King of the ice road
Ice breakers: Debogorski quotes from ‘Ice Road Truckers’
“For me to piss [for a drug test] – I’m so old now I gotta have half a Viagra.”
“You know what the good thing is about this weather? You can see your breath, that way you know your still breathing.”
“Everybody should get up in the morning and say a prayer, you know, for the day, for protection and guidance, and to give thanks for this day. You know, people call me a hypocrite. I say well, I’m not a very good example of Christianity but I’m a much-improved version of what I once was.”
“They must have trucks in heaven ’cause I’m sure my guardian angel is a driver, eh. He sure does a good job of looking after me.’
Midway through the History Channel’s sixth season of “Ice Road Truckers,” Alex Debogorski has just finished crossing a frozen lake where one mistake can endanger his truck, even his life. With his window down, he listens to the language of the cracking ice before deciding it is safe to continue.
“When I was a little kid, I wanted to be a superhero and save people from bad things,” he says. “Throughout my life, I’ve had the opportunity to be a real hero and I’ve had the opportunity to be a real ass, and I’ve taken that one, too!” Then he fills the cab with a booming laugh.
Debogorski’s also taken with relish the opportunity to become a real celebrity. As an original cast member of the hugely popular reality series, he’s garnered fame and a truckload of opportunities that come with it.
A natural storyteller, Debogorski, 59, recounts his life’s journey in his book, “King of the Road: True Tales from a Legendary Ice Road Trucker.” The stories are of a big, burly, brawling man who says his hair-raising, death-defying antics made him the man he is today.
“Nighttime is when truckers get talkative,” he writes. “It’s lonely out here. Guys get on the radio and start telling each other stories. They’re like little kids in a bunkhouse after the adults have put out the lights. Everybody is keeping each other company. I’m one of the most devoted storytellers on the ice road, and I’ll keep the other truckers entertained for hours.”
After growing up on an Alberta farm, he worked as club bouncer, coal miner, taxi driver, oil rigger, gold and diamond prospector. In 1972, he was 19, married with a baby and working at a tire shop in Grande Cache, Alberta, when a customer asked if he’d be interested in driving a truck for the McIntyre Porcupine Coal Mine. He figured, “Why not?”
In 1976, he relocated to Yellowknife in far northern Canada with his wife, Louise, and their expanding family, where he signed on to truck the ice roads. He’s since hauled freight to some of the world’s most remote, frigid areas.
In the off-season he runs a topsoil business, prospects for gold and diamonds, and fixes old cars. If he’s not working, he’s often telling tales in the local diner or flying to the lower 48 for celebrity appearances and product endorsements.
The sixth season of “Ice Road Truckers” finds Alex Debogorski hauling over Canada’s Dempster Highway between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. He crosses frozen rivers, lakes and even the Arctic Ocean.
Hugh Rowland and Rick Yemm travel the Manitoba ice roads, and Jack Jessee and three new drivers, Austin Wheeler, Darrell Ward and Ronald “Porkchop” Mangum, haul to and from Prudhoe Bay.
Two previous drivers conspicuous by their absence are Lisa Kelly and Maya Sieber. Fans had mixed opinions about the trucking ability of the women, but many were disappointed that Lisa didn’t return.
“Lisa’s really great. She’s a good driver with a mind of her own,” Debogorski says. “She’s going to be driving no matter what happens. And we don’t really know what happened. Was it the producer’s decision or was it Lisa’s? That’s unknown. I think the show benefited from having women drivers. Those women are a great role model for the women truckers out there. Plus, it’s got to get old seeing a bunch of ugly guys all the time.”
While Debogorski didn’t work with Maya, he thought she was a good trucker. “Maya got a bad rap from the hot tub scene,” he says. “But that’s the way these things go. You never know what portion of the filming they will use.”
He remains puzzled by critics of the women “who said they couldn’t drive or shouldn’t drive or whatever it is that people get themselves worked up over. Most of those people have never driven on an ice road.”
Debogorski enjoyed season six, but says he doesn’t know how the show turned out. It’s not showing in Canada yet, so he relies on U.S. fans to keep him up-to-date. “People ask me about various plot points, but I have no clue what they are talking about until I watch it,” he says.
He’s often asked is if he is afraid on the ice roads. “Sure I am,” he says. “You see trucks jackknifed in the snow and accidents that were probably unpreventable. There are plenty of better drivers out there than me, but I know enough to respect the weather and listen to the ice.”
In season one’s “Rookie Challenge” episode, he sums up his philosophy, “I gotta die somewhere, someplace. I guess today is as good as any other day.”
Debogorski’s been married to Louise for 40 years. They have 11 children and 13 grandchildren “and counting,” he says with a laugh. He’s open about his conservative beliefs, Catholicism and Christian values. Fans come to appearances bearing gifts of rosaries and prayer books.
He has plenty of opportunity to opine on the show and in a new documentary about his life with the working title, “King of the Road.” Loren McGinnis, director of the film, spent two months last summer summer traveling across the United States with Debogorski. They logged more than 23,000 miles in former cheese-hauling independent owner-operator Bryan Dax’s Red Giant Diamond Reo, considered the biggest big rig in the world. They went from truck stop to truck stop to meet fans.
“He’s a hillbilly philosopher,” says McGinnis, “and people are drawn to him for his relentless honesty and the way he looks at life. I found him to be smart, literary and a thoughtful person underneath a gruff exterior.”
McGinnis, who also lives in Yellowknife, believes Debogorski “put Yellowknife on the map. He’s our unofficial ambassador.”
That representation is hardly limited to the show. Debogorski is a popular fixture on the trade show circuit and has made celebrity appearances in dozens of cities throughout the world, says his son and business manager, Curtis Debogorski, 36.
“He’s got an air of unpredictability and is a real blue-collar guy,” he says. “People are drawn by his authenticity and, of course, his storytelling.”
The sixth season is finished and next year’s plans are uncertain. Typically, “They let us know in December and then it’s back on the road,” Curtis says. “But the ratings are strong, so that’s always a good sign. Viewers always say they love his big personality and great laugh.”