It might not look as impressive as the full-sized zambonis used at indoor ice arenas throughout the state, and it probably doesn’t function quite as well either.
But when it comes to outdoor skating rinks, you’d be hard pressed to find a more effective and efficient method of maintaining the ice than the device created this year by a pair of Watertown city staffers. The makeshift zamboni, the work of first-year Public Service Superintendent Bill Boettner and seasonal staffer Logan Pysick, has not only significantly improved the quality of the ice at the Grove Street Rink, it’s also created a few smiles along the way.
“It’s so ingenious and so clever that you can’t help but chuckle,” Watertown City Administrator Luke Fischer said. “They got creative and worked very well together to put that together.”
The zamboni really is quite simple. It makes use of a Kubota tractor with a 60-gallon water tank on the back. The tank is connected via a hose to a 6-foot pipe with holes cut into it, allowing water to spray onto the ice. Behind the Kubota, a piece of carpet is dragged behind to create a nice, smooth layer.
“The soft fabric gives you a nice layer,” Boettner said. “That way it freezes quicker, and you can put layer after layer on.”
Boettner said the zamboni usually makes two to three trips across the ice, making several thin layers to prevent the ice from flaking. Boettner said if too much water is applied at once, it gets too much oxygen, will freeze too fast, and lead to flaking.
In the past, the rink was simply flooded with a firehose at the start of the season, letting gravity take effect in hopes that the rink would flood evenly. That method typically works fine for the start of the season, but ruts and cuts in the ice can develop over time as the rink becomes more heavily used.
The zamboni provides an easy way to maintain the ice throughout the season at a low cost. The quality of the ice for an outdoor rink is evident even at quick glance, and the surface has stood up despite frequent and heavy use this winter. On several nights, dozens of hockey players have flocked to the rink, and other skaters to the leisure skating area beside it. Boettner said he’s heard nothing but positive reviews.
The people say they really love it,” he said. “It’s a lot smoother, it seems to last longer and it doesn’t flake. It’s working out real well, and people are happy. The rink attendants said one night there were 60 people out there.”
Even with the positive reviews, Boettner still thinks the ice can be even better. The zamboni currently uses the plow in front to shave the ice, but Boettner hopes to at some point get a box blade for the front, which would shave the ice and help carry the shavings to the boards, where it could be shoveled out.
Boettner said other improvements could be in store for the rink as well. The boards have been taking a beating, with holes being poked through as pucks hit them in the cold weather. Boettner said the hope is to add another 3/8-inch layer of plastic at some point.
The makeshift zamboni isn’t the first innovation Boettner has introduced since being hired by the city last year. He also developed a weed sprayer that Fischer said saved the city from having to buy new equipment.
“Bill Boettner has been a creative force for the city,” Fischer said. “He has looked for new ways to do things. We really welcome his presence on staff and appreciate all the hard work he’s done.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]