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"There are as many ways to work her as there are times that you change the ice," says Jordan Glass. "After a while you get a sixth sense about what the rink needs."

Jordan Glass, Zamboni driver 

Ice, ice baby

Click for larger image • Jordan Glass drives the Zamboni at the RecZone in Raleigh.

Photo by Derek Anderson

Click for larger image • Jordan Glass drives the Zamboni at the RecZone in Raleigh.

Well I went down to the local arena
Asked to see the manager man
He came from his office, said, "Son, can I help you?"
Looked at him and said, "Yes, you can..."
Hey I want to drive the Zamboni...
Hey I want to drive the Zamboni...
Yes I do!

Jordan Glass sings "The Zamboni Song" by the Gear Daddies all the time when he's at school at Western Carolina, and it drives his friends crazy. But why shouldn't he? He has, he says, "the greatest job in the world." He is The Zamboni Driver.

Glass, general facility manager of the RecZone in Raleigh, has been around ice almost his entire life. He started playing hockey at age 3 in northern New Jersey, and a move to North Carolina at age 12 didn't dampen his love of the game and the surface it's played on. At 16, he began working at the RecZone and has for the last five years, with breaks when he is away at school.

The only requirement for the job: "I had to be able to lift the Zamboni's 50-pound propane tank up over my head to attach it," he says. But it does take practice to master "making ice," because the Zamboni has neither a speedometer nor brakes. "You will spin out, you will slide, and you will run into the boards," affirms Glass, as he points to a large dent in the wall where the Zamboni is stored.

Zamboni is the brand of the original and most popular ice resurfacing machine, invented by Frank Zamboni in Southern California in 1949. Before the invention of the Zamboni, a tractor pulled a scraper over the ice, and three or four workers scooped up the shavings, squeegeed the surface clean and let the ice refreeze, which took about an hour of ice time to do.

Today's Zambonis have an incredibly sharp blade (similar to those on industrial paper cutters) to scrape off the ice, a wash water system that cleans and fills in cracks on the ice surface, and a clean water system that lays down new ice. To resurface the rink, the Zamboni uses 100 gallons of recycled water to clean the ice and 200 gallons to make new ice. A new Zamboni can easily cost well into the six-figure range, and the RecZone owns two machines, both purchased used. Their main Zamboni belonged to the Hartford Whalers before they moved here and became the Carolina Hurricanes.

Glass is responsible for more than just driving the Zamboni: He supervises the snack bar, monitors the upkeep of the rink area, closes the place at night and maintains the machines and the complex building system that keeps the ice solid rather than liquid. A few times a day, though, Glass gets to saddle up and "go zam."

A Zamboni driver's goal is to level the ice as much as possible, a delicate balance of scraping off the right amount of old ice and adding the proper amount of water to create new. There are no settings on the machine, so a driver has to assess the ice each time and decide what the rink needs. "There are as many ways to work her as there are times that you change the ice," says Glass. "Someone who has never been around the ice could learn how to read it, but after a while you get a sixth sense about what the rink needs."

And though the shape and size of a rink prohibit too much improv, each driver can choose the pattern he drives on the ice. The only goal is to "make the ice nice," especially when one of the area superstars is taking the ice, such as 1992 Olympic Figure Skating Gold Medalist (and Dancing with the Stars champ) Kristi Yamaguchi, who practices here when her husband, Bret Hedican, is playing with the Hurricanes. Glass likes to start in the far corner in the rink out of superstition. "I started there once and made my best ice ever, so I've stuck with it," he says.

The Hurricanes themselves practice here as well when the RBC Center is booked with other events, and fans have been known to hang out in the waiting area trying to meet their favorite NHL stars. Glass was once approached by Eric Staal, the 2008 NHL All-Star Game MVP, seeking an alternate exit to avoid autograph seekers after an exhausting practice. Glass pointed him toward the door to the Zamboni storage area as Staal tossed him the keys to his Cadillac. Glass slipped out the front and drove Staal's car behind the building and next to the Zamboni dump pit, the outside receptacle for the collected ice chips (also known as "the nastiest water in all of Raleigh," says Glass). Staal slipped away unnoticed.

As well as Hurricane fans, there are plenty of Zamboni fans. "People ask to ride it all the time," Glass says. "Especially the drunk girls who come out to cheer on the N.C. State club hockey team." Insurance provisions prevent Glass from providing joy rides around the rink. While falling off the Zamboni is rare, Glass says the most dangerous part of the job is going out during youth hockey practice. All activity is supposed to stop when the Zamboni hits the ice, but occasionally someone takes one last shot at the goal and a puck can hurtle toward the driver.

Glass understands the appeal of the machine. Charles Schultz once said in his Peanuts comic strip, "There are three things in life people like to stare at: a rippling stream, a fire in a fire place, and a Zamboni going around and around." Glass, who hopes to manage his own ice rink one day, simply says, "Everyone loves the Zamboni machine."

Now the manager said, "Son, I know it looks keen
But that right there is one expensive machine
And I've got Smokey who's been driving for years."
About that time I broke down in tears.
Cause I want to drive the Zamboni...
Hey I want to drive the Zamboni...
Hey I want to drive the Zamboni...
Hey I want to drive the Zamboni...
Yes I do!

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