles, to get the old ice scraped clear, then the water layer came along and primed the ice so it was fresh." - Ned Redpath ’65

"This held warm water which was released by lifting the pipe on the side. It was wheeled around Appleton Arena before the Zamboni, followed by guys with squeegees to spread the warm water for new ice between periods. The PVC on the left side is missing, as you can see, but it coated the ice nicely before the advent of the Zamboni." - Bob Riemer '66

"The contraption at the back of the winter magazine is the precursor to the Zamboni ice resurfacing machine.  Water, usually warm or hot, was placed in the barrel and the device was rolled around the ice rink after it was scraped by people with shovels. The operator could control the water flow from the handles (not shown).  I used to see a similar device at another college ice rink where I grew up. It was an event to see many students with shovels scraping the snow off the ice before the water was applied. Definitely an interesting blast from the past." - Andrew Kloeckner  P '17

"It's the precursor to the Zamboni. It cleaned the ice for skaters to do compulsory figures. When? 1940s." - Terri Stranburg

"The item is the forerunner of the Zamboni. It is missing one of the spray pipes but is very much like what was used by SLU prior to 1958. At the end of the period at hockey games a group of volunteers appeared and shoveled up all of the loose ice and pushed it into a pit of hot water behind the goal cage at the north end of the arena. Then the item shown (full of hot water) was pushed around the rink, and it laid down a new ice surface . All this was done in time for the next period. I'm sure you have heard from many who took part in this ritual. It was with mixed emotions for some of us when the first Zamboni appeared on "our" ice." - Art Edgren ’59   

"The device is a precursor to the Zamboni for making new ice. The barrel delivers warm water into a canvas sac (not shown in photo), which wicks water onto the ice, thus creating a new smooth surface. In the old arenas in the days prior to sophisticated refrigeration, doors and windows would be opened to usher in the cold air to help freeze the new water layer. I played hockey for our high school, Hanover High, and we practiced and played our games in the old Davis Rink at Dartmouth, ca. 1960-64. The pictured device was the mainstay of early rink management." - Craig Sears '72

"When I started playing Canton youth hockey in 1954, I believe SLU had a Zamboni [the University acquired its first Zamboni in 1957 – Ed.]. I recall that Clarkson, however, used these drums on wheels to drop water after a team of men cleared the ice with long-handled shovels with what resembled metal gutters as the blade." - Ray Dutcher '73

"That looks like a device one would use to paint the lines on the sports fields, and judging by the construction I'd bet it was used from the 1950s until the ‘70s-80s.

You do great things. " - Gepe Zurenda ’75

"It was an ice-maker, not an ice cleaner. Guys pushed ice shavings off the rink with shovels with curved blades so it all ended up along the edges or behind the nets. My dad was controller and taught Econ in the 1950s-1960s." - Mark Consler ’64

"My first thought when I saw the picture was that it was an old Zamboni/ice resurfacer machine. The oil drum  could clearly be filled with liquid, the tube protruding from the back of the drum would be the apparatus for applying water to the ice surface, and there is a regulator-type system that is controlled by the person pulling the device. What I’m struggling with is the time period for such a device; the metal folding tables in the background lead me to believe that this could be from the 1940s or ’50s. Also, the ground in the picture looks like the concrete used under ice rinks. Appleton was completed in 1951, so I think the picture is of an ice resurfacer in Appleton Arena circa 1951." - Matt Nale ‘13

"That's an easy one. I'm guessing you get lots of responses from hockey-grizzled alums.

The picture is of the device used to resurface the ice on rinks, before Zambonis. Rink workers held the handle and skated behind them in decreasing circumference ovals, and there were usually two or three out in an echelon simultaneously. The one in the picture is missing the horizontal pipe on its right-hand side and the canvas bag which held hot water and touched the ice along its length. The bag hung below the rectangular frame. Madison Square Garden used them at games throughout the 1960s and I think into the 70s." - Frederick J. Hutchins

"Too easy for those of us who grew up playing hockey in the pre-modern Zamboni days.  It’s an ice resurfacer. The one in your photo is missing the cloth on the rectangular metal frame that allowed the water from the drum to be applied more evenly over the ice surface.  Some are actually still in use." - Tracy Kay ’75

"It was either pushed or pulled by hand. The barrel was filled with water, which would come out as you pulled a handle which opened the spout, then would come down the long pipe that had drilled holes in it. Then the water would drip out the holes and hit the ice. Generally there were towels that hung off the bottom bracket in the front of it to smooth out the water/ice.

This didn't shave the ice, it just built it up. This particular one was used to do the outside edges along the boards. We have come a long way, haven't we? Go Saints!!" - Stephen and Dianne Buskey, Parents of Benjamin '08,  Caroline '10 and Stephen  '13

"The object in the photo is a cart used to flood an ice rink - basically, it's the direct predecessor to a Zamboni, which was invented in the late 1940s. It's a pretty simple operation: fill it with hot water, push it onto the ice, open the valve, push it around the rink. You'd need several of these to resurface a full-size rink, and it's significantly slower than using a Zamboni. I'd guess the photo dates to the early days of Appleton Arena - the background of the photo looks like the original rink boards that I've seen in photos from back then." - Leif Skodnick '02

"The mystery object was a 1950s-era device used at Appleton Arena to resurface the ice during hockey games.  Don't know why or how - but they often interrupted hockey games to do it.  Some older hockey-jocks would know." - Alexander Wallace ‘58

"I used to go to New York Rangers games in the 1960s; they used these oil drum contraptions to resurface the ice between periods. I believe back then they had 6 men who did this. They must have used the same oil barrels at Appleton arena before the advent of the Zamboni. It worked like this: they put real hot steaming water in the barrel. The water would come out of the bottom where the outlet is. They had many holes in the thing and it would resurface the ice. It really did work. This unit should be restored somewhat and be put on display somewhere in Appleton where it can be seen.  What better place to display this resurfacer than Appleton Arena?" - Henry M. Goldberg ’68

"Back in the 1950s they used to resurface the ice in Appleton Arena with a similar contraption. However, there was another pipe wing on the other side and as I recall there was some type of cloth that kind swabbed on the ice and spread it out. Hot water was used. I think I used to push one of these at Appleton (between) periods for a year or two. I think I was probably involved in 1955 and ’56; I am sure the Zamboni was there at least in 1958." - John Taylor ’59

"Is it a Zamboni?" - Jamie Sovie

"The photo looks to be a hand flooder or early ice resurfacer, which would have been a precursor to a modern-day Zamboni. The Zamboni was introduced in 1949, so the photo probably predates that year, and may have been in use prior to Appleton Arena opening in 1951. The machine would have been used after shovels removed snow from the ice. Hot water would have been filled into the 55-gallon drum through the opening in the top. As the cart was pulled around the ice, water was released through the valve and pipe which are regulated by the attached bar. This one looks to be missing the other half of the water release pipe (left side of picture), and may also be missing a fabric or canvas shroud that would have encircled the water release pipe. A similar model can be found on this Wikipedia page about 2/3 down:" - Tim Chapp '05

"My guesses re: the item pictured in the Winter 2016 SLU mag:

- a pre-Zamboni ice resurfacer, or

- a liquid fertilizer spreader

Circa 1930s, it was pushed/pulled by hand or tractor and liquid was released using the valve arm that extends to the handle...?" - Jerry Chiplock ’79

"It’s a gizmo used to resurface the ice. It was used before the Zamboni was used. The ice was shoveled by hand by skaters, then the barrel was filled with hot water and pushed over the surface. The water was applied through a cotton fabric on the front.  It was quite an honor to prepare the ice between periods of games." - Jim Butler

"The picture in question is undoubtedly an ice grooming machine, an early version of the Zamboni." - Dave & Marge Myers '61.

"I believe the contraption pictured in the SLU Bulletin is a salt spreader?" - Linda Squiers Terhune '82

"The barrel on wheels was a 'device' to spread water on an ice rink during the resurfacing process , which was done with shovels and this device. It had to be used in Appleton Arena prior to 1950 as the first Zambonis were not invented until circa 1950 and not widely used until the mid-50s. [Appleton Arena opened in 1951-Ed.]

Growing up around the University of Denver, I helped resurface the ice between periods of DU hockey games from 1957 to 1960. DU had the third Zamboni ever sold. It was the 7th one ever manufactured. It was built on a Jeep chassis and was pretty ungainly." - Tom Bonnie P’99

"It brought back memories of outdoor hockey ice being frozen, shoveled, and competed on, perhaps with Gene DelVecchio in goal. Watching hockey was so cold before arena days." - Ann Smithers ’52

"The photo depicts an early (pre-Zamboni) ice resurfacer.  The metal barrel held hot water, which was fed by gravity into perforated pipes at the bottom of the unit that distributed the hot water over the ice surface as the unit was pulled manually across the ice.  

There are a couple of pieces missing from the unit in the photo. One of the two perforated pipes that delivered water to the ice is missing, as is the canvas skirt that would have been attached to the bottom piece to spread the water evenly over the ice. This unit was probably not in service when the photo was taken.

Resurfacers like this one (there were many variations on the same basic theme) were common before 1949, the year when Frank Zamboni introduced his eponymous self-propelled mechanical resurfacer. It took a few years for the Zambonis to catch on. Appleton opened in 1951. So it is possible that the unit in question was used at Appleton back in the early days of the venerable arena. It is perhaps more likely that it was used at Appleton’s outdoor predecessors." - Charles E. Baker P’16

"Graduating in 1954, my freshman year commenced in 1950, which coincided with the opening of Appleton Arena that winter. If my memory is still keeping up with me, the photo in question is a water spreader (pre-Zomboni) used in distributing a new coat of water on the ice surface between periods of our hockey games. It was quite a chore with smoothing the ice, coating it with water and then smoothing it out. It was accomplished with students on ice skates. I never missed a home game (as well as a few on the road) in my four years at SLU. I really never knew what ice hockey was until I entered SLU, and enjoyed every game. I still believe they were the the best hockey years at SLU." - Gerard "Rod" La Croix '54

"That is a Zamboni before there were Zambonis. I don't recall a name but it was a barrel filled with water that resurfaced ice rinks. Between periods high school kids would shovel clean the ice, then bigger kids would push two barrels around the ice. Hot or warm water would come out the front into a cloth piece (not in the picture) that dragged on the ice smoothly, applying water to the ice." - Tom Coakley

"This looks like an early hand-pushed predecessor to the Zamboni. The barrel was filled with hot water and the device was pushed or pulled over the ice surface as water flowed out the horizontal pipe. I played on the Alexandria Bay hockey team 1962-1965 and our local rink used a device like this, as well as the rink in Gananoque, Ontario, where we practiced and played most of our home games. My recollection is that there was also a wide janitor's mop that ran the width of the angle iron frame to evenly disperse the water before it froze." - Dorman Burtch ’69

"We think this existed around the 1940s and 1950s to spread water on an outdoor pond to create ice for skating and hockey." - Jen and Jeff Potter P'19

"The picture in the Winter magazine is what was used in Appleton Arena in the 1950s to resurface the ice between periods. The tank was filled with warm water, which came out the sprayer in the front (the horizontal bar on the left side of the figure is missing). The apparatus was pushed around the ice by an operator on skates after the ice was cleaned of snow by a group on skates (usually called rink rats) with four-foot-wide scrapers. The trick was to match the flow out of the sprayers (controlled with the levers on the right side of the picture) to the operator's skating speed. Otherwise a uniform film of water would not be obtained. This is how it was done before Zambonis." - Dick Merkel '64

"This one is simple for hockey fans going back before the mid-1960s. Ice surfaces were groomed between periods by first scraping the ice, usually with three skaters pushing extra-wide, overlapping shovels around the rink. The barrel on wheels pictured was then pushed around the rink to squeegee the surface and apply a spray of water to create a new, smooth surface.  The skaters involved were known as Rink Rats.

The Zamboni was invented in the late 1930s [1940s – Ed.], and became viable and affordable for most rinks when it evolved in the mid-sixties to the design that is still basic today. I believe that St Lawrence got a Zamboni before Clarkson (you had to beat us in something).  Madison Square Garden Rink Rats and their union were able to block usage on Zambonis for numerous years, with the concession that they could be used for practices, but not NHL games." - Ed Catozella P ’18

"That is the “device” used to resurface the ice in Appleton Arena before Zambonis were invented. It was pulled around the rink by a guy pulling the handle in the front. It is not in working order! It looks like the pipe is missing on one side and the cloth that hung down in the back is missing. The drum was filled with hot water that came out of the pipe onto the cloth that was dragged along the ice. The ice was “cleaned” in front of this “device” by people walking with shovels in front of it. It became obsolete when Zambonis were introduced about 1956. I know we had a Zamboni by 1958 when I was a freshman.

I think [the picture] was taken with the device on the floor of the rink (without the ice). There are tables in the background but it looks like the rink boards are behind the tables. The rink still had natural wood vertical boards when I was a freshman. The boards were rebuilt with white panels between my freshman and sophomore years.

When I was a freshman there wasn’t any protective glass or wire fence along the sides of the rink. That was also changed when the new boards were installed in the summer of 1959. My recollection is a spectator got hurt with a puck or stick during the 1958-1959 season." - Bill Schaffer ‘62

"Before Zambonis, these devices were used to rework the ice at Appleton before games, practices and between periods. A cotton "bucket" hung from the rectangular frame in front. The 55-gallon drum was filled with water. The linkage arm connecting to the shaft running up the left side of the drum operated a valve feeding water to the spreader pipe. The water pooled in the bucket, which dragged across the ice as the device was pushed by a skater.  At least two of these were employed between periods to resurface the ice just the way the modern, motor-driven devices are used. I remember vividly how the skaters used to skate out wide to the side of the push handle in the back to get it to turn corners.

Your ice conditioning machine would have been in use in the 1950s when Appleton Arena was first built. That must have been early 50s [1951]; trying to remember how old I was when I started playing PeWee Hockey there. I don't think these devices were used for outdoor rinks, as it would have been tough keeping the water in the drum from freezing. I think something like big squeegees were used to push water around. There was an outdoor town rink in the athletic field behind where Banford Elementary School used to be on Court St. Mrs. Banford was actually principal when I went there. Fifty-five-gallon drums were used as burn barrels for warming skaters and spectators. As kids, one of our sources of raw materials for play accessories (swords, mostly) was broken wooden hockey sticks. 

It has been Hockey Country for a long time. Thanks for the connections back to the North Country." - Henry Romer '64 - but Amherst, not SLU

"Guessing we're looking at an early ice resurfacer, circa late 1940s or even earlier. Water was distributed from the tank following ice scraping, to lay down a fresh, even surface." - Dave Batson '82

"The photo in the Winter 2016 magazine is a precursor to a Zamboni.  It was used to put water on the ice.  Missing is the cloth that used to spread the sprayed water on the ice." - Luke B. Adams ’81

"That is a pre-Zamboni Zamboni. While the rest of the word moved to Zambonis, the crew at the old Madison Square Garden (and Appleton, I guess) used these contraptions, plus a crew of men in uniforms to shovel the ice between periods of games. (The Garden crew must have had a strong union.)  There was a canvas bag that was attached to the frame the spread the water evenly in the ice. Here is a shot from Twitter:" - Rob Gunnison

"I am writing this as the voice of Barbara Griffiths Klemens ’47 (her husband was John "Jack" Klemens ’48 [war postponed his graduation in 1945]). She recognized the picture immediately with her knowledge of the game and its various components credited to the decades spent with her husband.  The picture depicts a precursor of the modern-day Zamboni. This was definitely in use around the 1930-40s until the modern Zamboni was invented [late 1940s] and purchased for the rink [1957]. The drum was filled with hot water and pushed across the rink by two individuals, or as Barbara says, "two kids trying to improve their skating" in a circular motion just as the Zamboni operates today. A terry cloth bag was stretched across the front; the hot water from the drum soaked into the cloth through the pipe and made the ice even and smooth. 

Go Saints!!" - Sara Sloan

"My guess is that it is a crude manual machine for flooding the ice, pre-Zamboni days. These smaller ice resurfacing machines were used in parks and other small outdoor ice surfaces (where) a Zamboni would have been overkill. Zambonis have been around since the [late] 1940s so as far as how old the photo is, that is a good guess." - Michael

"The photo on page 69 is the predecessor of what today is the Zamboni. While this machine did not scrape the ice, when one filled the barrel with warm water, which sprayed out the front when the operator circled the rink, it laid down a skin of water that would then freeze smoothly and clean. The person pushing it had to strike a balance between having traction and laying down a clear sheet of ice minus the footprints!

And then Frank Zamboni adapted a Willy's WWII Jeep and the rest is history. Good subject and fond recollections on ponds and rinks outdoors!

The Zamboni story is at this link; it is a remarkable tale of invention and ultimate necessity and how some tinkering can result in a product used all over the world:" - Chris Abbott ’80,

"I had a chuckle when I saw the photo you included in “From the Archives.” I was a skier, not a hockey player, but as a boy, I attended games and “free skating” at Clarkson and SLU, where I watched the older boys, “Rink Rats,” clean the ice with wide snow shovels before applying a layer of warm water to the ice with the device pictured. As I recall, SLU acquired their Zamboni before Clarkson [correct – Ed.], and thus provided “between periods” entertainment ever since." - Bill Hayman ’71

"I believe it was used through the end of the 1956-57 season, and although I could be wrong, I believe the Zamboni was there in the fall of 1957 [correct – Ed.]. That season incidentally was also the first in which the dasher boards were painted white. The original natural wood finish (harmonizing with the grandstands and roof) presented some vision problems for goaltenders trying to pick up pucks in flight. Also, six seasons in, myriad puck-impact scars had the natural boards looking combat-fatigued!

I remember the previous season (1956-'57), and the remarkable efficiency of the "rink rats," who could resurface the sheet in about the same time as the Zamboni required." - Bob Graham ’61

"My guess judging from the residue on the tire and wall paneling in the background is some sort of gizmo used at Appleton arena for icing purposes pre-Zamboni era. Am I close?" - Martha Smith Vining '80

"The piece of equipment in the picture is an arena ice resurfacer. These were used before the advent of the modern Zamboni that so effortlessly cleans and resurfaces the ice at Appleton these days. It was a two-stage process in the old days. A team of "rink rats" would precede this machine with snow scrapers in hand and clean the snow from the ice. This apparatus would be loaded with hot water and one/two men would pull the machine by the handle on the front and the water would flow out the back of the barrel through the white pipe that would have small holes in it to distribute the water somewhat evenly on the ice. I'm pretty sure that there is a piece of pipe missing in this picture that should extend from the downspout out of the barrel to the left of the metal framework, the same as the one in the picture extending to the right. The one I remember at our local arena in Exeter, Ontario, also had a burlap bag wrapped around that metal framework to better distribute the water. I can't remember if the operators of this beauty had to refill the water tank in order to get the job done or not. I can tell you that it took a lot longer than it does with the Zamboni today." - Joe O'Rourke ’76

"It's a "Pushboni" (with several parts missing), the predecessor to the ubiquitous Zamboni that you now see resurfacing all artificial ice rinks. The last one I saw was being used in the old Madison Square Garden by union members who kept MSG from going modern. They used two skaters (each) to push several of them to resurface the ice between Rangers games. It only laid down more (hot) water but couldn't scrape/shave the surface as Zambonis do now.

The right water distributing arm (as seen by the pushers) and the cloth spreader are missing. The left pusher could control the flow of water onto the ice through the apparent valve system.

It was fun watching the pushers turn it at each end of the ice. If they got going too fast it was hard to turn but they needed some speed or they had to skate too hard." - Bill “Wimpy” Walton ’65

"It's a maple syrup collector for tapping maple trees. The wheels allow you to move from one string line to the other collecting the pure maple sap." - Andrew McCarthy ’14

"[The late] Al Viebranz '42, [St. Lawrence] Board chair and hockey goalie, would want me to take a shot at this one. It is a picture of an ice resurfacer, the predecessor to a Zamboni. I know they were still in use in the early 1970s as I pushed one as a member of the ice crew at the Middlebury rink when the Zamboni broke down. The drum holds hot water, which is poured on the ice. A pad in the back acts almost like a mop in spreading the water out on the surface of the ice. Voila." - Curt Viebranz, Middlebury '75

"It was the forerunner of the Zamboni which now clears our ice in Appleton. Back in the day, kids came on the ice with great delight at being chosen to scrape the ice before these monsters were sent, filled with water, and holding a kind of cloth for spreading, to clean and smooth the ice for the next period.

I can remember going to Madison Square Garden long after we had replaced these "tools" and discovered they were in operation in this famed building. It seemed the union blocked the Zamboni transition because it meant jobs for their members. Of course, our switch to the big Z cost lots of kids a spot on the Appleton ice." - Lennie McKinnon ’58

"I think it's a drum that carried water for repairing ice rinks before the Zamboni was invented. You pushed down on the lever and it released water into a brush which when pulled along distributed the water evenly over the ice. The brush is missing in the photo, along with the other half of the pipe." - Rolf Seifert

"Most folks would recognize that as the predecessor to the Zamboni. Hot water went into the barrel, cheesecloth went around the rectangular frame and a young “Rink Rat” with skates on would drag it around the rink to make a new sheet of ice." - John Whittier  (brother of goalie Sarge Whittier ’57)

"You fill the barrel with warm water and flood the ice. Your photo is missing the cloth piece that hung from those back pipes onto the ice. Water would spray on the cloth. Warm water was used because it melted the snow or bumps in the ice. Several people would scrape and shovel the ice pad and then this device would be pulled around the rink. It was in use up to about 1965.  At Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, they used two of these ice finishers to flood the ice between periods in the hockey games. When the Zamboni was invented, these became a memory." - Peter Brennan ’72

The Ice Maker from the Winter 2016 Issue