MINNEAPOLIS — Daniel Bourgeois’ vehicle is just about the only convertible that’s acceptable to drive in the freezing temperatures of a so-cold-it-hurts Minnesota winter. It’s roofless, of course, with no climate control and seating for 12 people to ride in style.
But it’s far from sleek, miles from sporty. Bourgeois’ convertible looks just like an ice-resurfacing machine, or Zamboni, you’d see at any local ice rink, though it’s licensed to drive on roads and can hit speeds up to 75 miles an hour.
Even the most hockey-obsessed Minnesotan would think twice if he saw something resembling a Zamboni cruise past him on the highway. It’s out-of-the-box thinking, but for Bourgeois, building the vehicle that he calls the “Cold Rod” was a logical plan for a retirement business.
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Since the vehicle was completed in 2008, though, Bourgeois has realized that owning it is as fun as he’d expected, but the business side of operations is far more difficult than he ever could have imagined.
Bourgeois ran the ice rinks at the University of Minnesota for 28 years before transitioning into his position in which he takes care of all the university’s athletic facilities. In his years on the ice, Bourgeois said, he quickly learned the attraction of the giant Zamboni he drove every day.
“Whenever people find out you work at an ice rink, the first thing out of their mouth is, ‘Can I ride in the Zamboni?’ ” Bourgeois said.
He came up with the idea for the vehicle in the 1990s, but Bourgeois didn’t get around to building the Cold Rod for about a decade. When he put the idea into action, he realized he wouldn’t be able to do all of the fabrication himself, and he took drawings and measurements to Choppers, a car restoration and vehicle building business in Princeton, Minn. For about six months, Bourgeois visited Choppers each week, evaluating the progress its employees were making with his vehicle, approving some work and correcting mistakes. The end result is a vehicle that’s built around the drive train of a 1984 Chevrolet pickup truck, and only the driver’s station comes from an actual Zamboni.
Since the Cold Rod’s debut, it’s been used as a limousine-type vehicle. For rental, Bourgeois charged a minimum of $300 (for an hour and up to 20 miles), with prices increasing with time and miles traveled. The Cold Rod also appeared at various parades and events, including serving as the pace car in the Minnesota Half Marathon in St. Paul.
However, Bourgeois has suspended rental of the Cold Rod due to prohibitive insurance costs. He’s looking to sell the business, partially because of those costs and also due to his admitted lack of marketing knowledge.
“I’m the kind of individual who puts things together,” Bourgeois said. “All my life on the ice rink, it was my job to make sure nothing exciting happened.”
With the Cold Rod, though, his job became to drum up excitement, and Bourgeois wasn’t quite ready for that role. Right now, the vehicle lives in his South Minneapolis garage, and he takes it to events to promote its sale. During the NHL draft, he allowed representatives from professional teams to ride in it, and the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders, as well as several minor league hockey teams, have contacted him about the Cold Rod. He’s planning to take it to the high school hockey tournament finals at the Xcel Center next weekend to show it off, as well. He’s asking $150,000 for the Cold Rod itself, plus extra for the trailer that he uses to tow it anytime he’s traveling more than 50 miles.
The Cold Rod might not have turned out as Bourgeois planned, but that doesn’t mean he’s not proud of what he’s achieved. He knows it’s a clever idea, a concept as novel as it is jarring, and in a state where many people share Bourgeois’ enthusiasm for hockey, there’s little doubt he’ll eventually make the sale.
“Nobody has ever looked at that machine and said, ‘Wow, this idea really stinks,'” Bourgeois said.
And in the end, that’s all that really matters for the man who’s devoted decades of his life to the ice.