Thursday, October 30, 2014

A new beginning

With every visit I discover something new.  How I missed this poster during my first visit is a mystery.  Skater's Paradise, it seems, isn't exclusively about figure skating.  The Cunninghams have their share of admirers in the NHL.  Here we see Bobby Orr in full flight.

Back in the 1970s, I was in the Coast Guard, attached to the Cutter Sherman which in those days called Boston her home port.  When the ship was in port I was occasionally lucky enough to see Bobby Orr skate for the Bruins.

But skater's Paradise isn't all about the past.  Here's a brochure for the USFSA Championships which take place this coming January in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This leaflet looks even further into the future.

 So, OK, today I went to my fitting appointment for new boots.  My current boots and blades will be three years old this coming February--which I've been told is an eternity for figure skating boots.  Either that or I'm just hard on my equipment.  Mike suggested that I should stay with Jackson boots since I have wide feet.  Interestingly, after measuring my feet he reduced the boot size from nine and a half to size nine.  We discussed various Jackson models.  I'm currently in the Freestyle model.  Mike recommended that I stay with that since the next boot above the Freestyle model is quite a bit stiffer.  Female skaters have an intermediate stiffness boot within the Jackson line up but males do not.  Mike didn't want to "over boot" me and I told him that he was the doctor, so another pair of Freestyles, abet a half size, smaller it is.

He suggested that I move up to Aspire blades with cross cut toe picks.  This is a step up from my current Mirage blades which have straight cut picks.  Both the Mirage and Aspire feature an 8 foot rocker and have 1/2" radius of hollow so I shouldn't notice a big difference in blade feel.  New generation Freestyle boots come standard with Aspire straight cut picks.  Hopefully the slightly smaller boots will eliminate the heel slop I've dealt with almost from the beginning with my current boots.  The new Freestyles also have much better padding for the tongue of the boots than the previous boots, as well as a rolled and padded collar area around the top of the boots for a bit more comfort when deeply bending the ankle.  The boots and blades should arrive in a week or so.  I'm looking forward to having new, potentially better fitting boots.  I'm hoping the break-in period is swift and not too painful.  It remains to be seen what, if any, difference the cross cut picks will make.  Bottom line is not a lot of change.  The $64,000 question is will the small, incremental changes to slightly smaller (better fitting) boots and slightly more aggressive blades add up to a measurably improved geezer skater?  We shall soon see!

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...