If the scorching temperatures and humidity that are already making this feel like the dog days of summer have you down, don’t worry: The History Channel is about to cool things off in the form of the fourth season of ‘Ice Road Truckers‘ (Sunday, June 6, 9/8c). Fancast spoke with series star Hugh Rowland – you might know him as “The Polar Bear” – about the new season, his new book (On Thin Ice, out June 8), and what his family thinks about his chosen career.
What can you tell us about the new season?
It’s starting well. We’ve got some new characters driving this year – and we’ve got a lot of wrecks, it’s going to be an exciting season. I don’t want to give it all away. But I got [fellow driver] Alex Debogorski a few good times this year. And I changed his name from Alex to ‘Alice.’ He’s getting pretty old and I was lapping him there and I just started calling him Alice. [Laughs]
How is your relationship with the other drivers?
It’s good – everybody is doing their own thing. You know, everybody has their own deal that they have to look after. But I mean we had a lot of fun up there. Made a few friends. [Laughs] Some folks didn’t like us Canadians being there this year, but that’s beside the point. And it should be a good season.
How long have you been an ice road trucker?
I’ve been doing it since I was 15 years old. I was working on the roads, building them and stuff. And whenever they needed a load hauled up there, I’d just jump in and take her up. And I just started doing it every year.
What goes into building the roads?
The roads are actually made. You drill a hole in it and measure the ice. If there’s sixteen inches of ice, we can plow the snow off. At 22 inches, we can actually start hauling a 25,000-pound load. As we go from there, as the road is traveled on, the ice deflects with your weight – and goes back in the water – and the ice gets thicker as you go. If you get 25-below at night, you can make 2-3 inches of ice. We’re working 24/7 on these roads to keep them maintained. Then we have windstorms, so you have to keep the snow plowed off. And if it’s really cold, then you get the big cracks that your truck could fall into. It’s a big job.
Watch Hugh & Eric battle for ice road dominance:
And what happens if you fall through?
If you fell through the ice with your truck – I don’t know anybody who would survive that.
Yikes. So do you ever find yourself scared while doing something so dangerous?
Like I said, I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. So I grew up doing it. You get a lot of terror. You have to keep your wits about you. There’s wildlife, you deal with ice and extreme weather. I’ve took a lot of guys up there on their first trips and they’ll drive up onto land and they’ll get out of the truck and they won’t get back in. They’ll say: ‘I’m not going back out on that ice!’
Did you always know you wanted to write a book like On Thin Ice?
No, I just said – I had a lot of stories, a lot of stuff happened to me over the years. And when the show started going on – the show is only 13-episodes a season, 13 hours long. Well that’s not even one full trip – in real life – up the ice roads. So everybody said you should write a book, tell some stories. I put a little history in there, told a few things that happened to me in real life. And it is just tip of the iceberg. But it gives people a peak behind the wheel at the way the ice roads really happen up there.
In that regard, it sounds like the show. What was your reaction when The History Channel said they wanted to make a show about your profession?
When they approached me I was like, Yeah you can throw the cameras in my truck, but I don’t know who’s gonna watch it. I didn’t really think it was someone anybody would watch, but it took off. I think most people like seeing something they can’t do on TV. They watch something that’s real.
Does your family watch?
My kids love the show. I don’t watch too much of it – I’ve never seen more than a few episodes of it, because I lived it and I do it. Like I said to my wife, one day when the show is over, I’ll sit down and watch them all. Actually my family knew what I was doing, but they didn’t know what it consisted of until the show came out. Then they thought I was absolutely nuts. After the show they thought I was crazy. But I’ve always – I can’t wait to get up there. I’m glad when the season is over, but I can’t wait to get up there. It’s something I always look forward to. I love it.