The Rexburg Rail Jam held every November, now in its 18th year, hasn’t always had smooth shredding. Some years the organizers were just plain desperate. That is until they hooked up with Idaho Falls’ Zamboni man.
Desperation came from the lack of snow. Mother Nature can be fickle. In the early years of the event, the sponsors at Sled Shed in downtown Rexburg would take a crew of friends and employees with a brigade of trucks and trailers into the nearby hills and mountains and shovel snow until they had enough to cover the ramps and jumps for the jam held at Rexburg’s Smith Park. Then one year there was no snow. Anywhere.
“We might have had to drive to Canada to get snow that year,” said Sled Shed co-owner Joe Hill. “We tried making a snowmaker. I feel like we were successful. It worked. It actually made snow, but it was just too warm.”
Hill said he remembered hearing that a rail jam once held in Pocatello used ice shavings from a hockey rink in Logan, Utah.
Costs to drive to Logan and back, plus fees were too expensive. So he turned to Idaho Falls’ ice rink.
“We save our shavings from the ice resurfacer at the (Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Arena) for about two weeks,” said Paul Horsburgh, a.k.a. the Zamboni man. “We get a huge pile of snow and put it in a dump truck for them.”
Horsburgh said normally the shavings are dumped in a pit outside. He has worked at the rink for 28 seasons.
Hill said they make four or five trips down to Idaho Falls with a large dump truck borrowed from a friend’s farm. On Wednesday morning, Conrad Ricks was getting the first heaping load of snow for the Rail Jam.
“I’m just the facilitator,” Ricks said. “I have the dump truck from my farm. After I dump this (at Smith) park, I have to go move some potatoes.”
Ricks said because the ice rink snow is more compact, it doesn’t melt as fast as regular snow.
“I get some funny looks from people on the highway when I drive a truck loaded with snow,” he said.
Ricks also stores ramps and rails at his farm for the event and provides a potato truck as the launch platform at the top of the ramps.
Hill said he averages about 30 contestants for the event with 200 to 300 viewers.
YouTube videos online show past years’ contestants doing impressive stunts and also some spectacular crashes.
“Knock on wood, no broken bones yet,” Hill said of past events. “At least that I’m aware of. We have witnessed some pretty hard slams. Every year we hand out an award for the Tough As Nails award. Whoever had the hardest slam for the day gets a prize.”
Horsburgh says his connection to the Rail Jam runs deeper than providing snow.
“My daughter’s been going to it ever since they started doing it, since she was in high school,” he said. “She loves it.”
The Rail Jam competition starts at 5 p.m. Saturday with practice runs starting at 3 p.m. Cost is $15 if you pre-register in the store or $20 the day of to compete. Call 208-356-7116 for information.