Making his home in Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories of Canada, Alex Debogorski has been hauling and working around heavy equipment for four decades.
Starring as a driver on all six seasons of The History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers, he has earned a loyal following for his sense of humor, propensity for storytelling, and unparalleled experience with treacherous ice roads around the world.
TuffWerx has had the privilege of interviewing Alex about life on the ice roads, his exciting adventures, lessons learned along the way, and the future of Ice Road Truckers. This article is only the first of a multi-part series, so stay tuned!
TuffWerx: What features do your trucks and trailers have that are necessary for driving and hauling in sub-zero temperatures?
Alex Debogorski: A northern vehicle must have antifreeze good for 40 below and a block heater that can be plugged in when the truck is shut off in the yard. Now some trucks have an APU (Auxiliary Power Unit), which is a power unit that – when started – can keep the engine and cab warm or cool, and keep the engine warm when the truck engine is shut off. This option is considered environmentally friendly because it uses much less fuel than the truck’s main engine.
We often have a weather front, which is a cover over the grille that keeps cold air off the front of the engine.
There are other things that some people put on their trucks for more trouble free operating, like air lines that withstand bending in 40 below and synthetic oils in wheel hubs, differentials, gear boxes and trailer dolly crank cases. This stuff is expensive and quite often is not used…so one has to put up with the consequences.
One needs good cab heaters, as well as windshield washer fluid good for 40 below. A good quality windshield wiper is recommended for keeping freezing stuff off the windshield.
The air dryer on the truck has a heater on it. It has to be in good shape to keep the air supply for truck and trailer clean and dry, so freezing moisture (one of the number one causes of winter problems) does not put the truck on the side of the road.
We use winter grade fuel with additives to prevent gelling and to lubricate the pump and injectors.
In some places, we put tarps from under the front bumper back to under the transmission to keep cold out.
It’s good to have winter tires made of a softer compound for added traction. Of course, three- or four-way differential locks make climbing frozen hills easier. To back up differential locks, we carry tire chains.
TuffWerx: What is the most dangerous cargo you’ve ever hauled?
Alex Debogorski: I have hauled many types, from over-sized oil rig parts to dynamite. Once I had a load of trusses that were standing upright on the flat bed trailer. They had been loaded and tied down for me. I thought they looked secure. After I bounced them down the winter road for a couple hours, they shifted and fell over, creating a wide load and lifting the trailer wheels off the ground on one side. Fortunately there was a loader available nearby that helped me get the trusses upright again. This time I cross chained them and had no more problems.
Moral of the story is: any load can become dangerous if not secured properly in the first place.
TuffWerx: In your opinion, how much does a driver need to know about truck mechanics in order to be effective at his job? Do you repair your own trucks?
Alex Debogorski: There are many people driving who don’t know much about the mechanics of their rig. There are a lot of companies that don’t expect their drivers to fix their own trucks. They have regular service and repair programs that try to catch any problems in advance. Also, they run quite new equipment. Companies don’t want drivers covered with dirt and grease from crawling under their equipment representing their companies.
Personally, I like knowing what makes the wheels turn on my machine, and I like to build and repair things. I have a proprietorship and drive most of my stuff myself. The mechanics charge over 100 dollars an hour. I do as many of the repairs as possible.
When I’m in remote areas, being able to fix stuff has come in handy for myself, as well as for others who I’m able to help out. Of course, the electronification of our equipment has made it difficult for even real mechanics to fix some things on our newer trucks. But the more one knows about his or her job, the better the job can be understood.
A driver should have some knowledge of mechanics, accounting, map reading, laws, dispatching, politics, nutrition, human relations, first aid, and how to maintain patience in stressful situations.
Photos via History.com, PlusRepublic.com, Jose Carlos Alonso Pacheco and Andy Graves.