Summertime, and the livin’ for many of us is sweaty and uncomfortable. Then there are the lucky few who spend their days in refrigerated bliss. The list includes workers in the Kawartha Dairy ice cream production area, the Beer Store employees who restock shelves, butchers who are in and out of freezers.
Most enviable, though, might be Tyler England, whose job includes maintaining the Lindsay Recreation Complex’s twin pad ice surface. For almost two years now he’s been one of nine who operate ice-resurfacing machines, sitting at the controls, systematically crisscrossing ice surfaces at the city’s nine arenas, leaving behind a slick of fresh ice.
To most of us these machines are “Zambonis,” just as facial tissues are Kleenex and hook and loop fasteners are Velcro. The machine Tyler operates works the same way as those developed by Frank Zamboni in 1949, but the proper term is “ice-resurfacer” and his is an Olympia, manufactured by a company headquartered in Elmira, Ontario. The machine cost $105,000 and has refinements that would have astounded Zamboni — a laser system for leveling the ice, for example, and a dial throttle that acts like cruise control.
Chances are you’ve seen the gleaming results of Tyler’s ice-resurfacing. In winter the two rinks are often in use from 7 am to 11 pm. In summer there are hockey schools, shinny sessions, figure skaters, free skates, and other rentals.
For every one-hour rental, 10 minutes is reserved for the ice-resurfacing. The 10-minute standard is set by the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association (ORFA). Another five to 10 minutes is needed to prepare the machine. Hot water goes in one side, cold in the other. The fuel is natural gas with propane back-up.
As the Olympia glides along looking like a giant metallic beetle the conditioner concealed beneath the shell is at work. A large, sharp blade shaves the ice surface and an auger sweeps the shavings to the centre where another device picks them up. Wash water is sprayed onto the ice through nozzles, then picked up by a vacuum nozzle. Clean hot water, laid down at the rear of the conditioner, fills residual grooves and forms the new ice surface. Then the operator drives off the rink and deposits the slurry into a snow pit that helps cool the building.
Tyler, who grew up in Port Perry, started ice-resurfacing at the Little Britain arena and learned his skills through an informal apprenticeship. Some operators choose to make their practice runs at the end of the night, but Tyler deliberately took his between practices and before games. “I thought it was a good idea to have eyes on me and get used to the pressure,” he explains.
The pressure has certainly been there for Tyler, particularly when he was assigned Little Britain Merchants Junior C hockey games. For each of those he’s resurfaced five times — before players step onto the ice, after the warm-up, then after each period.
The work takes practice and skill. Learning proper turns is a challenge. Turn too soon and you miss bits, too wide and you’re covering ice you’ve already gone over. Merchant or Muskies players or adults leave deeper ruts than kids and the proper height and angle of the blade depends on the depth of the ruts. So does the speed — for deep ruts the operator needs to drive more slowly and allow more water to coat the surface.
Another part of the ice-resurfacing is running the edger, which looks like a lawn mower and is pushed by hand. The edger gets rid of condensation and bumps in the ice along the boards. If it isn’t done regularly you’re left with an upward slope. “It’s like a skateboard ramp, and a puck flips up,” says Tyler.
Summer offers particular challenges. Even with big fans to handle condensation it’s necessary to do “dry scrapes” and more edging to take care of bigger bumps.
Tyler is something of a perfectionist, and for him, the results are consistently “not perfect, but close.” The challenges don’t put him off. “I like doing a good job,” he says.
The toughest critics are probably the other staff, and he will ask them for feedback. Generally, hockey players and other skaters are happy with the results and there are few complaints.
Recently Tyler moved from part-time to full-time and that opens up the opportunity to take courses through ORFA. First up will be one on Ice Plant that will help him understand technical aspects of refrigeration.
Asked about his most satisfying ice resurfacing experience he talks of looking after the ice when the Little Britain midgets went to the final. “It went really well, the arena was packed and my supervisor was watching.”
Not surprising, then, that his dream is to move to ice-resurfacing at the OHL, AHL, or maybe even the NHL level. “That,” he says, “would be awesome.”
For now, though, he’s content to keep cool in our Twin Pads.
A final note: If the twin pads are in several senses the coolest workplaces, the coldest is almost certainly the Kawartha Dairy’s ice cream warehouse, where the temperature is maintained at a frigid -28 degrees Celsius.