Unless you’ve actually watched the “reality show” Ice Road Truckers, you may be surprised to learn that ‘ice roads’ really aren’t ‘roads’ at all. At least not the way most of us think about a road. The roads these truckers travel are literally made of ice. They only work 2-4 months out of the year and drive their big rigs across frozen lakes and rivers to get to more of the inhospitable places in North America.
When normal roads are unpassable due to snow and ice, these truckers deliver necessary supplies from Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, just 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The show ran on the History Channel and began in June 2007 and ran for 11 seasons, with the last season ending November 2017.
10 It Became so Popular
Perhaps really one of the craziest things about this show is that it became so popular. The first Ice Road Truckers was actually just an episode aired in a different series titled Suicide Missions. The episode was based on Denison’s Ice Road, a book by Edith Ignauer. The episode popped up several more times over the years and received good reviews each time. Finally, The History Channel decided to hire Thom Beers of Deadliest Catch to create a full series based on the book. The series was to document the lives of the truckers for a two month period while they hauled supplies to diamond mines in the Artic. It changed eventually from diamond mines to Arctic communities.
9 Fire in the Hole
In late 2017, fan-favorite, Lisa Kelly, was like the rest of the crew, facing a warmer than usual season and praying that her truck wouldn’t get mired in mud, slush and muskeg (the North’s word for bog, semi-decomposed vegetation and peat moss).
She started to notice smoke coming out from under the hood and pulled up the hood to find a fire in the engine compartment. Quick to action, she got her fire extinguisher out of the cab and had the fire out in no time. Upon further investigation, she found that a fair amount muskeg had flown up in there, dried out, and eventually caught fire.
8 Nobody’s Favorite Birthday
All of these drivers can probably testify to the effects of global warming in that they’ve had to face shorter ice-driving seasons because the ice freezes later and thaws earlier than it used to. Poor Todd Dewey was forced to spend a miserable night alone on the road, and on his birthday no less, because of soft ice.
As he reached a turn off to the road he needed, he found that the road was closed because the ice wasn’t safe. It had been open when he left with his load. Now he had to wait through most of the day and part of the night before if froze up solid and was opened again.
7 Don’t Try This at Home
Trucking partners Lisa Kelly and the late Darrell Ward were making a tandem delivery, Darrel followed behind Kelly who was hauling a couple of tons of bulldozer on a flat bed. When they came to the next leg in their route, they found that it was a frozen river, but it wasn’t looking so solid. They had no choice but to continue on, however.
Kelly began creeping along, listening to the cracking of the ice beneath her and suddenly her driver-side tire broke through the ice and she couldn’t get any traction on the other tires to pull out. With help probably a half-day away, they improvised by hooking the bulldozer to her rig and got it out of the hole.
6 Beautiful Fluffy-White Snow – NOT!
This time around it wasn’t the warm weather that had the show’s favorite cuss-bucket, Art Burke, forcing producers to hit the ‘bleep’ button repeatedly. This time it was 3-6 feet of brand new snow and a 21-mile trip across a frozen lake.
If you’ve ever had to shovel snow, you know it isn’t light and fluffy, and 3-6 feet of it on the ice is going to put tons of stress on the ice. Add to that about 40 tons of 18-wheeler. Then imagine meeting another big rig coming across the frozen lake from the opposite direction! It all worked out well and Burke figured it was his lucky day, so he kept an eye out for Sasquatch.
5 Can You Say “Convoy?”
Trucking company Polar Enterprises (who most of the truckers work for) owner Mark Kohaykewych got the largest order of the season and he pegged himself, Lisa Kelly, and Reno Ward to haul it. Kelly got the dubious honor of hauling a 32x14 feet prefab, metal building. First, a 24-hour delay while Mother Nature dumped 4-6 feet of new snow. Then came a nail-biting trip across a narrow, 15-foot bridge with barely a 6-inch clearance. Then came a steep hill that Kelly’s rig just couldn’t beat. Imagine being in a big rig sliding backwards down a slick road. Trying to pull it up and over using Ward’s rig, the chain snapped, but eventually, they made it.
4 Really? Delivering a Zamboni to the Artic?
In an episode filled with 3 out of 4 of the current drivers ending up in a ditch and stuck in the snow, curmudgeon Art Burke takes a trip to deliver a Zamboni icing machine (a huge machine used to smooth the ice of hockey rinks).
Somehow it just seems odd that there would be a need for this in one of the coldest places on earth. But delivering it is Burke’s job. Twenty miles from his destination he meets a slippery slope and his rig slides backward into snowy ditch. Many *%#@ curse words later he pulls out and eventually makes the delivery – and the Zamboni doesn’t start.
3 Holding the Tradition
While many of the ice road truckers drive their own rigs and contract with hauling companies, some also drive company trucks. Lisa Kelly and the late Darrell Ward were partners hauling loads. Kelly also drove in India, Peru and Bolivia. Darrell passed away during the off-season in a small plane crash.
2 Not Ready for a Cold Bath
As a short season wound down, trucker Reno Ward (son of the late Darrell Ward) was hauling a flat bed of building material. Ward was driving his truck on quickly decaying ice when it came time to cross a frozen lake. Right about mid-point his air brakes went out, forcing him to stop the multi-ton rig in the middle of the ice. Forced to turn off the truck’s engine (something truckers in the Arctic say is a big no-no) so he could hear the leak in the air brakes, he was able to find the leak and make a quick repair. By luck, the rig started up again and Ward was able to finish the delivery.
1 Ready for Contingencies
Having been a trucker for 46 years, Alex Debogorski knows a thing or two about trucking and life. He is the larger-than-life ‘old man’ on Ice Road Truckers. Yet, young at heart, he still has a few things to learn. On his first run on the last season, he stopped to check the water depth prior to crossing a small bridge. Stepping out on the ice, he found the water wasn’t too deep. He went right through the ice and got himself an ice bath! A bit later and during a 10-mile frozen lake crossing, he literally hangs out the door of his rig, ready to jump clear if disaster strikes, listening to the ice pop and crack on the frozen lake that looks pretty ‘iffy.’