Ice road trucker shares cold, hard facts about the job

Posted Aug. 08, 2010, at 8:20 p.m.

ON THIN ICE by Hugh Rowland with Michael Lent, copyright 2010, Hyperion, $24.99/$26.99 Canada, 237 pages.

There you sit, cooled by a fan, reading material before you and a glass of something ice-cubed next to you.

It’s been a hot summer. Do you dare entertain thoughts of January?

You remember January, don’t you? Ice and snow, nipped toes and fingers hiding in gloves? Thermometers that beg to come inside and warm up? Long nights and cold days, remember that?

Author Hugh Rowland does, and in his new book, “On Thin Ice” (written with Michael Lent), he explains what it’s like to work in midwinter temperatures that can dive 100 degrees below the freezing point.

From the time he was 11 years old, Rowland has known what it’s like to get a paycheck. He had a construction job then, and he invested in cattle. The cattle operation begat steers, which eventually resulted in a full-fledged herd shared with his father. This self-sufficiency gave Rowland the know-how to start his own trucking business.

He is an ice road truck driver.

Every fall, Rowland hires drivers who can correctly explain why they would want to risk their lives driving a fully loaded, multiton rig over a road made of ice that floats on a river, traveling 20 miles an hour, for 2½ months, working round the clock with little to no sleep.

The right answer is: for the money. Rowland says that those 10 weeks hauling supplies to and from the diamond mines near Yellowknife or the oil rigs near the Arctic Circle can give a man enough money to start a business, get out of debt, buy a house or whoop it up for a long time.

But this is no fluff job. Constant vigilance is required to be sure the ice holds up, to be sure the trailer wheels are turning and not frozen, to be sure the truck’s engine never stops. Bodily functions are hastily accomplished while driving with door open and posterior hanging, even in viciously cold weather. Going into the ditch means a money-losing delay. Going into the water means near-instant death.

Rowland loves the challenge of his job and is proud of the records he holds, but there’s one thing he emphasizes: Hauling freight over a road made of ice is not for knuckleheads or short-haulers.

“Lots of things can happen out on the ice” he says, “and most of them are bad.”

Looking for adventure? Then look at “On Thin Ice,” but don’t call author and television personality Rowland for a job. Renegades need not apply.

In this book, Rowland and fellow author Michael Lent don’t candy-coat the intensity of being an ice road driver: the personal sacrifices, the body-numbing cold, the mind-numbing boredom, natural dangers and dangers from other drivers. But between the not-so-subtle warnings, they write of the beauty of the Arctic winter, the friendships forged, accomplishments attained, and pride in doing a job that few others want or could do.

If you’re looking for heart-pounding chills from the safety of your lawn chair this summer, this is one cool book. For you, “On Thin Ice” delivers.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old, and she never goes anywhere without a book. She lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 12,000 books.

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