Powderhorn Park Speed Skating Track: Best Ice in the United States
Many years before Frank Zamboni invented his ice resurfacer (in California!?), Minneapolis park board personnel had to prepare the speed skating track at Powderhorn Park mostly by hand for international competition and Olympic trials. They were very good at it.
Olympic medalist speed skater Leo Friesinger from Chicago (whom you already met in these pages here) had this to say after he won the Governor Stassen trophy as the 10,000 Lakes senior men’s champion in the early 1940s:
“It is a pleasure for me to return to Minneapolis and skate on the best ice in the United States.”
That was high praise for Elmer Anderson and Gotfred Lundgren, the park board employees who maintained the track at Powderhorn using this sweeper, a tractor-drawn ice planer and a bucket of warm water.
They began to prepare the track 3-4 days before a meet by sprinkling it with water a few times. Then they’d pull out a tractor and a plane — a 36-inch blade — to smooth out any bumps from uneven freezing. The biggest problem was cracks in the ice. So the day before the race, Elmer and Gotfred would spend 8-10 hours filling small cracks by pouring warm water into them.
At times their crack-filling work continued right through the races. When large crowds showed up, and for some races attendance surpassed 20,000, the ice tended to crack more often. If Elmer or Gotfred spotted a crack during a race they’d hustle out with a bucket of water after skaters passed and try to patch it. The sweeper was used to remove light snow from the track.
Elmer and Gotfred, who began working for the park board on the same day 18 years before this picture was taken, agreed that the most speed skating records were set when the air temperature was about 30 degrees, which raised a “sweat” on the ice and produced maxiumum speed.
(Source: an undated newspaper clip in a scrapbook kept by Victor Gallant, the parkkeeper for many years at Kenwood Park, Kenwood Parkway and Bryn Mawr Meadows.)
It’s no wonder that speed skating (as well as hockey) eventually moved indoors to temperature-controlled arenas. But wouldn’t it be fun to see a big race at Powderhorn again?
David C. Smith minneapolisparkhistory[at]q.com
© David C. Smith