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TV’s ice road truckers?…. no just Alaskan’s doing what has to be done!

July 29, 2018

….I just crested a small hill and through the mist saw hundreds of blinking red taillights snaking down the road ahead of me. I was running near the top of Pennsylvania on interstate 80 it was 29 degrees and the misty rain that had been falling for hours had now turned the interstate to pure ice. As I inched along never once touching the break peddle looking for a place to pull over and wait out the storm, I passed many cars off in the ditch and even a good number of tractor trailers sharing that same fate. I was in my last week as a trainee with Schneider National trucking company and beside me my instructor was gripping his seat like he was in an airplane about to crash.

In 1996 at 50 years old I went back to school to learn how to drive a tractor trailer. At the time I knew I was going to Alaska to live and was looking to learn things that would benefit me in my new home. I also took a first aid and CPR course though not as detailed as I would have liked it polished what I had been exposed to years before in the Army. Of course things change and when I finally moved to Alaska I ended up first working as an assistant hunting guide and though I used my big-rig driving skills a few times I ended up giving up my CDL license. However I never lost my admiration for the truck drivers in Alaska because I realized that my one night encounter that I had with the black ice in Pennsylvania, these Alaskan truckers do everyday for a large portion of the year.

 

Though as they sat around the dinner table at the Hilltop truck stop and laughed at how dangerous the TV show ‘Ice road truckers’ made there job appear…. danger was a reality for them on almost every 1,000 mile round trip between Fairbanks and Prudhoe Bay. In the warmer months they had to deal with animals on the road, rain that turned the dirt roadway to a consistency that they themselves say is slicker than snot and tourists that at times took up both lanes of the road or people insane enough to drive their two lane road with a bicycle. However it was in winter when a -30 degree temperature throughout the North slope was considered a warm day and twice each trip they would have to drive the gauntlet at Atigun Pass where avalanches were a common occurrence. Then for frosting on the cake the drive would have to be done on roads that were covered with ice over from late October to April the following year.

…a truck caught in an avalanche photographed minutes after it occurred

Yes… they sat in the restaurant and laughed
and never considered themselves special
they were just doing their job…

but behind them
two plaques on the wall
were a reminder
of the drivers
who have given their lives
on America’s road to the top of the world

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Del Hoskins permalink
    July 30, 2018 11:34 am

    Yes Pete remember those days well especially when you hit livengood in the winter and you see a sign that says ” no road maintenance beyond this point” and you go by it and hope you get to you are going… That’s where trapline chatter came in handy as you always were able to get your message out that you were headed that way and if you didn’t make it by a certain time to come looking for you whether in a truck , sno-go or dogsled or plane ( weather permitting) Boys those were the days…. Thx, Pete

    Liked by 1 person

  2. August 1, 2018 4:06 am

    One of my favorite books is about these amazing people. :o) Thank you for sharing them again.

    Like

  3. Jon permalink
    August 4, 2018 10:29 pm

    Pete, reminds me of the days I spent on that road during my pipeline days. It’s much improved from the mid-70s when they sliced it through the wilderness.in ’74 to get ready for the pipeline construction. Until we met you in ’15 the furthest I’d gotten was just north of the old Dietrich construction camp.

    I remember a case during the pipeline where a mechanic “lost it” on Gobbler’s Knob & paid the ultimate price. I know there were many others, but I heard that one personally.
    Due 90% to inexperience, I almost killed myself about 4 times on that road.

    In lots of places now it’s paved & is in almost better shape than some stretches of the Richardson or Parks Highways.

    Reminds me to check to see if Ice Road Truckers is coming back again this year or is really over. Lost some of its luster for me when they shifted the show to Canadian locations the past several years.

    Thanks for the pics, brings back memories.

    Like

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