LITTLE FALLS, Minnesota — A family with strong ties to the forest products industry turned their talents to setting an icy world record and raising money for a good cause at the same time.
Members of the Zwilling family in the vicinity of Little Falls decided to take a crack at breaking the record for the world’s largest ice carousel. In the process, they got help from some local businesses in their community, including a supplier to the forest products industry, Twister Industries.
What is an ice carousel, you ask? They had learned that Janne Kapylehto of Finland recently created what he thought was the largest ice carousel, 100 meters in diameter.
Janne cut a circle in the ice of a frozen lake, allowing the big circular slab of ice to slowly rotate with a little help — hence, an ice carousel. The process actually requires cutting two concentric circles a short distance apart and removing the ice between them so the floating circle of ice that remains can be slowly spun.
Well, the Zwillings thought they could one-up Janne and help a good cause at the same time. They planned an event in January to create a larger ice carousel and to do it as a family and community event with donations to benefit a program called Flyer Pride Packs. The program helps support atrisk children in the Little Falls school district by sending them home with a bag of food that is child-friendly, nutritious, nonperishable and easy to prepare.
The leader of the pack was Chuck Zwilling, although he and all his 11 siblings participated.
Their father was a logger and also operated a sawmill, and Chuck and his other siblings helped in the mill as they were growing up. In fact, he and a brother eventually bought the mill and ran it a number of years before selling it to another sibling. The Zwillings weren’t newcomers to ice carousels. They created one that was 20 meters in diameter at a family post-Christmas get-together a year ago.
This time around, Chuck and a brother, Kenny, designed an ice-cutting sled. Kenny made a prototype. Twister Industries, which makes firewood wrapping equipment for the forest products industry, created a sled using a converted power washer and utilizing two chain saws to cut the circles in the ice. The event was held on Green Prairie Fish Lake on Saturday, Jan. 6. The start time was 11 a.m. Based on past, organizers figured they could complete the project in about two hours.
The event did not go off as planned, however. It “had a lot of challenges along the way,” said Chuck, 54, who is in the real estate business now. Although it did not go off as planned, “It concluded as it should,” he added.
It was 22 below zero the morning of the event when he woke up, said Chuck, which certainly didn’t help matters.
The first sled did not work as planned. The organizers turned to the prototype. It worked well, but it only utilized one chain saw, and it made a shallow cut that did not go all the way through the ice, so they had to finish the job by manually cutting the rest of the way through with individual chainsaws. The process wasn’t completed until about 5 p.m. on Sunday. By then they were using outdoor construction lighting so they could see.
They hoped to spin the carousel with the use of a couple of ATVs, but it was too heavy. A Bobcat skidsteer was brought out onto the ice to spin the carousel, but it broke through the ice. It was a harrowing moment. The Bobcat operator had to scramble to get free, out of the skid-steer, and then out of the water, and another member of the party fell into the icy water, too, but both men quickly were helped out.
“That pretty much put a halt to it Saturday night,” recalled Chuck.
The faithful were not defeated, however. They returned to the lake Sunday, recut what ice had frozen overnight and removed it, and used ATVs and a boat motor to slowly spin the huge circular slab of ice.
The event established a new record, an ice carousel 111.6 meters (366 ft.) in diameter. Despite the difficulties, the event was a rousing success for the program. The goal had been to raise $2,500 for Flyer Pride Packs. A few hundred people attended throughout the day on Saturday, and the event raised $4,240 to date. That is enough for about 800 meals — enough to feed all 60 children in the program for 13 weeks.
The ice carousel will be held again next year, and it will be an annual fundraising event, said Chuck.
On a related note, in an interview with a newspaper in Minnesota, Janne extended an invitation to the organizers to attend the first ice carousel championship to be held this month (February) in his country and to participate as contestants or judges. Chuck and a few others are planning to attend as judges.
(Editor’s Note: Donations to Flyer Pride Packs are still being accepted at website. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/SpinningIceForKids. To see a Discovery Canada video report of the event, visit YouTube and search for ‘building the world’s largest ice carousel’ or go directly to www.youtube.com/watch? v=J9lsZ96ET5k&feature=youtu.be.)