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Al Seltz, Fergus Falls, Minn., Published January 05 2013

Letter: Warmed by story of skating rinks

Thank you for The Forum feature on backyard skating rinks. In the late ’30s to early ’40s, I skated almost every day at the Frazee, Minn., public rink adjacent to the water tower behind the high school. We put our skates on while sitting on the furnace grate at the Methodist Church, down the hill. On Mondays, it was still warm from Sunday service.

I was 11 in the spring of 1942, the year we moved to Alexandria, Minn. My dad was a minister, and in Alexandria, he served Zion Lutheran Church. Zion had an eighth-grade parochial school, which was on one side of the church; our home (the parsonage) was on the other. Was I ever glad to learn that every winter, a group of Zion’s older boys made a skating rink on the school’s playground behind our house. The first winter (1942-43), I watched them as they made the rink, my skates nearby, awaiting completion.

Was I ever saddened to learn the following winter there would be no ice rink. The boys had gone off to war, I was told, with the connotation that their war was more important than my skating rink.

It occurred to me that I could build a rink. I had, after all, watched the older boys last winter. I went to the school basement and dragged the hose out of the furnace room. Then I opened the casement window in the boys’ biffy and shoved the hose out. First, I pulled the sprinkle end to its full extent at the far corner of the rink, then attached the supply end to the faucet right under the sink … and turned it on.

Run for the far end of the hose. Adjust for the widest spray. Back and forth I sprayed the water on the snow, back and forth, back and forth as I purposefully smoothed the wet snow with my boots while I backed up toward the casement window where the hose was attached. Because I’d watched the older boys, I knew that I’d not get anything resembling a skating surface on the first few “floods.” So I continued each evening after dark, dragging the hose out, spraying a heavy mist back and forth, back and forth. If was really cold, I gave it two and even three coats in one evening, always allowing plenty of time to freeze between coats.

I suppose it took four or five nights of one or two “back and forth” sprinkles before a real ice sheet – flat and skate-worthy, with not many clumps of grass sticking out – began to take shape. By this time, I always had an audience of would-be ice skaters waiting for me to give the word: “Now we skate,” I finally said. My memory is inexact, but I think it was just a few years later when post-war “baby boom” children got a larger Zion School, so there went the ice rink.

With that background, you can see why I didn’t hesitate to make backyard rinks after my wife and I moved to Fergus Falls. Our firstborn had arrived in 1966, and our first backyard rink – just 8-by-8 feet – was built in 1969. The following winter, I enlarged it to about 20 by 30. Then I hired a landscaper to flatten our backyard to the max – not easy to do in Fergus – which provided a sheet of 27-by-69 feet’, which was duplicated for about seven more winters.

Then one winter, I noticed the usual gang – all hockey players by now – were playing only “boot hockey.” That is, they never put on skates: too small a rink to take full strides I suppose.

I never made another rink, but everyone has happy memories of those wonderful years. And winning a late-evening hockey game by 56 to 49 is just as much fun as a 3-2 overtime battle in high school. Just ask the boys who skated in my backyard.