LONG BARN, Calif. — Months before snow turns the foothills of Tuolumne County white, the faint hum of a Zamboni can be heard grooming the ice at the Long Barn Lodge. The historic ice rink has been around since the 1960s, and the man that smooths the ice is Mike McMullen--also known as “Ice Man."
“Back in the day we had to shovel it with shovels, then burn it with torches, then put a hose to it,” McMullen said.
It doesn’t take more than a few passes to smooth out the 5,000 square-foot ice rink.
“On a busy day, you will do about 10 buckets and I shovel it out by hand,” he said.
Ice is what’s shoveled out of Long Barn these days, but in the late 1800s, workers like McMullen would have shoveled horse manure. Long Barn was a wagon stop for miners traveling over Sonora Pass.
“It was basically a stable for horses,” McMullen said.
After the lodge was built in the 1920s, Long Barn became a tourist destination. Several cabins were added to the property to serve the summer and winter crowd, and lucky for McMullen , the ice rink replaced the manure-filled stable in the 1960s, which was a few years before his parents bought the place.
“We were here for seven years,” McMullen said.
Unfortunately, a few non-profitable winters forced his parents to sell the place, but McMullen loved Long Barn so much he continued working for the new owners.
“Over 40 years I’ve been here, since '74,” says McMullen.
Long Barn has a history of employing many long-time workers. Just like McMullen, Adrienne Anderson has been working at Long Barn for around 40 years.
She once skated in the junior nationals and taught many talented skaters. A previous owner even painted a mural of her.
“You know, the ice here is really, really good,” Anderson said.
The reason the ice is so good is because McMullen makes sure the icemaker is keeping the perfect temperature.
“The surface of the ice is 31 degrees because if you go below that, it will shatter,” McMullen said.
The icemaker is kind of job security for Mike. He’s basically the only one who knows how the 1950s-era machine works.
“Who knows? It might even outlast me,” McMullen said.
The Long Barn Skating Rink is open daily during the winter months from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The entry fee is $12.