Ice, Ice Baby: The Thrill of the Zamboni Test Drive

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By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009

Zamboni.

Fun to say. Fun to watch.

But oh-so-much more fun to drive.

"I've been wanting to do that since I was 6 years old," said an ebullient Vickery Brewer as she climbed down from the seat of a boxy red . . . um . . . truck? Machine? Appliance? What is the right term for a vehicle that looks like a cross between a defanged forklift and a souped-up toaster oven?

Well, it's hard to beat "Zamboni." On a recent evening, Brewer, 41, had fulfilled the dream of many an ice skater, hockey fan and gearhead by driving an actual Zamboni Ice Resurfacer, the brand-new $85,000 Model 545 belonging to the Herbert Wells Ice Rink in College Park.

A couple of times each year, the rink offers civilians a chance to join in on a two-night Zamboni training class that they give to rink personnel. For $90 ($75 if you pay two weeks in advance), you can learn the basics of blade changing, tank filling, scraping patterns and vehicle storage.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The rink managers know full well that what people really sign up for is the chance to drive the thing. And they understand completely.

"People are just fascinated by them," said Russell Barrett, 44, the rink's head Zamboni wrangler and the night's instructor. "They line up to watch as we do cuts," the professional term for the Zam's periodic solo performances between hockey periods and breaks in the all-skate. "The kids wave. It makes some of the guys nervous to operate it with all the people watching."

Few machines enjoy such cultural renown. Snoopy drove one in the Peanuts comic strip. The Gear Daddies had a minor hit with "I Want to Drive the Zamboni," and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told People magazine she thought it would be a great name for a son. At last night's Frozen Four collegiate hockey semifinals at the Verizon Center, two machines worked the ice, but they were made by another company, Olympia, which just doesn't have the same ring.

For Brewer, a biologist with the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition in College Park and lifelong figure skater, the chance to get up close and personal with a Zamboni was irresistible.

"As soon as I saw it advertised," she said, "I signed up."

Barrett said several women have taken the class, but the most zealous Zamboni fans tend to be boys and their dads. At his last class, a middle-aged man was there as an anniversary gift from his wife.


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