To anyone who attended any Saginaw Gears home game and ventured anywhere near ZAMBONI® alley, this was a familiar scene. Walt Oleszewski ruling over his domain with his partner in ice-making, the formidable Ollie Root, backing him up. For some Walt was the hard-nosed irritation who never let them have their way, the guy they loved to hate. For others, he was the totally reliable wizard of the rink who could think fast and clear when all hell seemed to break loose. And for the players of the Saginaw Gears, he became their good luck charm. To me, he was my dad.


One of the primary reasons for the publication of this web site was to set straight the Saginaw News' mistaken publication of what could best be called a misleading story and at worst be called an outright lie. In the late 1990s the Saginaw News featured a story about the ZAMBONI® ice resurfacer driver for the "new" Gears, a minor franchise that soon packed up and moved from Saginaw to some barn in Ohio. For several years prior to that, junior hockey teams had been playing in the Saginaw area and using the name "Saginaw Gears" as a moniker. At the Civic center, (as the current "Dow" Center will be called in this publication) there was an individual who did the ZAMBONI driving for these teams and worked very hard at the job. When an out of town newspaper interviewed this minor league driver, it was said that he was, and had always been the "only" ZAMBONI® driver for the Saginaw Gears. Not knowing any better, that paper ran the story. The Saginaw News, then picked up the story from the news wires and ran it. The scoffing could be heard across all of the Tri Cities. EVERYONE who had ever been a fan of the Saginaw Gears professional hockey team knew that the story was incorrect.

As a research historian and author, I feel compelled to set the record straight. As Walt's son, and someone who watched for nearly a decade as he dedicated himself to professional hockey in Saginaw, I feel outraged, and have to say, if anyone has any doubt who was the real ZAMBONI® driver for the Saginaw Gears professional hockey team or any dispute of the facts presented here- drop your gloves and bring it my way- I'll be happy to take you on.

Here is the truth...

In the first season of Saginaw Gears hockey there developed a pressing need for a ZAMBONI® driver to resurface the ice during home games. The members of the Civic Center's labor crew who could drive the machine refused to do so in front of the crowds that were attending the games. Building manager Bill Fifer had no hesitation in driving the machine during the games, and was highly skilled at doing so, as was his assistant manager Bob Lister, but having these two critical managers diverted from doing their jobs in order to finish the ice for the Gears was an unacceptable solution. Eventually, one of the usher staff volunteered to do the job, but his work was found to be unsatisfactory to both Fifer and the Gears. The prime complaint was his tendency to use far too much water and thus leaving the ice with large puddles that actually had an affect on the outcome of several games. Much to the disappointment of the team, that same individual continued to do the same job, in the same manner as the first season pressed on. Finally, in one early November game, so much water had been left on the ice during a between periods refinish that the teams demanded that something had to be done before the game could continue. Fifer too had reached his limit and turned to Walt Oleszewski, who had been training on the machine during public skating and recreation hockey, and told him to go out and use the ZAMBONI® to pick up that excess water. From that moment on, Walt did the ice for nearly every Gears home game, missing games only when sickness or his full-time job as a railroad engineer caused his absence.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Glad to be the first to make a post as I was (I think) the only African American to attend Gears games. I'm sure I was the only 11-12 year old black season ticket holder.My seat was righy there at Zamboni alley. The season after we beat Toledo for the cup. Thank you for putting this site together. It has brought back so many memories of the team and your dad. He was always kind to me and threw me a few pucks. Thanks again.