The popular TV program “Ice Road Truckers” has been around for a few years now and I guess I haven’t watched much of it. Seeing the ads and how it is produced was perhaps a little much for my taste. However, I do have some real life experience with the ice road and the people who build them and some that drive them.
The closest one to me is about 35 miles north of here. The south end of the road starts in the NW Angle of Minnesota on Lake of the Woods, and goes north to Kenora, Ontario, winding over and around the islands of the big lake. A few years back a friend and good guy went through the ice with his gravel truck. It was a bad deal.
When I first started shipping toboggans and sleds to Canadian points I would import the goods at Canada Customs and leave the goods with a local owner operator trucker who ran a route from Winnipeg to points in SE Manitoba. He would have my goods on the docks in Winnipeg first thing the next morning. We were visiting one time and he was telling me of a friend of his in a tough spot. Apparently the guy hauls freight on the far north ice roads in the winter. He was feeling the “heat” of the unusually warm climate and the authorities closed the road for the season while he was out there. His truck was stuck on a small island in Timbuktu for the rest of the winter and all of the following summer until the roads reopened the following winter. A major problem for an owner operator with payments likely do and no income from the truck for 10 months!
A few years later I made acquaintance with an older gentleman from the far North that had a small store and heavy equipment for building and maintaining ice roads in the winter. He bought half dozen toboggans from me and was quite pleased with them. I didn’t hear from him the following year and when I tried to reach him the phone number was not in service? I didn’t know what to think about it at the time. I found out a few years later that after he got the toboggans he has out working on the ice road and went through the ice with his Pay Loader! It was a bad deal.
Currently I have two distributors who both have heavy equipment and build and maintain the roads in their areas. There are many miles of winter ice roads built each winter throughout Northern Canada. It’s a big deal. The people who survey, build, maintain, and haul on them are definitely serious and knowledgeable about their work and the hazards involved. The roads provide a most valuable transportation avenue for the remote communities of the North. In recent years it has been the optimum way to get toboggans to some of the remote communities.
The roads open at different times depending on the route and the conditions. I have one distributor 500 miles north of Yellowknife, NT that has a ice road now that is open typically mid-February to mid-March depending on what the weather has been and how it unfolds…a lot of effort for a short season. However, it’s a critical supply for the community as much of the yearly supply of fuel, building materials, and countless other necessities are brought in on the ice road.
I may have to catch an episode of The Ice Road Truckers…now that I think about it, though I hope it provides the respect and acknowledgement for the risk those who build, maintain, and travel the roads. Like the toboggan has historically been, the ice roads are a transportation life-line for the people of the North.