On warmer days in March and April, Minnesotans' minds turn to ice removal.
"People who want to see spring know that warmer days make the ice soft, so they get scraping in the shady spots and the hardened tire tracks in the driveway," said Dave Svobodny, owner of Diamond Lake Hardware.
For nearly 20 years, Svobodny has sold an ice removal tool that he calls "the best one we sell." The Ultimate Scraper isn't fancy, but some local hardware store operators and commercial snow and ice removal contractors wouldn't be without it.
Andrei Branitski, owner of Snowpros commercial snow removal company in Minneapolis, has bought several hundred of the scrapers after testing them at a trade show.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency likes it as a way to reduce de-icer compounds, which can be harmful to the environment.
"It's a good scraper," said Brooke Asleson, chloride program administrator at the MPCA. "Minnesotans can put lakes and streams on a low-salt diet and try a scraper or shovel instead."
Invented by Dave Young of Grand Forks, N.D., the flexible steel blade is designed to remove snow and ice compacted from foot and vehicle traffic.
But Young's interests lay in invention and innovation, not marketing. His nephew, Paul McNamee of Blaine, thought the ice scraper needed to be shared with a wider audience.
"I thought all scrapers were alike until I moved to the Cities and started using other ones," he said. "My uncle's design can chop through ice without chipping or curling and the blade is thin enough to get underneath the surface to loosen and separate."
McNamee asked his uncle for more blades after his father-in-law, a painter, liked it so much that he offered to take it to his connections at area hardware stores.
The scraper is manufactured in Grand Forks. The components are then assembled and powder-coated by the Occupational Development Center in Bemidji, a nonprofit that employs people with disabilities.
Even after 20 years the Ultimate Scraper remains a humble tool known mostly in Minnesota and to the trade. It's not carried by Home Depot, Menards or Lowe's, although it is sold in 10 states.
Because the flexible blade is not stainless steel, users should wipe it dry after each use or it will rust. Replacement blades are available but not needed, McNamee said.
"It sharpens itself as you use it," he said. "You can buy an extra blade if you want, but you'll probably misplace it before you need it."
When the snow and ice are melted, the scraper also works well to remove old tile, shingles and drywall mud, McNamee said.
In 20 years, he has sold about 75,000 units, but selling scrapers remains a side hustle. He's also chief financial officer at Lake Street Capital Markets in Minneapolis and co-owner of a Cold Stone Creamery ice-cream shop in Blaine.
"Ice cream or ice scrapers, they're a good hedge for each other," he said.
At $40, the Ultimate Scraper is sold at more than 70 locations such as select Ace Hardware and Fastenal stores and at UltimateScraper.com.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633