Alaska's haul road
According to the History Channel, Haul Road accidents have caused 400 injuries and fatalities. State DOT spokesman Mike Chambers says he could verify only that 15 known fatalities occurred between 1977 and 2005.
Like Spears, everyone tells of wrecks and being stranded in life-threatening weather as nonchalantly as someone in the lower 48 talks about driving through a thunderstorm.
Last winter, Carlile driver Kenny Jones sat 20 hours waiting for a snow blower to rescue three or four trucks. He made it to Prudhoe, where he was stranded a few more days. “You could barely see the end of your hood,” Jones says. Such episodes might happen two or three times in the winter, says Jones.
At the Beaver Slide grade, Spears says, many truckers have used their brakes too heavily, catching tires on fire. “I’ve seen trucks at the bottom burn clear to the ground,” he says.
We reach another hill, where Spears recalls a bicyclist who was walking his bike up. A tourist came “banzaiing off this curve downhill and ripped that bike right out of his hands,” he says. “That was the end of his bike trip.”
Soon we’re at another curve that became known for its many wrecks.
“This is called Oh S*** Curve,” Spears says. “The state put up a sign, and that’s what it said – Oh S*** Curve.”
The sign, soon stolen, was not replaced.
The same spirit that brings many people to Alaska, – independence, strong work ethic, opportunity to earn the big bucks – meshes well with the owner-operator mindset. But that mindset doesn’t always mesh with Alaska, particularly after passing one winter.
Many guys, like Harris, find far less trouble and plenty of dollars as a company driver. He did manage to survive 22 years as an owner-operator, putting 1.8 million miles on a 1981 Western Star, before becoming a Sourdough driver. Back when pipeline construction was hopping, “I could earn a year’s wages in four or five months and take the rest of the year off.”
Karl Appel lasted only a year as an owner-operator. Now he works at the Carlile terminal in Prudhoe, operating a forklift and doing local delivery.
Pat Davis was an owner-operator for about 15 years in Idaho. Now, hauling dirt for a construction company, “I could make more money driving here than I could with my own truck down south.”
Burleigh Thornton went 15 or more years as an owner-operator in Alaska before getting rid of his truck. “They don’t pay enough to run,” he says.
Other owner-operators never turn back. Because the Haul Road eats equipment for breakfast, successful owner-operators say you must have your own shop and be handy with on-the-road fixes.