CEDAR RAPIDS — Karol White has long joked with her family she plans to drive a Zamboni when she someday retires from working in counseling services at Mount Mercy University.
On Sunday morning, the Cedar Rapids resident got her first taste of what that job might be like.
White and about 25 others — several with photo-taking family members in tow — took part in the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena’s “Zamboni Class,” which offered the opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of the zaniest vehicles out there.
The behind-the-scenes element of the class was a definite draw, participants said.
“We come to a lot of Riders games and this makes you feel like even more a part of the family,” said White, referring to the Cedar Rapids Roughriders hockey team. “It’s fun to dip your toe in.”
Michael DeGruccio of Iowa City was giddy about the opportunity.
“My co-workers and I saw it on Facebook and all said, ‘I totally want to do that.’ I’m the only one who actually signed up,” he said, “so I get the bragging rights.” He and several other participants commented on how much they were learning during the morning-long session. “I don’t hang out around ice rinks often so I’m learning a lot about all of this.”
The group — about 80 percent male and 20 percent female — spent about an hour learning about how ice arena officials create the ice and keep both the arena’s Olympic and NHL rinks cold. Participants learned about the bases of the rinks — sand for the Olympic rink and concrete for the NHL rink — and the tubing systems and sensors used to keep the ice — which is just more than an inch thick — at about 20 degrees Fahrenheit. They learned about the importance of managing humidity and how the ice is painted.
After a brief and noisy tour of the mechanical room, the Zamboni — which costs more than $94,000 and weighs some 10,000 pounds — and the Olympia (the ice arena’s other ice conditioning machine) were taken out onto the ice. Participants anxiously awaited their turn behind the wheel.
“Don’t be scared, you won’t hit anything,” they were encouraged by General Manager David Soper.
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Ice arena operations staff member Parker Anderson hung onto the side of the machine while participants took a few spins around the ice.
“I grew up around the ice arena and always thought it looked so easy to drive the Zamboni,” he said. “But I was so scared the first time I drove it.”
“It definitely takes a while to get used to,” added Operations Supervisor Bryce Kiernan, who also assisted participants. “But it’s cool to have other people see how you do your job.”
Class members got a feel for the differences in operating the two machines, as well as lowering the conditioner although no water was added to the machines to add to the rink.
“He told me I gave the smoothest start, so apparently I’ve got some natural skills,” White laughed after her turn. “My biggest fear was falling on the ice while getting on or off the machine. I just found this all so fascinating.”
“It was just as much fun as I thought it would be,” added DeGruccio. “Once I got over the ‘Oh, my God, I’m driving a Zamboni’ moment, I thought about how cool it was that I was getting a view point that not a lot of people get to see.”
Each participant took home a commemorative T-shirt and a certificate of completion.
This is the third such class the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena has hosted. Officials have plans for another class to be held in January.
“We hear a lot of people say it is a bucket list item for them,” said Program Director Tonya Frost, “so this program has been very popular.”