In memory of an ice road trucker

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Updated Dec 14, 2009
A memorial to Dale Harris was aired on "Ice Road Truckers."A memorial to Dale Harris, shown here at the Hilltop Truckstop, was aired on "Ice Road Truckers."

Those of you who caught the first episode of this season’s “Ice Road Truckers” might recall a part on how some of the truckers who’ve died on Alaska’s Dalton Highway have been memorialized at the Hilltop Truckstop. The Hilltop is between Fairbanks and the start of the Dalton, also known as the Haul Road, which runs up to Prudhoe Bay.

As an example of the tributes, the program showed one on the wall for Dale Harris. Animation explained how the trailer of an approaching truck jackknifed on the icy road to slam into Harris, killing him in 2007.

I met Harris over breakfast at the Hilltop in July 2006 when I rode the Haul Road with George Spears, now one of the star drivers on “Ice Road Truckers.” Like most of the drivers, Harris was full of stories, full of life. He told me how 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, only to spin out on a curve and plunge down a long hill. “It was so steep they dropped a fire hose down to me and I climbed out,” he recalled.

I spoke this week with Take’ Hunziker, who drove with Harris and later became his dispatcher at Sourdough Express. “He coached softball and did a bunch of other stuff,” Hunziker says of Harris, whose handle was Spud. “I know he loved horses, did a lot with his family.”

I also spoke with Spears. He remembers that Harris, who had a son and a daughter, was involved with Boy Scouts and high school wrestling, and worked as a volunteer fireman. In a memorial parade, “We had 97 trucks come out of Fairbanks and go up to Hilltop, just for Spud,” Spears recalls.

Perhaps subsequent episodes will prove me wrong, but it will be a shame if the History Channel series, which so far seems obsessed with truck wrecks, doesn’t show that many of these drivers, like Harris, are multi-dimensional people. They can do a lot more than navigate a hazardous road.

You can read my account of riding the Haul Road with Spears here, or view photos from that ride at the top of the gallery on the right.  

 — Max Heine