Friday, December 14, 2012

‘Hermoni’ retired after 36 years

Frank Zamboni threatened to sue Herman Maricich over patent infringement

Express Staff Writer

Former professional skater and Sun Valley Skating Director Herman Maricich stands beside his creation, an ice-conditioning machine nicknamed the “Hermoni.” Photo by Roland Lane

Herman Maricich came to Sun Valley for the first from Berkeley, Calif., in 1942, after hearing that the ski resort town was hiring ice skaters for the Sun Valley ice shows. 

In addition to skating talent, Maricich, now 89, also brought along enough mechanical knowledge to one day create a homemade Zamboni-type ice-conditioning machine that was in use for nearly 36 years.

“I worked nights in the shipyards before World War II, so I had a certain amount of mechanical skills,” he said.

It was in 1942 that Sun Valley closed down as a resort, instead providing convalescent care for U.S. military personal. Maricich enlisted in the Army Airforce, spending the war stateside training for an invasion of Japan. 

When the war ended, he returned to Sun Valley as a professional skater, eventually touring with “Sun Valley Serenade” star and Olympic champion skater Sonja Henie. He also taught actress Lucille Ball how to skate while she was in town getting a divorce from her co-star, Desi Arnaz.

In the 1960s, the Sun Valley resort manager told Maricich that the outdoor rink was not making enough money to stay open.

“I told my assistant that it looked like we were going to be out of a job,” he said.

Instead, Maricich agreed to take over snow removal at the rink and stayed on as manager, leasing the rink from Union Pacific Railroad. In 1975, he gathered a group of investors to build an indoor rink in Sun Valley, devising a plan to keep down costs for surfacing the ice.

The plan included retrofitting a 1958 jeep with Army surplus hydraulics, hot water tank and ice conditioner to smooth ice at the rink. The result was nicknamed the “Hermoni,” a Zamboni-like machine that cost about one-third the cost of a patented Zamboni.

Maricich assembled one of the first patented Zambonis for Sonja Hennie in Chicago for use while training for her troop’s ice shows.  

“I drove it across town from the train station to the rink,” he said.

Maricich found a design for a similar machine in 1975 and built it for the indoor rink. The steel parts were cut in Boise and assembled by Ketchum welder and beer-drinking buddy Alvin Brooks.

Maricich then used the machine for 15 years while he operated the rink under a lease with new Sun Valley Resort owner Bill Janss. 

“Frank Zamboni wanted to sue me over patent infringement, but we came to an agreement when I said I was not building them to sell,” Maricich said. 

The Hermoni was recently retired from service at the Ketchum Parks Department, where it had been used since 1997 for surfacing the Atkinson Park outdoor rink. 

Parks recreation supervisor John Kearney said the Hermoni was displayed over the past few months during a fundraising drive to purchase a new Zamboni for Atkinson Park.

“We raised $17,000,” Kearney said.

The money was used along with a matching grant to purchase a new Zamboni for $36,000.

In addition to building the Hermoni, Maricich also won the West Coast Championship for figure skating in his youth.

He performed for many years in the Sun Valley ice shows. He was known for his barrel-jumping expertise and for his last big number, a performance in tuxedo to the song “Singing in the Rain,” which he performed until 1989.

Until three years ago, he skated every day for exercise.

He expressed pride this week while posing near his creation.

“The Hermoni lasted all this time and did everything a Zamboni did,” he said.

Tony Evans:

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