The Zamboni Story

Model A (1949)

The first Zamboni ice-resurfacing machine (built and used at the Paramount Iceland Skating Rink) had four-wheel drive and four-wheel steering on a hand-built chassis using war surplus axles and engine parts. The surplus parts actually include a hydraulic cylinder from a Douglas bomber. The Model A was built, tested, modified and retested at Paramount Iceland. A cover was added at the front over the conveyor chain to keep snow from falling onto the fresh ice surface. It also had an in-tank snow-melting system along with a wash water system. Early photos of the machine show a different configuration of the large wooden snow tank, prior to its modification. The wooden side was hinged so snow could be shoveled out.

The Model A introduced the “Wash Water” system — a black tank over the galvanized water tank dropped water into a distributor pulled on the ice at the rear that washed the ice before being pumped back into the bucket. The system duplicated the process of washing the ice that was previously accomplished by several people using a large hose and squeegees over the entire rink surface. The washing operation was necessary to clean the ice prior to applying the final coat of water, greatly enhancing the finished sheet of ice. Eventually, the Model A’s snow tank was modified for a more “finished” appearance. One important change made by Frank to the Model A was the elimination of the original four-wheel steering.

When using the Model A equipped with four-wheel steering on his rink, he discovered that when the machine was driven close to the boards and the operator tried to steer away from them, the rear wheels would steer into the wall while the front wheels turned away, thus jamming the machine against the wall until it could be pushed sideways to free it. He disconnected the steering on the rear axle and the problem disappeared. He decided that the best configuration would have four-wheel drive and two-wheel front steering, which made the Jeep an ideal chassis on which to build later models.

The Model A resulted in Frank Zamboni being awarded what would be his basic and broadest patent (No. 2,642,679 which was granted in 1953) for an ice resurfacing machine. Many of the features cited in the patent were incorporated into future ice resurfacer models manufactured by Zamboni. During its term of service, the Model A was never used on any ice surface other than Paramount Iceland’s. It was eventually taken out of daily use and replaced by a newer model in 1953. After a number of years, the snow tank was dismantled to accommodate movement around the side of the rink and under the angular concrete pillar supporting its roof. In 1996, the machine began a lengthy restoration process and has been restored to its original condition. The machine normally resides on display at Paramount Iceland.

Model B (1950)

In 1950, Olympic skating star Sonja Henie’s traveling ice show was practicing at Paramount Iceland, and she saw the Model A in action. She had to have one and asked Frank if he could build one in time for an upcoming Chicago performance. The deadline was tough, but Frank worked day and night, then loaded all of the resurfacer parts into a U-Haul® trailer. He towed the trailer to Chicago behind the Jeep on which he would install the parts and assemble the Model B there.

A total of four Model B machines were built: The Pasadena, Calif., Winter Garden purchased the first; Sonja ordered two, one of which ended up on tour with her in Europe (and was eventually dismantled there); and Ice Capades purchased the fourth — a machine that was restored and has spent many years on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota.  Read about the Odyssey of Machine No. 4.   With orders arriving for the Model B machines, Frank founded the Frank J. Zamboni & Co.

In fact, Frank Zamboni wanted to call his company The Paramount Engineering Company, after the city he helped name, but that name had been taken. So he named the company after himself, knowing there could be no disputing a name that belonged to him.

Model C (1952) and Model D (1953)

The next generation of Zamboni machines, still built on a complete Jeep®, had significant design changes. Frank elevated the driver’s position and lowered the snow tank onto the Jeep body to allow better driver visibility and greater snow capacity. The first of the series was the Model C.

In a memorable incident, Frank drove one of his Model C machines 450 miles up the coast of California to Berkeley Iceland. Along the way, a key came out of the steering wheel shaft, and Frank lost steering control. The machine, with him driving, veered off into the oleander bushes on the highway median and stopped. Frank managed to get the key back into the shaft and proceeded on to deliver the machine.

The second of the series was the Model D – a machine differing only slightly from the Model C. The Model D’s redesigned snow tank had a “stepped” look. The change did not affect or enhance operation, however, and was later shelved. The third machine was the Model E.