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OBITUARIES : Frank Zamboni; the Man Behind That Odd Machine

July 29, 1988|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Frank Zamboni, who lent his peculiar name to an outlandish ice-resurfacing machine that 40 years later remains part of the exclusive vernacular of hockey fans and "Peanuts" aficionados alike, died Wednesday. He was 87.

A spokesman for Paramount Mortuary said the one-time ice supplier, forced out of business 40 years ago by the refrigerator, died at Long Beach Memorial Hospital of cardiac arrest.

In a Times interview last May, Zamboni reflected on the unexpected success that his first unpainted, unwieldy contraption generated when he introduced it in 1947. What he had begun as a challenge eight years earlier currently is represented by 4,000 Zamboni ice-resurfacing machines in use in 33 countries, including Cuba and the Soviet Union. They range in price from $4,000 to $40,000.

Opened Skating Rink

That success was the last thing on the inventor's mind when he retreated from a rapidly melting ice-supply business to join with his brothers in opening the Iceland skating rink in Paramount.

A big problem with the rink was that it took five men 90 minutes each night to lay down a new sheet of ice. Zamboni devoted the next eight years to replacing those five men and, when he did, it was with a machine only its mother could love.

The awkward Model A Ice Resurfacer No. 1 sat on two old Dodge front ends and was powered by a war surplus jeep engine. A wooden bin caught the ice shavings. Despite its appearance, it resurfaced the ice in 15 minutes after scraping it, gathering up the shavings, washing the surface and then laying down a coat of fresh hot water that was spread by a towel.

It might have ended there had skating star Sonja Henie not visited his rink. She asked if Zamboni might duplicate his odd effort. Then Chicago Stadium wanted one for the Black Hawks hockey team.

Zamboni's son Richard recalls that stadium officials were distressed when they found that "at the intermissions, people would prefer to watch the machine rather than go out to the concession stands."

The spreading Zamboni fever led to the formation of a fan club (at Michigan Tech University), a race horse named Zamboni (Icecapade out of Sweeping Beauty) and novelties (a license plate frame that says "My Other Car Is a Zamboni").

And then there was the "Peanuts" connection.

Charles Schulz, the artist who created the delightful comic strip world of Charlie Brown and friends, is an old hockey player who owns his own ice rink in Santa Rosa. So it was natural that he introduce the Zamboni in his comics.

Perhaps the best known of those strips is the one in which Charlie Brown asks Snoopy how his hockey practice went.

Snoopy's Punch Line

"I don't think the coach likes me," the Beagle responds. "He told me to stand in front of the Zamboni."

In addition to his son, Zamboni is survived by 2 daughters, 14 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and a brother.

A funeral Mass will be said at 11:30 a.m. today at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Paramount.

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