The Winter Driving Issue
By Bradley Hasemeyer
on 12.2.13
Photo by BH

When Frank J. Zamboni opened one of the largest ice skating rinks in the country just outside Los Angeles in 1940, he realized he needed to streamline the ice resurfacing process, which required a tractor with a blade to shave the ice and three to four additional staff to sweep the shavings, pour water and squeegee away the slush. Using surplus war parts from Jeeps and tractors, he perfected his design on a number of iterations — and in 1949 the Model A Zamboni Ice Resurfacer was born.

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Fast forward more than 60 years and the company, which has become ubiquitous with hockey games and halftime shows, now offers more than 10 machines ranging in capacity, price and ability. We had the chance to take the all-electric Zamboni 552 ($160,000) model for a spin at the East West Ice Palace in Artesia, CA, and the drive was, as expected, extraordinary.

The Zamboni 552 boasts a massive 17.5 horsepower electric motor that gets it to 60 mph…never; an 80-volt lead-acid battery pack and a steel frame are the primary contributors to its 9,750 pound weight. At first glance this thing might not seem vehicularly impressive, but take into consideration that it works silently and without emissions, can collect 125 cubic feet of shaved ice while simultaneously carrying more than 250 gallons of water, has studded tires, four-wheel-drive and a snowflake on the steering wheel, and it all becomes clear: this is a purpose-built machine that functions brilliantly. Turn the key, release the parking brake, flip the switch to forward, and you realize how smooth and surprisingly agile this five-ton machine really is, in spite of its imposing size and a drag coefficient equal to a small iceberg. It’s not only easy to drive but oddly pleasurable for something so visually and literally cumbersome.

Turn the key, release the parking brake, flip the switch to forward, and you realize how smooth and surprisingly agile this five-ton machine really is, in spite of its imposing size and a drag coefficient equal to a small iceberg.

But the goal is more about smoothness and efficiency than it is about acceleration and speed — this unique vehicle was truly born out of a specialized necessity. Plus, the Zamboni does something few other vehicles do: it’s used to enhance the safety and excitement of a sport without actually being central to the sport itself. Nevertheless, the Zamboni evokes a positive feeling that pervades the field of spectators. We’d be hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t find the Zamboni a unique source of simple joy.

Surely day in and day out driving the Zamboni 552 Electric Ice Resurfacer would get old at some point, but I smiled the whole time I was piloting it and even thought what a great retirement job this would be. No bumps, smooth as glass and completely silent? My inner 70-year-old is already chomping at the bit.

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