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).

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