VAN BUREN, Maine — In years past, making and maintaining ice for the local recreation department’s skating rink required manually applying water and smoothing it out while subjected to freezing temperatures.
It also was a three-person job, according to Cory Searles of the town’s Public Works Department, who enjoyed playing hockey as a child and is volunteering this winter to help maintain the rink.
This season, Searles and others have created a homemade ice resurfacer, or Zamboni machine, to do the job of maintaining the ice at the outdoor rink for recreational skaters and the youth hockey program. Zambonis are named for The Zamboni Co., which manufactures the large machines seen at NHL games, gliding around the rink to smooth and polish the ice.
“Cory found some plans online and took them to the town garage,” said Derek Grivois, a seasonal worker with the town’s recreation department and one of the people who this winter is caring for the ice rink near the park on Champlain Street.
When the new homemade “Zamboni” made its inaugural run around the rink Jan. 20, it caught the attention of the children there, Grivois said.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said recently as he attached a large piece of felt to drag behind the contraption and help smooth the ice. “The ice isn’t as smooth as I’d like it,” he said. “But, we’re working on it. It’s trial and error to get it just right.”
He planned to enlarge the piece of felt and to extend on one side of the machine the plastic tubing that drips the water onto the ice in order to provide better coverage in the corners.
The equipment is basically two plastic 50-gallon drums on top of a metal platform distributing warm water through the plastic tubing. The gear is mounted atop a metal frame built on a back blade donated by Searles’ family business, R.M. Lawn Care.
Searles’ cousin, Steve Gagnon, donated the two large barrels, and the rest of the materials were purchased by the recreation department.
After a base of ice has been created, the homemade Zamboni maintains the ice surface by applying new water, shaving the top and smoothing it out.
The previous resurfacer, also homemade, was a garden hose connected to a perforated metal pipe that was welded to a handcart. One person would pull the handcart around the rink by hand while two others worked to keep the warm hose from touching the ice. The warm hose dragging on the fresh ice created ruts, Searles said.
Searles’ coworker, Bob Caron Jr., was instrumental in fabricating the new resurfacer, which is attached to a lawn tractor. That fabrication time was covered by the town’s public works department, where Caron works.
The tractor, which is also used in the summer months for maintenance, has an enclosed cab with small heater inside.
“It’s a lot more comfortable” than using the previous method, Grivois said. “It’s nice to be out of the cold.”
The rink is open for public skating, hockey programs and special events. For schedules and more information, visit the “ Van Buren Ice Skating Rink” page on Facebook.