Pulse – July 2009

This summer’s “Ice Road Truckers” features drivers on Alaska’s Dalton Highway. The show, in its third season, is obviously popular.

Which is not to say it lacks hokum. The narrator makes sure that you understand how hard it is to drive those slick hills and curves. Scarcely a digression goes by that doesn’t end with, “But there’s more danger ahead on the treacherous Dalton Highway!”

Then there’s the babe, young Lisa Kelly. Never mind the sub-freezing temps, shots of perky Lisa outside the cab show her without head protection, long blonde locks flowing in the breeze.

And how about some history on the History Channel? It’s not like the highway, also known as the Haul Road, lacks a good back story. Following the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay in 1969, the 414-mile road was carved out of wilderness in five months. The first three episodes barely touched its history.

“I was hoping it was going to be a documentary on the road, more of a tribute to those guys up there,” says George Spears, one of the featured drivers, when I talked to him after the first episode.

It might not be much of a history documentary, but the series does pay tribute to the risks taken by its current drivers. The first episode showed a literal tribute to driver Dale Harris on the wall of the Hilltop Truckstop. Animation explained how an approaching rig jackknifed, slamming into Harris, killing him in 2007.

I met Harris over breakfast with Spears and others at the Hilltop when I rode the Haul Road with Spears in July 2006, from Fairbanks to Prudhoe and back. Harris was full of stories, full of life. He said on his first Haul Road trip, as a 19-year-old trainee in 1974, the driver rolled their fuel truck over while descending a 12 percent grade. A pickup driver rescued Harris, then spun out on a curve and plunged down a hill. “It was so steep they dropped a fire hose down to me and I climbed out,” he recalled.