Monday, October 20, 2014

Did you know? dept.

Did you know that the earliest Zamboni ice resurfacers were built on top of WW II military surplus Jeeps?  Now you do!

The Zamboni Model C.
Your can read more Zamboni history here.

The story of the oldest surviving Zamboni, a Model B is recounted in this account from Zamboni Newsletter Vol 5, April 1974

Twenty-five years have elapsed since Frank Zamboni completed his first successful Ice Resurfacer in 1949.  These 25 years have witnessed a tremendous change and growth in ice skating and Frank J. Zamboni & Co. is pleased to have been a part of this expanding industry.  Time has certainly flown by since 1949 and an incident that occurred last year helped bring back memories of the earlier years of resurfacing machine development.  In June, 1973, we received a phone call from Ted Dunn of the Los Alamos Skating Association in New Mexico telling us that their Zamboni® machine was involved in a fire at their rink and they required assistance in rebuilding it for the coming skating season.  When we realized that their resurfacer was the fourth machine that Frank had built and, up until the fire, was to our knowledge the oldest unit in regular operation, we decided that we ought to obtain it, rebuild it and reconstruct the story of its much-traveled history.

The first few Zamboni Ice Resurfacers were:
Unit   Model   Delivered   Purchaser                              Disposition
No. 1   A           1949         Iceland, Paramount              Dismantled
No.2    B           1950         Pasadena Winter Garden      Dismantled
No.3    B           1951         Sonja Henie Ice Revue         Unknown
No.4    B           1952         Ice Capades

The No. 4 machine was delivered to the Pan Pacific Auditorium on May 6, 1952, and was used in the Ice Capades show for the first time two days later. It was then shipped to Atlantic City, New Jersey, where it began a ten month tour of 22 cities in the United States, as well as appearances in Toronto and Montreal.  When travelling between cities, the conditioner was lifted into the snow tank by a chain hoist and the machine was then driven into a railroad baggage car.  Its operator and chief mechanic was Robert Skrak, who also skated in the show and demonstrated the machine in various arenas when requested to do so.  Bob operated the No. 4 machine and its replacement No. 16 for many years and is presently the General Manager of the Iceland Skating Arena in Berkeley,
California. Between May and July of 1953 the machine was again in Los Angeles and received a complete factory checkup prior to rejoining the show again in Atlantic City. The 1953-1954 Ice Capades Show again trouped No. 4 in the United States and Canada and the machine made its last show appearance in May, 1954, at the Denver Stockyard's Stadium. Ice Capades took delivery of the first Zamboni Model E machine in July 1954 and No.4 was traded in on this new machine.  Following factory renovation, the No. 4 was sold to the Iceland Skating Arena in Albuquerque, New Mexico. W.C. "Bill" Snelson had a fire at his original Albuquerque ice arena in 1953 and decided to rebuild at another location. He was able to reopen in November 1954, and did so with the recently rebuilt Zamboni No.4. The machine was operated by Bill Snelson and Mack Griffin at this rink until it closed in August 1960. Much of the equipment, including the Zamboni, was then sold to the Los Alamos Skating Association, whose development is an interesting story worth telling.

During World War II, Los Alamos, New Mexico (present site of the Los Alamos Skating Association), changed dramatically. From a private ranch-school for boys, it grew into a super-secret city of 15,000 scientists, technicians and military personnel with the assignment of unlocking the secret of atomic power and harnessing it as a weapon. Located at 7100 feet on the sunny mesas and deep, eroded canyons of the northern New Mexico Jemez Mountain range, the Los Alamos community had to make the best of local recreational opportunities. This included a 60' x 110' oval ice rink in nearby Los Alamos canyon, which was created by flooding and damming a tiny canyon
creek. Its buildings consisted of two 14 foot square shacks and a woodburning, pot-bellied stove. Its
Skating Club subsisted on a meager budget which basically relied on a 100-plus enthusiasts at $1.00 per season membership fee.

The creation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1947 made Los Alamos the world's foremost research and development laboratory in nuclear weaponry and it also diversified its interest into many peaceful uses of nuclear energy; including solutions to the world's energy crisis. With this change, Los Alamos became a normal community with families instead of G.l.'s.  The old ranch-school skating oval was enlarged to a hockey rink of 78' x 178' in 1950 and was moved 800' down Los Alamos canyon to find better shade. Another rebuilding in 1959 made the rink 90' x 210' and it now featured a 20' x 100' wing of an old dormitory at the rink site. The non-profit Los Alamos Skating Assn., in spite of their limited funds, became interested in acquiring a Zamboni. Through the travels
of their amateur adult hockey teams they became familiar with the Jeep-mounted ice making machine.  The rig intrigued the Los Alamos players because their open rink was maintained through snow, unseasonable rain and excessive weekend use, with an army surplus Fordson tractor, brush and lots of volunteer labor.

May 1961 prompted high hopes when a decision was reached in Albuquerque to convert Bill Snelson's rink to uses other than skating. Although stymied at first by a lack of funds and their policy not to borrow, the Association remained hopeful and on a Friday in August received a phone call saying they could have the machine and other rink equipment not attached to the building for their original offer of $1,500. The one stipulation was - that everything they wanted had to be removed by 6 p.m. the following Sunday. On Sunday, a caravan of Los Alamos hockey players and figure skaters (in a variety of vehicles) descended from the Jemez Mountains and arrived at the Albuquerque rink at dawn after a 2-hour, 98-mile trek. Fifteen hundred dollars changed hands about noon and by mid-afternoon the caravan replete with rubber floor tile old rental skates and other rink paraphernalia "took to the hills". Earlier in the day, No.4 departed with Association President Wally McCracken in the Zamboni driver's seat with pick-ups fore and aft to begm their 20-mile an hour return to Los Alamos. The Los Alamos rink had its Zamboni!  Through twelve skating seasons the machine operated faithfully and diligently. At 1 o'clock on a cold Sunday morning in February last year Ted Dunn was awakened by a fire call from the ice rink. By the time he arrived, the garage which housed the Zamboni and their old Jeep-plow was in flames. A loft above the machine also stored such inflammables as rubber flooring and hockey sticks. Amid the smoke and flames the old Jeep was driven out the door onto the ice. The firemen were about ready to give up on No.4 when Ted asked to give one more try to removing it from the burning garage. Soaked by the fire hoses, he re-entered the garage, threw a dampened canvas over the engine and after having to quickly tighten the battery terminals, got the engine started. Signaling to the firemen to push the burning loft up, he drove out the door, carrying burning hockey sticks, part of the garage door and other debris with him.  As a point of interest, No. 4 has been rebuilt to. its original condition, 22 years young and hopefully its travels are not yet complete.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Mon Dieu! Catastrophe!

Ever have one of those days when despite your best efforts things just seem to spiral out of orbit?  I proudly arrived at the rink with enough time, for once, to warm up my legs before my ice dance lesson by walking around Allen Pond at a brisk clip.  I entered the lobby of the rink full of sweat and purpose.  Feeling ready for a productive session, I carefully pulled on my boots (newly inspired after a trip of Skater's Paradise) and as I was removing the slack from the laces of my left boot, the leather around one of the top eyelets tore through!  This was 5 minutes before the lesson.  With no good alternatives, I skipped those eyelets, (telegraphing even more tension to the remaining good eyelets), and told myself I still had plenty of support--so suck it up buttercup.  I was able to stagger through the lesson in reasonable form, and afterwards took my injured boot to a local cobbler.  The lady looked at the boot, shook her head worryingly and then, after discussing various patching strategies, told me "$15 dollar, you pay now.  Boot ready Tuesday."  English is not her first language, hopefully leather repair is.  So that's it.  No skating until Tuesday after 4pm--assuming my cobbler remains timely.  I was hoping to delay springing for new boots until after Christmas but I think they're gently telling me that they're tired of the constant punishment, and that they long for retirement.  And what of the lesson itself?  Despite my best intentions, it was kind of a blur.  We worked on partnering and posture.  The only thing I clearly remember is the coach telling me that the female skater is the "picture"; the male skater is the "frame".  Translation:  the judges and the peeps in the bleachers are focusing on the girl in the skimpy costume--the guy in black is just an afterthought!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Pilgrim's Progress: I journey to Paradise (Skater's Paradise that is).

I booked an appointment with Mike Cunningham at Skater's Paradise back in September after my ice dance coach told me that she thought I had equipment issues with my right skate.  Conversely, I've had "issues" with the left skate almost from the beginning.  Mike is a busy man and is only available a few days per month.  After a month, my appointment day had finally arrived.  It proved to be Ymmm, Ymmm, Good.

I'm surprised the sign doesn't include weddings, funerals and Bar Mitzvahs--they seem to cater to practically everything else.  Skater's Paradise is located within the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center in Waldorf, Maryland.  Waldorf is about a 45 minute ride down route 301 from Bowie.  The rec center is tucked away, back in a shopping mall and is invisible from the road.  I've passed this way many times going to boat regattas in Norfolk, Elizabeth City and points south and didn't realize until recently that I was passing a Skater's Mecca. 

Paradise lies somewhere inside this building.  I arrived way early for my 1pm appointment just so I wouldn't risk being late.

Skater's Paradise shares space with a hockey oriented shop.  The fitting room is a small closet to the right of the shop's entry door.  The tool room where magic is performed is to the left, deep within the hockey side of the enterprise.  The hockey part of the store is also, somewhat confusingly, run by a different "Mike".

After listening to my tale of woe, the good Doctor took my skates back into the inter sanctum.  The first thing he did was to place my left boot up side down on a cobbler's anvil and rest a steel straight edge against the side of the blade.  The blade proved badly warped.  The right blade was also warped but not as much.  Hey, maybe it's not all me after all!  If you look at the end of the work bench closest to the camera, you will see a blade straightening tool.  Basically this is a flat platform with a steel wheel on a handle which can be moved horizontally along the side of the blade, allowing pressure to be applied at targeted locations.  Mike quickly tweaked the blades on this truing stand and worked the warp out of both.  One of the best parts of going to Skater's Paradise is that Mike has an agreement with rink management so that he can put skaters out on the ice for a few minutes after a modification to see if a particular tweak is an improvement or not.  After remounting my blades we did this.  The ice at the Capital Clubhouse Rec Center proved to be fast hockey ice which amplified the fact that my blades also needed sharpening--I could barely hold a right edge (which is what my ice dance coach had picked up on).  It's always a good thing if the patient can present the symptoms in front of the physician--this is usually not my luck with either medical issues or car repairs, but I digress.  We came off the ice and Mike took the right blade off again and made up a couple of shims from a sheet of thin plastic material.  We on-ice tested several positions and thicknesses under the outside portion of my right blade before Mike was satisfied with my edge.  I was both impressed and humbled by the amount of time he took with a low level figure skater who showed up at his door with middling level equipment.  This, after all, is a man who has been the US figure skating Olympic team's skate technician for several Olympiads and has worked on the blades and boots of elite skaters.   

After spending an hour and a half tweaking my equipment, Mike took the skates one last time to the back room for a sharpening.  I waited in the fitting room with his wife Joan, admiring the autographed memorabilia from various Olympic games.  This framed sweat shirt is from the 1998 Nagano games where Tara Lipinski narrowly edged out Michelle Kwan for the ladies gold.

Yes, that's the "Kween's" autograph (with the butterfly wings over the M) above the U of USA

This autographed banner is from the 2002 Salt Lake City games.

An autographed poster from the 1994 games in Lillehammer signed by Surya Bonaly among others. No, I didn't look for Tonya or Nancy's signatures.

Michael Weiss is another satisfied customer.
For those with a technical bent here is a of pix showing the shims Mike installed under the outboard side of my right blade.   The rear stanchion has a similar shim.  Hopefully this will translate into me holding better edges on this foot. 

With over 600 hours on my current three year old boots and blades, I have a feeling this will not be my only visit to Skater's Paradise. I asked him about laces and told him that I have to retie mine after the first twenty minutes or so.  He said that's a sign of the boots breaking down rather than the laces stretching.   Mike told me many of his regulars are lucky to get a year out of a pair of high end boots.  Mike said my blades still have plenty of life in them but after having the warping removed he wouldn't bother mounting them on a new pair of boots.  All in all, a very productive session.  Of course now I've got to stop compensating and get used to blades which aren't warped and a right boot/blade combo which is angled slightly differently!  That all starts with my next moves lesson at 7am this morning...

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Giving me the stick.

  photo NewPicture84.jpg

This past Thursday Coach M. gave us the stick.  OK, OK, she brought in several broomsticks to use during class to help improve our posture.  No cheap jokes will be repeated on my part about how she rode in on one.  I'm above that sort of immature humor. (Ta-Ta Boom!)

So anyway, here's the deal:  you take a broom stick and first off, you grab it in both hands and skate with it in front of your body while doing progressives, etc.  After doing that for a while you then graduate to placing the stick behind your shoulders and lacing your arms around it.  The stick hits your backbone and reminds you to straighten up and fly right.  No bonus points are awarded if you toe-pick and do a face plant.  What will next week bring?  I can't wait!

She must think my skating is salvageable-- she's pumping a hell of a lot of energy into me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Horsing around; An Ice Dance Update.

It's been awhile since I've posted anything about my attempts to learn the fundamentals of ice dancing.  About a month ago my dancing partner sidled up to me while I was removing my skates at the conclusion of a public session.  She'd been MIA for several of our coached lessons.  She said "Hi" and then announced that she was "divorcing" me as an ice dance partner.  Seems as though she'd rediscovered her earlier enthusiasm for horses. She explained that she couldn't afford the time or money for two expensive activities, and so I got the heave-ho.  Upstaged by a horse!  Can you believe it?   Well, it was fun while it lasted, I learned a thing or two about ice dance partnering and have smears of white polish and a couple small scars on the outside edge of my right skate boot to prove it.

Horses! Really!
So V. has written herself out of the script, but as one door closes, another opens.  Bowie Ice Arena, for the first time in many years, decided (who knows why?) to add back group ice dance lessons as a trial balloon for the month of September.  The timing for the four Thursday lessons was listed on the September schedule as starting at 4:30 in the afternoon. This almost guarantees exclusion of working peeps.  I normally get off work at that time.  My job is a minimum of 30 minutes away from the rink on "good" traffic days. I told myself if I were to sign up for this set of four lessons I'd need to take an hour of leave each Thursday afternoon--and so I have.

As I signed up, I briefly wondered if I'd be the only adult.  I had visions of being paired with a short, impatient ten year old who skates better than I do.  The things I do for art...

OK, so last Thursday was the first lesson.  The mythical ten year old didn't materialize but another adult (female) skater did.  It turned out that we were the only skaters to sign up for dance--perhaps not a good sign in terms of ice dance group lessons continuing into the fall, but we shall see.  N. my group lesson partner is a pleasant woman whom I've previously encountered in adult group free style lessons.  The coach for these lessons was not my familiar Coach K. but that's alright; my skating will get looked at from a fresh perspective, which might be a good thing as I'll discuss later.

Coach M. started us off by talking about posture: roll the shoulders back and stand tall.  She briefly addressed the importance of extension and toe pointing and then had us do continuous forward outside edges as a segue into forward swing rolls.  She watched and immediately questioned me if I was left handed.  I told her the story about how in grade school penmanship class you'd get smacked if you picked up the pencil with the left hand and so, although I'm right handed, I'm a suppressed leftie.  She had me do a few more edges and swing rolls and then said "you may have an equipment issue."

Wow! Stop the presses!  Maybe some small fragment of my pathetic skating can be chalked off to an "equipment issue" rather than lousy execution by the skater!  Whoot! Whoot! 

After the lesson we discussed the ins and outs of tweaking blade positions and conducting minor boot modifications.  It was decided that I should book an appointment with Mike Cunningham, a locally well known skate technician, who runs a business down in Waldorf, Maryland called Skater's Paradise.  Saying that Mike Cunningham is good is an understatement--he was selected to be the skate technician for the US Olympic Team at the recent Sochi  Winter Games (Skater's Paradise was closed all of last February).  I haven't called to make an appointment yet.  I assume it will be weeks before I can see the man and I'm wondering if a guy as low as I am on the figure skating food chain really rates the time of such an august specialist, but call him I will, and assuming I'm  granted an audience with Mr. Cunningham, my low level Jackson Freestyle skates and I will go under the maestro's microscope.

Will I suddenly be transformed into an elegant, pain-free figure skater after having my boots and blades massaged by this talented artisan?  I kinda doubt it, but at least after a session with Mike C. I'll be able to rule out faulty equipment as an excuse and reclaim total possession of  all my short comings! 

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Compulsory Figures Project
There's a renewed interest in what is referred to as "compulsory" or "school" figures.  This interest has sparked a new Face Book group called the Compulsory Figures Project.  Want to know more?  Check out this site and click the appropriate box to join and follow the FB group.  I discovered this group during my search for tips to improve my struggle with the Waltz Eight pattern.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

My latest "new" old book.

Those of you with high thresholds for boredom (I know you're out there) no doubt recall some of my earlier posts about old skating books in my collection, such as this one from a couple years ago.   Well my dears, it's time to get out the no-doze 'cause your old diarist has bought himself another golden oldie:  The Fun of Figure Skating  by Maribel Vinson Owen.  This book is available on-line for free but I hate staring at a screen and prefer the tactic feel of turning the pages of a book. Yeah, yeah, it's the 21st century, so shoot me--I'm a "tree media" kinda guy.

Maribel Vinson Owen was eight times the Ladies Champion, U.S. pairs National champion 6 times (with two different partners) and won a bronze medal at the '32 Olympics at Lake Placid.  She coached Tenley Albright to a gold medal and also coached Frank Carroll.  Her book is one of the few which describes some of the simpler school figures, which includes my current nemesis, the waltz eight.  Maribel wasn't all that impressed with how high a skater could jump or how fast he could spin.  From her perspective  a skater was only as good as his edges.  "Show me your outside forward eight and I will tell you just how fine a skater you are" was a statement she fully endorsed.

Maribel, then a U. S. team coach, and her daughters, who were the current reigning U. S. champions in Ladies and pairs, were killed in an airplane disaster along with most of the U.S. National team in 1961.  Fifteen year old Lorraine Hanlon was a team alternate.  Her parents had bought her a ticket but her school told the Hanlon family that since Lorraine had already missed the maximum number of school days she would not graduate if she missed school for the World Championship in Prague.  She was at first listed with those killed on the plane but was later found alive back in Boston.  Lorraine's account of the tragedy and her  competitive skating experiences (you think your coach is demanding? HA!) can be read here.  American competitive skating didn't recover until the Peggy Fleming era. 

This was an expensive book for the early 1960s.  In today's money it would cost over $55.00.  My copy cost around $25.00, so a relative bargain.  After reading the section on the waltz eight, the book has already paid for itself:  I now realize that the W8 is composed of three skating elements which I know how to do:  a forward three turn, a back outside edge and a forward outside edge.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  Now if I can just convince my legs of that little fact... 

I find it interesting that she introduces the spread eagle before either the inside Mohawk or outside forward three turns.  She is very adamant about how anyone, regardless of closed hips, can with proper coaching learn how to do spread eagles!  She also rather firmly believes that introducing beginners to the three turn too early is one of the worst mistakes a coach can make.  Hmmm, maybe that's my problem...

I like Chapter IX:  "You Are A Good Skater Now".  If you made it to Chapter IX with Maribel breathing down your collar, no doubt you would be or else!

I found this sales slip mid way through Chapter IV:  "Completing the fundamental figures".  I wonder if the original purchaser made it to the end of the book.

The book was apparently purchased at the Chicago branch of Marshall Field & Co.  I love the sense of an unsolvable mystery that a used item provides--who was the first owner?  Did (s)he become a successful figure skater?  I like to think so and hope that this individual is still skating strongly.