Ice wine or Ice Trucking. He knows the difference
Ice Road Truckers – popular movie premiered on History Channel some time ago. It’s all about truckers doing their day-by-day job far up north around the Polar Circle, in extreme conditions. Serge Anissimov, owner operator with Multiline Transport, experienced this type of job first hand. He is not yet a movie star; he is rather hero of the following interview.
DorogaRoad: How did you come up with this idea, going trucking on ice roads?
S.Anissimov: I have heard about this from some people in Toronto, then I searched online and came across a phone number of a company named RTL, one of the transportation services providers for miners. I called them, sent my resume. Stopped by their office in Edmonton, filled out the necessary forms, passed the driving test and soon they called me to work for them.
DorogaRoad: Have you been doing this for a couple of years?
S.Anissimov: No, this year was my first year up north.
DorogaRoad: Where exactly did you work, what part of Canada?
S.Anissimov: It took place in Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We went from Edmonton to Yellowknife and then from Yellowknife another 600-700 km up north across the frozen lakes to Nunavut. This is the fiftieth parallel. There were a couple of spent diamond mines, so we took out their equipment.
DorogaRoad: What else are you pulling there?
S.Anissimov: Pretty much everything: fuel, equipment, special chemical substances, including the ones that used as explosives. We pull on flatbeds, reefers, fuel pull on Super Bs.
DorogaRoad: What brand trucks are mostly used up there?
S.Anissimov: Mostly International. Interesting enough, the older the truck, the less electronics in it, the better it runs up there.
DorogaRoad: Would you consider it more reliable?
S.Anissimov: Yes, it’s more reliable. We even had a Western Star of year 1986 and it works great without any issues. While the 2001, 2002 models have had regular issues.
DorogaRoad: Are these trucks prepared for such extreme environment conditions in some special ways?
S.Anissimov: Sure, they are. The break hoses get disconnected and the water is sucked out before winter hits. An extra sniffer is also installed. We pour special alcohol based solution into the sniffer every two days, so that it spreads throughout the system. A protective tent is placed under the truck body. It protects everything all the way down from radiator to the transmission, it protects the entire bottom of the truck. Since when it’s -50 -60 degree outside, then when you are driving it is going to be around -90 and everything is literally frozen. We often came across a situation when transmission freezes and you just have to drive on the same gear until it’s finally released on its own.
DorogaRoad: You mentioned that some special alcohol solution is added, but how about the breaks themselves, are they still the air brakes?
S.Anissimov: This is a special subject. Breaks do not work at all. I mean that we avoid using breaks at all whenever it’s possible. The first rule of Ice Trucker is to learn how to drive without using breaks. If you use breaks in such a sub temperature, then the whole breaks system will freeze and as a result your truck will have to stop, the entire caravan will have to stop, end the following caravans will have to stop, so you put to a halt work of about 1,500 people. All the result of using the breaks.
DorogaRoad: And, probably, the truck could slide off the road?
S.Anissimov: It will not slide off the road, however you have to go under the truck and break the ice off the breaks with the help of a beetle. Breaks freeze immediately under such a low temperature. In general, there are two major points: first - if you do not put alcohol into the break system, breaks will not work at all when you might have to use them in an emergency circumstance, and the second one is that if you use breaks while driving, they will simply freeze. Thus, the first rule that has to be learned for Ice Trucking is to drive without using breaks for the entire trip. There are no villages, no people along the way, so there are no obstacles when you are driving, you can drive with 15 trucks in the lane. The speed is very low, from 15 to 25 km/hour. Same time you have to learn how to cross various icy crossings and descents.
DorogaRoad: OK. Rule number one is to avoid using breaks. What is the rule number two?
S.Anissimov: Perhaps, rule number two is to have food in the truck at all times enough to survive for 2-3 days. In case there is a snowstorm in the middle of your trip, you might be unapproachable and they will not be able to supply you with food and fresh water. You can get the food practically at any base where you make a stop. You can have some breakfast in the morning when leaving, on the second base you can stop for a break, eat something and grab provisions. Then, you can have a dinner at your destination point. Cafeterias work 24 hours a day. You can eat there whatever you like and selection is really good. You can also take a whole box of food to keep it in the truck. As they require you to have enough food to last for 2-3 days.
DorogaRoad: You noted that trucks move at speed of 15-25 km/hour. Are there a road signs?
S.Anissimov: Surely there are. Trucks leave by groups of five, the time pause between the truck convoys is about 20 minutes. The trucks in the convoy are half kilometre apart from one another, so that every truck stays within a visible zone of at least one other truck. No less then 500 metres and not more, since the road is built for such particular ride.
It is not just frozen ice that is cleaned up and used by trucks, as many think, not at all. Ice road is built by making about 2,5 meters of extra ice by pouring the water on ice that already exists. The road is well maintained, ice thickness is constantly measured. The speed is closely monitored since each truck, according to the simple law of physics, put certain pressure on the ice. The speed is limited, so that a truck weighting about 64 ton (135 thousands pounds) pushes in front of it a defined wave under the ice surface. You do not want to exceed the speed limit yourself, since if the wave is too great for a particular ice road conditions, the ice might explode in front of your truck when you will be approaching the shore.
Fortunately, there were no accidents of this kind for the last eight years. “Cowboys” are fired on a spot there. Security and communication systems are highly efficient. You may drive and see nobody around, but you are being watched; every truck equipped with a transmitter/ receiver, black box, so dispatch is monitoring your driving conditions and habits. If you are exceeding speed limit for one-two kilometres per hour, that may even be unnoticeable for you, dispatch will notify you at once. They will say:” truck number such and such, lower your speed by 2-3 kilometres", and once you lowered the speed they will say: "your speed is at optimal level now, this is your maximum speed, please stick to it". Every trucker there tuned to the same radio channel thus everyone can hear what you said or dispatch have told you. Security is tuned to that channel as well. When you are going through the Ice Road Orientation there are specialists, managers form each of these departments, and they stress out that they will not tolerate any cowboy-like behaviour up there and those drivers simply will not sustain an employment with the company.
DorogaRoad: As you mentioned trucks travel in groups, whenever something bad happens to the driver, he is not left on his own.
S.Anissimov: That is correct. If something happens, and the drivers are able to fix the problem themselves, the entire convoy will stop and the drivers gather around you to help to fix the problem. Good old style camaraderie is still alive up there. I had a situation when the plastic hose that goes to the air bags cracked. With thirteen years of experience behind the wheel, I had never been in a situation like that. The entire group stopped in order to help me. We simply cut the two straight rubber tubes, covered them with tape, put some paper towels around them and poured water on top. In 2-3 minutes this becomes a solid piece of ice. I drove about 250 km with such hose. The frost was so bitter last winter; they did not have a frost like that for the past eight years in Yellowknife. Usually it is about -38-40 C. Then the ice does not crunch, does not crack and holds the weight of a loaded truck. That year, however, the temperature would reach -63C.
DorogaRoad: How long is the season for this type of job?
S.Anissimov: The Ice Driving season lasts for about two months. Usually it starts by the end of January and ends early in the April. Later the ice starts melting by the islands’ shores. They measure the ice all the time and usually around April 10-15 the road is closed since ice starts melting and trucks can simply break the ice and sink.
DorogaRoad: You said that they have had no major accidents for the past eight years. Has there been one some nine years ago? Did someone sink?
S.Anissimov: Yes, when somebody overloaded the truck. Instead of 64 tons a whole 72 tons were loaded. The truck almost reached the shore but literally sunk ten meters from the shore when the ice was suddenly broken. We were shown a documentary movie on this particular incident. Going back to rules, there is one more rule for Ice Trucker: you have to have a bag with clothes and documents handy at all times. When you have the ice break under your truck, you have about half a minute only to leave the truck and cannot go back in there no matter what you have left behind. The ones that prone to sink are tankers and when it’s deep, they will drag trucks as well.
DorogaRoad: I suppose there are very strict requirements for the freight bracing…
S.Anissimov: The standards are high for everything there. When you perform pre-trip inspection, in addition what you normally do, you have to go on the check-up hole, get yourself under the truck and check everything underneath, since under such temperatures and with such heavy loads the tractors’ springs break quite often. You have to pay a lot of attention to the springs, breaks (even you do not use them), etc. Last season we had four Ministry of Transportation (MT) inspections on the ice.
DorogaRoad: Does MT work there as well?
S.Anissimov: Yes, they spontaneously go out to do a check-up time from time. But, of course, once they are spotted on the ice, everyone is informed since the radio tuned to the same channel for everyone. A driver who is 800 kilometres away already knows where MT officers are and what they’re doing.
DorogaRoad: Were there any other Russian guys besides you?
S.Anissimov: No, we had a Bulgarian who spoke Russian. We also had two drivers from Jamaica, four from Paris, France, and four Canadians that permanently live in Mexico. There are people who come to work on ice from all over the world, including places with very hot climate. It is quite significant change of weather conditions for them.
DorogaRoad: How many trips do you do per shift, per season?
S.Anissimov: People go there for work and they are working. I mean working hard, almost non-stop. You can work 105 hours per week, 15 hours per day. Some work even more - 18 hours per day leaving just three - four hours for sleep.
DorogaRoad: Do people work in such tough routine for two months?
S.Anissimov: Yes, they do. Most drivers even live in their trucks. Bases there are equipped with showers, saunas, but you don’t want to spend too much time there. Many choose to work, as I said, almost non-stop, especially Newfoundlanders.
DorogaRoad: How much can one earn for a season?
S.Anissimov: Well, earnings could be quite good but taxes are high as well. Roughly, you can make in two weeks $3500-3600 after tax. Plus the bonuses once the season is over; those can be about $4000 -5000.
DorogaRoad: Have you come across any funny stories there?
S.Anissimov: Surely, all we do there is just laugh (laughs). In fact, the job is very serious there. I just like to add that there are no weak drivers up there; the weak ones either quickly trained, so that they become real professionals or they just leave. There are no “average” drivers there, only outstanding professionals. The money they get is not all that great, and for someone to justify working in such harsh conditions means simply to love his job, love what he is doing. There are people who have been working there for the last nine, ten years, so the Ice Road is work of their choice. Although the work itself is quite challenging for anyone who comes there for the first time. And its all starts from the orientation session and the number of courses of professional upgrades you have to pass before you will be able to work there.
DorogaRoad: For example?
S.Anissimov: You have to receive special, “improved” driving course and receive a license, a document that allows you to perform the type of work you have to do up there. Such license gives me no benefits here, in Ontario, while in Alberta it adds extra five advantage points to a regular professional drivers licence. There is also a course called Rocky Mountains – name speaks for itself. You also have to take Dangerous Goods course, First Aid course, fuel orientation class (this is the course where you learn how to fill up the tanks and how to dump the fuel from all types of tanks). Therefore, they train you a lot and the instructors are usually very good.
DorogaRoad: What would your advice be to those who are considering going into the Ice Trucking?
S.Anissimov: I would say that going there is a good idea even if you are not only money-driven. At last but not least, you can utilize a chance to upgrade your professional licences. If you decide to get such licences down here, you will probably pay for about $3-3,5 thousands for that. Once you get the licences try to work for one season. Even if you end up not finishing the complete season, it is not that important since you have tried, and, as they say, no result is still a result. Once you have upgraded your licences and get some Ice Trucking experience, you can look for work in such companies like Gibson. It is a large company, fuel distributor; they pay licensed and experienced driver about $30 per hour after deductions. This is different wage for different job.
DorogaRoad: Can you share some contact information where people can turn in with the questions they may have?
S.Anissimov: Sure. Professional drivers can call RTL office in Edmonton 780-447-3300, or in Yellowknife 867-873-6271.