Highway Thru Hell has permeated our living rooms with frigid whisps of life as a wrecker driver (and almost more interestingly, a recovery operation as a whole). It combines elements of home-run narration and videography with aspects of drama we didn’t even know we loved.
But, once we got a taste of the drama and intrigue that was offered by the Coquihalla’s geographically-impossible location for a “safe” driving environment, we couldn’t get enough. We literally ate it up. Even a decade after Jamie Davis’ debut, he’s still dragging twisted truck chassis back onto their wheels, and up from the deepest clutches of impossible ravines. And we’re still watching him do it.
We’ve learned a lot about the man in the years we’ve watched him wrestle prohibitively large pieces of equipment around in a tangle of snatch blocks and reduction pulleys. We’ve also learned a few different things about the production that painted the picture the way “they” wanted us to see.
Was heavy recovery “really” like it was on the show? The answer is two-fold; yes and no (to be accurate). Was Jamie’s job extremely tough and dangerous; filled with arduously-long days, fighting freezing metal in inclement weather? Yes. But were the Coquihalla tow “rivalries” as ripe as the network would lead us to believe? You can decide that for yourself.
24 Rotator Set
The immense pride that comes with Jamie’s trade supersedes most things one can make his living doing up in the inclement northwestern territory. The very act of wrapping your fists around the thick, 18” steering wheel puts you in command of the super-heavy, 20,000lb front axle – effectively issuing you complete control over the gargantuan machine.
Mind-boggling specs – like 160,000lbs of recovery power (split between two 50,000lb-Ramsey winches and a 60,000lb drag winch) – are all a part of Jamie’s daily toolkit. (Just like the nifty pens sitting in your penholder on your desk.)
23 Tundra Conquest
Don’t think that Jamie is too big to love his little Tundra! You can’t always lean on the massive load-handling of your big trucks to get all the dirty work done. As a matter of fact, a lot of the work takes place outside the scope of the wrecker’s ability in the first place; that’s where Toyota steps in.
Compared to your Focus, the Tundra can be a towering silhouette of power; next to the big wreckers, however, it looks like a Tonka.
22 Hook Hugger
Jamie gives the crew a “thumbs up” as he hangs off one of the many booms extruding skyward in his yard like an oil field. Not all of his equipment is top-notch. In fact, many pieces of his older equipment remained largely off-camera, as they didn’t provide a lot of tangible value to the narrative.
Regardless of the obscure veil enveloping some of his older equipment, Jamie keeps everything around for a purpose. (Sometimes that purpose is just because he feels like it.)
21 Mic Booms
Far from your run-of-the-mill “day job,” working conditions as a wrecker driver are already strenuous and demanding on a daily basis. To complicate an already-challenging work environment, a 24-hour on-call status inevitably whittles your nerves down to a thread, with as much tension as a string on your guitar.
You have to be able to weather the worst of the elements to roll with the big dogs; the notorious Coquihalla becomes exponentially more dangerous with each mile it climbs up the treacherous mountain.
20 Stinger Lift
As easy as it is to get wrapped up in the life of a recovery driver, we forget that there’s a whole production crew, just out of sight. They’re standing right there, next to the drivers, in the line of danger. As a crew member, you sign your rights away multiple times through a mountain of liability waivers and safety training just for the privilege to set foot on the icy roads to document the process.
As calculated as everything is, it’s never-not a dangerous work environment.
19 Cliffside Viewing
A tedious scene requires just the right angles to properly capture the moment. The expert cameraman teeters precariously on the absolute edge of the cliff to line the shot up perfectly. One wrong move here would quickly spell disaster, should you lose your step.
It’s bad enough that there’s already a pile of equipment down there; an extra sack of meat isn’t something anybody wants to have to drag back up with it. Safety is always the primary concern, but how safe can you really be, standing on the edge of a frozen chasm?
18 Rotator In Action
The rotator in action is a spectacular sight to behold. It’s riddled with lights from the boom to the stinger. From combination strobes and LEDs to floodlights and beacons, the rig can illuminate itself for miles away; the brighter, the better.
In addition to the “safety factor,” illumination plays a pivotal role in the execution of the recovery process. Poking around with a flashlight is sometimes necessary, but if you can toss a beam on it from the boom, you’re miles ahead of the game.
17 Medium Duty GMC
You can’t start from the top, especially in this game. When we see Jamie in his massive rotator, with a bustling business, we easily assume that the master-towman has been wrangling heavy combinations up gullies and snow banks for the entirety of his career – the confidence he assumes at the wheel of his 70,000lb rig is unshakeable. He’s shown his skillful ability to slither the truck into the tightest places – ones you’d have trouble fitting your Ford Probe into.
He wasn’t always in a six-figure truck, however. The early days were a bit more, humble.
16 Rotator Rigging
As you could have probably guessed, without having even ever watched Highway Thru Hell, there’s a whole lot more to it than casually, “throwing a hook on the axle, and yanking a few levers until the wreck is all safely at the top of the hill; on its wheels, and ready to roll.”
It takes a combination of complex problem solving, math and experience to initiate a successful recovery; you have to plan it out entirely before you even energize the PTO. When the rigging needs tending to, you don’t always get to do it in the warmth of your shop.
15 Black Tundra
Not all of Jamie’s trucks are red – some of them are black. The same could be said for his balance sheets; at times, those little numbers have meandered dangerously far into the proverbial “red.” Although being the subject of an intensely-popular documentary does have its upsides, there are sometimes unforeseen downsides that come with the territory.
His success along the Coquihalla was relatively isolated until it blew continuously into the living rooms of an entire continent. Competition would eventually force Jamie to expand to other areas as a result.
It is said, what is done in the dark, eventually comes to light. Redemption then is hopefully only a few miles away for Al Quiring, who was wrongfully defamed for the benefit of the show’s ratings. Al maintains the show’s “drama” was a fabrication to liven up the season, and has received backlash from fans, as well as his regular customers who came to see him differently.
Despite how they were portrayed, the Quirings are known animal lovers, and even have specialized equipment to perform four-legged recoveries.
13 A Little Bit More Cliffside Viewing
Again with the cliffs; by now you should be rightfully getting the impression that Jamie does a lot of pondering while staring down snowy embankments. Although most of you would be doing the same thing while seeing how far down you can “make the snow yellow,” Jamie is contemplating how to coax a tangle of axles and frame rails up the steep embankment.
He doesn’t have the perfect plan just yet, or even a good plan. (Welcome to half of all his plans.)
12 Landing Pad
The show was really no joke. You may think that the production crew brought in diesel pushers and 28’ travel trailers to house the crew, but such isn’t always the case. The film crews were dropped off on location and left there to film on-site for extended periods of time, sometimes alone.
Many areas of the infamous road are void of any type of cell phone reception, forcing crews to work independently and on the fly. They also had to be trained-survivalists, to a degree.
11 The Face Guy
You know that face – whether you know it or not. He’s an integral component of the production, although you may have heard his larynx vibrating to other characters’ dialog long before he took us on the crisp narrative through the pitfalls and perils of the Coquihalla grade. He’s done work on multiple Dragon Ball Z variations, as well as a career-inspiring appearance in the animated My Little Pony franchise.
As silly as this all sounds, his absence would severely detract from the finished product – he’s a sound bite staple.
10 Snowbound Lighting
Remember that thing I said about wreckers and perimeter illumination? At times, it’s nothing more than a slight convenience; but, when you need a lot of light (without excuses), it’s a godsend.
Increasing the visibility of the immediate surrounding area, the powerful floodlights are strategically positioned at every available corner of the rig to maximize lighting options on-site. However, as bright as this light show looks against a pitch-black background, the beams’ illuminating qualities quickly disseminate into an enveloping canvas of darkness, just off-camera.
9 Tandem Load Out
A Kenworth-driving Metallica fan takes a break from the road after dropping his load to stretch his legs while his four-legged companion “drops a load” of his own. While the two are enjoying a moment of moderately-warm mountain air, wrecker crews are studiously checking their gear for condition and security as they make rigging adjustments to the cables and pulleys. This ensures that their equipment is all in serviceable condition.
Crews must be ready for whatever the Coquihalla can throw their direction the moment the next call crackles over the radio. Their survival depends on it.
8 Rotator Lift
As specialized as the heavy tow industry is – it’s not exactly a cash cow. You need to vehemently protect your bottom line from any unnecessary drag; seasonal fluctuations may yield temporary boom times, but slow months can easily see a razor-thin profit margin dive into the red with unnecessary expenses.
Jamie doesn’t hesitate to capitalize on his equipment’s peripherals to save time and money on maintenance. His beloved rotator sits under the full support of her outriggers here, making removal of the drive tires a chinch (even in a pinch).
7 Back In The Shop
Wreckers need a place to rest, too. It’s one thing to park it outside overnight, but servicing heavy equipment outside is only something you can humanely get away within good climates – even at that, it still sucks to turn wrenches outside, in the sun.
Highway Thru Hell gave us the inside look at a day in the life of a wrecker. Often times, the men that man these machines are nothing more than a passing truck on the highway – until one of them has to come to pull you out of a ditch.
6 The Driver’s Door - A Door To Adventure
To you, this is may be a door that you have only ever dreamed of yanking the latch open on. You have no idea what sits inside – aside from a massive array of switches, levers, warning indicators, and gauges. Some of you may be a little more familiar with the feeling of climbing inside that door and plopping down behind the 500hp Detroit. You know what grabbing that compound, the 18-speed shifter feels like; you glide the gears all the way to a wide-open, highway sprint and revel at the whine of the turbos as they cycle with engine speed.
5 Wreckers Go, Rotators Tow
There’s no shortage of wrecker configurations. It all starts with the heavy chassis; basically, it’s a super-beefy tractor with a super-long frame (and a lot of axles) that forms the basis of what a wrecker truck is built upon.
Everything is customizable; from the rear spades, boom winches, underlift configuration and the very bed itself. Big dollars gets you big booms, like the rotator. But many wreckers, despite what the show may have conditioned you to the contrary of, are not so lavishly equipped.
4 Mission Towing
There has always been a sturdy amount of competition along the Coquihalla for heavy tow contracts. Some companies suck the bottom of the barrel dry with smaller equipment, scavenging the roadways for work. It’s a cut-throat business, and Darwinism breathes deeply along the windy, unforgiving highway.
As great as the show was for Jamie’s business (as an individual component of a larger industry), it would also direct a focused beam of light on a segment of an industry that was soon to become bloated with competing wreckers as a byproduct of the national publicity.
3 Old Timer
To you, it looks like a Western Star cab with a bunch of steel extrusions poking up from the bed. You’d walk up to it and waste 15 minutes trying to engage one of the winches (or make anything happen, for that matter) before you realized that you needed to energize the PTO. When a wrecker jockey looks at it, however, he sees instant nostalgia.
The vintage Holms 850 was the 40-ton flagship of the Holms lineup, back in the day. Laugh now – this thing’s been paying dues since before you could drive.
2 Press Release
Jamie is about as rugged as they come, but he’s also a gentleman. Although he may not necessarily “clean up” when guests arrive to interview him about his line of work – that’s because he’s worried about other things, like pulling tankers out of ditches and getting traffic flowing again. But that’s just a sliver of the responsibilities that befall him daily.
Jamie takes command of his operation from the front and leads by example. He’s an outspoken advocate for his industry, and was even a frontline spokesman at one point; definitely no stranger in front of the camera.
1 Like Dags?
“Sure, I like “dags;” I like caravans more.” (Watch Snatch, and you’ll understand.) Watch Jamie Davis very closely, and you’ll understand yet, even more.
The man is much more than a boom hound, running a crew of men ragged on the Coquihalla to secure enough contracts to keep the Davis battleship afloat. When an old “neighbor” of the region stopped by with his son to look at Jamie’s trucks, the Davis crew welcomed them with open arms, and even let him sit inside the trucks.
Sources: Screenrant, Eye on Canada, Car and Driver