Saturday, March 31, 2007

Help! Broke down on the ice

Pressure melts ice.

This basic premise of physics is actually how skating works. A skater's weight is being supported by the narrow blades, which melts a pool of water under the blade, which the player glides on.

This is great for skating, but rotten with a 9,000 pound machine (our old friend the Zamboni) breaks down on the ice. Dripping water from the towell and pipe can melt holes in the ice, if you have a little oil or hydraulic fluid leak it will stain the ice, and the weight on the tires will eventually start to make an impression on the ice.

It's a real pain in the butt when the Zamboni breaks down on the ice, but it's bound to happen sometime. 99% of it's existence is driving on the ice so the odds are there. And these machines get run hard, very hard, and the do occasionally break down. They rarely get light & easy use, it's almost always under a strain and heavy load. Imagine driving you car to work every day fully loaded and towing a boat - and never leaving 2nd gear. How long would your car last?

It breaks down, just pull it off, right?

Not exactly. The Zamboni uses a hydrostatic transmission. It's run on hydraulics and works kinda like an Army tank. When you let off the gas and pull the lever into "neutral" it is not in a free-wheel mode like a car. It's actually locked up more like a car in "park."

You have to disengage the hydrostatic transmission by turning a valve - located near the engine, under the snow tank. To get that the valve, you have to raise the snow tank - but you can't do that because the engine is stalled! egads!

The machine is equipped with a manual pump. You shove a piece of pipe onto the pump lever and start pumping. And pumping. And pumping. Eventually the snow tank is lifted high enough to turn the valve. Then you can tow the Zamboni off the ice.

Hopefully you have another Zamboni handy, or a sturdy 4WD vehicle, and a piece of chain or tow strap. And a buddy nearby so one person can stear each vehicle.

It's kinda tricky, but not so bad. The next time you see the Zamboni cleaning the ice at your local rink or arena, imagine the same poor driver getting stuck on the ice in the off-hours (or worse, with a crowd in the building).

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Popularity and New Material

Thanks go out to "Heckler From Hell 2.0" (he's not the original Cyclones HFH, but he's definitely created a niche of his own) for posting the Icemaking blog entry on the Hamilton Bulldogs forums. From there it was posted on ModSquadHockey forums. Between the two, the blog has been read from every continent in the world! I'm amazed and humbled.

I've held off on posting new material because the icemaking entry was getting so many hits. I need to put up some new material before the end of the season to make the blog worthy of return trips.

Meanwhile, I'd like to invite anyone who has read the blog and found it interesting to leave a comment or email me - especially if you have experience in ice operations or if you found the entry useful, helpful, or informative.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Makin' Ice - More than you ever wanted to know.

Making the ice is a tedious process that must truly be done with TLC and a lot of patience. People seem to enjoy learning about it. I hope you do. If not, then go surf some porn or something.

The surface under the ice is concrete. Pipes contained in the concrete carry the brine (saltwater) solution that is chilled by the compressor system to about 17 degrees and pumped through. Everything is turned on and left for several hours to get the concrete surface at or near 17 degrees. Then a thin coat of water is applied to the concrete, usually with a garden hose.

Next comes the white coat. A wheel cart holds a 55 gallon barrel to mix the white paint solution in water. A gasoline pump on the cart pumps the white water through a copper pipe with water mist jets across it. This is about 15 feed across and the jets are similar to what you see in the grocery to mist the fruits and vegetables. The assembly is pushed along the ice to spray a coating of white evenly across.

Then another thin clear coat seals that in so you can walk around on it without disturbing the white. Now it is time to paint the lines and logos. This is all painted by hand! The lines are scored, or marked with a magic marker, or a chalk line. Another trick for the straight lines is to just stretch a thin string and freeze it in, then paint between the strings. The circles have to be drawn with a large compass or by using a string fixed in the middle and run around in a circle. Again, the painting is done by hand with icemaking paint.

The logos are started with a large stencil made of heavy paper (like butcher's paper) that has perforations along the outline of the design. It's laid on the ice and paint is applied over the holes to leave the outline on the ice. Then the colors are painted in by hand. Sometimes a design change means that the changes have to be done freehand.

Now it gets really tricky. You can't just start pouring water on it or it will blow the paint all over the place and make a mess. You have to use a bug sprayer to apply a light mist over the paint and let it freeze in layers before adding more. If you add the water too fast, the paint will float to the top instead of being embedded near the bottom.

Once all of the lines and logos are sealed in, it's time to start flooding to bring the ice up to depth. This is usually done with the Zamboni, one flooding coat at a time. Instead of putting the whole conditioner down on the ice like you see it games, it is just lowered to the point that the towel is the only thing dragging the ice and then turn on the water.

Once the lines are painted, you basically can't stop. You have to get to the point of flooding and then flood, let dry/freeze, and flood again. If you wait too long after it all freezes, you run the risk of it getting a layer of frost on top which will cloud it all up. Since it's not up to full depth yet, you can't cut off the frost with the Zamboni because you would cut out the lines. So, flooding with the towel must continue.

This whole process can be done in about 48 hours, maybe, if everything goes perfectly; but Murphy's Law always applies to icemaking and it usually takes more like 72 hours, nonstop.

When it's all finished, you have a sheet of ice that's about 1 inch to 1.5 inches deep. That's all. Most people assume it is several inches thick. The problem is that ice is a natural insulator. An inch of ice has about the same insulating factor as an inch of fiberglass insulation like what's in your attic. So, if you let the ice build too deep, it will actually insulate against itself. The top of the ice is too insulated from the concrete so the top is soft to skate on and can even get standing water that won't freeze.

New ice is very quirky until it sets up good. Stress fractures form all over the ice. Sometimes just walking across it can cause this, it's kind of creepy when it happens. You hear it and feel it under your feet. It can take several days or a week before it really freezes up hard and sets in. Until then, skaters usually complain that it feels soft, or very brittle under their skates and pucks can take some weird bounces.

Completion is very rewarding. All that hard work and diligence pays off when you look across your new 85'x200' sheet of virgin ice.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

You saw it here first....

The ice had to be totally taken out, not just covered, for the circus. Crews have been working hard all week - with Murphy's Law rearing it's head at every turn - to have the ice ready for practice Friday morning. It will be a close call, but it will be ready.

I plan on a couple of blog entries on the process of making ice, and what to do when the friggin' Zamboni dies on the ice. e-gads!

Meanwhile, here's a sneak peak at the center ice logo for the rest of the season:

It is the logo before any skates have been over it.

That's the best I could do with a camera phone. It looks askew because I couldn't get a birdseye view of it.