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Holten: Those days on the rink

Do you know what’s better than milk and cookies at grandma’s house? It’s having milk and cookies at grandma’s house with a skating rink right outside her kitchen window.

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Yep, if you wanted to have a good time at the rink in my hometown, which was a little hamlet located a stone’s throw from the Montana and Canadian borders, you went skating with me or my sisters. Because once you got cold, not only could you warm up there, but you could dip sugar lumps into saucers overflowing with coffee and cookies into giant glasses of milk, one after the other, and then later reappear on the rink, pampered, peppy, full of vigor and ready to skate long after the other kids had already retreated for home.

Kevin Holten Not only that, but Homer’s Hill was also located nearby, and when properly coated with the right amount of packed snow, it happened to be the best sledding and tobogganing hill in town, even if it was actually a street.

In fact, once the action began and the street was full of kids, Chief Al, our local constable, wouldn’t think of interfering with an activity that might guarantee the local kids would stay out of trouble. Nor would any driver consider venturing near that one-block area.

But it was the rink where the real action was and Scotty Rossmiller, the human accident, accompanied me there once, intent on filling his face with tasty treats, and instead fell flat on his face and left that day with a smile minus his front teeth.

After a while, the big kids would show up on snowmobiles and at full speed, jump the mounds of snow surrounding the rink, fly onto the ice and scatter everyone east and west, north and south, like bikers interrupting a rally, and then speed off, cackling in the distance while the regular action resumed.

One Christmas, my uncle gave me a new pair of hockey skates — sharp as a switchblade — and I couldn’t believe the turns I could make, having up to that point only skated in ill-fitting hand-me-downs.

I was reminded of those days this weekend when I was in Medora for the Old-Fashioned Cowboy Christmas celebration, because the street in front of the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame has-been sectioned off, and an ice-skating rink has been constructed there. Just in case you’re thinking of returning to your youth, I’d strongly recommend it.

Meanwhile, did you know that oldest pair of ice skates in the world date back to about 3000 B.C. and were found at the bottom of a lake in Switzerland? It turns out those skates were originally made from the leg bones of large animals and holes were bored into each end and leather straps were used to tie the skates on.

Then around the 14th century, the Dutch started using wooden platform skates with flat-iron bottom runners which were attached to the skater’s shoes with leather straps. They also used poles to propel themselves. (Oddly enough, the Old Dutch word for skate is “schenkel” which means “leg bone.”)

Around 1500, the Dutch added a narrow metal double-edged blade, making the poles a thing of the past because skaters could then push and glide with their feet.

In 1848, E.V. Bushnell of Philadelphia invented the first all-steel clamp for skates. In 1865, Jackson Haines, a famous American skater, developed the two-plate, all-metal blade that he attached directly to his boots. He then became famous for his new dance moves, jumps and spins and added the first toe pick to his skates in the 1870s, making toe-pick jumps possible.

The first artificial, mechanically-refrigerated ice rink was built in 1876, in the Chelsea borough of London and was named the Glaciarium.

In 1914, John E. Strauss, a blade maker from St. Paul, Minn., invented the first closed-toe blade made from one piece of steel, making skates lighter and stronger.

Then the largest outdoor ice rink was built in 1967, the Fujikyu Highland Promenade Rink in Japan, and it boasts an ice area of 165,750 square feet, or 3.8 acres.

That makes it a very big place. But unless it’s got a “grandma’s house” nearby, it couldn’t possibly compare to mine.

Holten is the manager of The Drill and writes a weekly column for The Dickinson Press. Email him at