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Ice Man, 27 years and counting

Posted on April 28, 2015 by 40 Mile Commentator

By Rob Ficiur

Doug Conquergood is finishing his 27th year as Bow Island’s Ice Man.  Looking back at his time in the Bow Island arena, many things have changed on and off the ice.

When Doug was growing up his Uncle Ken worked for the Town of Bow Island, running the ice rink from 1960-1975.  As an avid hockey player and a helpful nephew Doug spent many hours helping Uncle Ken keep the ice and the rink in shape. Years later Doug needed a winter job and he was hired on to do the work he had seen Uncle Ken do all those years before.  Over the years many things have changed on the ice and at the rink.
Bow Island’s current hockey arena was built in the 1950’s by a grain company.  They said they would store the grain in there for two years and then turn the quanset over to the town for it to be  a hockey arena.   The ice has to be put in every September and comes out around the first of April.  Getting the ice is a different process now than it was 25 and 50 years ago.  When Uncle Ken was in charge, the process took some ingenuity.  They turned a 45 gallon drum on its side.  As nozzles came out the sides and these were used to spray the floor and build the ice level. This one of a kind ice machine was used every day when they were flooding the ice.
By the time Doug became the iceman this 45 gallon ice maker was replaced by new equipment. Cleaning the rink was hard in the early years.  Without a machine the only machine was people.  At the end of each practice / game, players (kids) would have to shovel the ice with brooms and shovels.  The ice was taken to the north end of the arena.  From here some lucky person had to shovel the ice out a 4 x 4 foot window into a pile.  Many times coaches assigned the snow shovel window to the player who needed more work.   In the early years Bow Island did not have a
Zamboni.  Instead the arena shared a John Deere diesel tractor with the golf club.
The tractor pulled a tag along Zamboni along the ice.  Visitors to Bow Island’s games hated the diesel smell that filled the arena.  Some thought it was a secret weapon. The John Deere was replaced by an Olympia in about 1996.  I asked if the Olympia was a Zamboni and found out that Zamboni is a brand name of an ice machine and so is Olympia, so I learned a new word.  Smoky the John Deere Diesel smelling ice machine was sold off to an outdoor rink where its fumes won’t bother the visiting team. When Doug started the arena had a sand floor with the pipes under it.
When they began making the ice the first task was the freeze the sand.  In these days it would take about two weeks to put the ice in (now it takes half that time).
They used a lawn sprinkler along the surface of the sand and froze the water.  There is a brine that runs through the pipes.  It is pumped from the brine pump  (Back then they got the ice six to eight inches thick (now it is about 1.5 inches thick).
After they froze the sand they added layers of ice over and over on top.   In 1993, the sand floor was replaced by a concrete floor.  The water pipes were put inside the concrete, so now the pipes are protected from ambitious ice checkers breaking a water line.  At this time a group of volunteers helped expand the ice surface. The old rink was narrower and shorter than the one we have now (about 25 shorter and 12 feet narrower) With the concrete floor they take the temperature of the concrete down to 16 degrees Fareinehit) then slowly and slowly they built up the level of the
ice.  The first layers are a mist or sprinkle, applied to the cool concrete floor.
This is done going at different angle to create a different layer going a different direction each time.  When they are putting in the ice, it is essential that the first four or five layers of ice bond with the concrete.  Without a proper bond the ice would begin separating part way through the season.  This would mean ice problems the rest of the year  Once the ice had a bond they use a garden hose with a hockey stick on the end to spray the forming ice and make it thicker.  They would walk along spray water then leveling it off with the hockey stick.  This will bring the ice from about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in thickness.  The water would flow about 18 inches in width. When the ice is at this level it is time to paint.  A powder paint is mixed in a 45 gallon drum.  It is then spread on the ice using a garden hose and seven home made nozzles.  As the workers run / walk across the ice painting it dries quickly almost instantly.  By the time the workers go from one end of the rink to the other, the first bit is already dry.  To make a proper paint job they go east-west and north-south in overlapping patterns.   Next they must install the lines on the ice.  A piece of red yarn in used to spot the red lines and blue yarn spots the blue lines.  (The old sand floor hand to be painted by hand with two inch brushes).
When the lines are set by the yarn it is time to add crepe paper.  The lines are made from this crepe paper.  Once the paper is on a mist is applied to get the lines under the ice.  A paint roller is then applied to get out all the air bubbles. Mist of water is applied to cover the thickness of the yarn.   Once the lines are in  then they repeat the same procedure that took the ice to the ? inch mark.  When the ice gets to the proper I inches think we are ready for the Olympia (which I used to call a
Zamboni)  Hot water is added and the Olympia freezes the ice layer after layer until it is one inch thick. When the Olympia makes its first runs, the weight of the machine will crack the ice.  Hot water is then applied to fill in the cracks.

Once the ice is in staff check it twice a week for thickness (are we checking the thickness?  The staff tries to keep the ice thickness consistent. This keeps the ice more even and better for skating.  Many out of town teams compliment Bow Island on the good ice it has.   Other things have changed over the years as well.  This year there were only three teams based out of Bow Island Minor Hockey.  Figure skaters use the ice –   The rink kept busy with men s rec league once a week and more time for public skating  which was quite busy this year.  The provincial Atom hockey tournament was a top notch event.  Visitors were amazed at how a small town could have such a great arena in a quanset.  New glass and dressing rooms were ready before the tournament began.  Over 300 people filled the arena for the final game  a record according to Doug.   A few years ago the town got about sixty seats from the Medicine Hat arena.  Doug calls these the smarty seats because of their color.

Over the years other things have changed.  Doug is now seeing the children of his earlier hockey players now playing on the ice.  Doug s ice work fits in ideally with his summer farming job.  After spending six months worked on his own as a farmer, Doug enjoys the socializing that goes along with the arena.  He sees people he had not seen during farming.   I am certain to have goofed up as I have tried to explain the ice making and upkeep.  The process(es) that have been used to make Bow Island ice are much more complex than I would have imagined.  To Doug it has been part of what he does.  While he knows the ins and outs of the ice surface  he is also part of the arena, just like his uncle. A few years ago Doug was not at the rink the first couple of weeks of the season.  The parent of a young skater had to call Doug because the youngster was worried  Is Mr. C coming back?   The Ice Man has is farming now but September s ice making time is only 4  months away.

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