In a new series, we meet the people whose working lives are seriously rugged. This week, Alex Debogorski – the longest-serving star of the History Channel’s Ice Road Trucker series.
Job title: Ice road trucker and gold prospector
Working Locations: North West Territories, Canada and Alaska.
Hazards of the job: Blizzards, whiteouts, -40ºC, falling through ice.
Favourite app: None: “I just want to make a phone call.”
Tell us about your job
I don’t have a job. I’m just entertaining myself until the coffin’s built! I drive trucks. I work on the ice roads. I spent last summer gold mining in British Columbia. I also have 150 vehicles in my yard; I collect things and sell the odd old car. Some might call me a car salesman.
Sounds like a rugged life.
I’m fairly adventuresome but not with things like powerboats and snow machines and stuff like that. I’m more adventuresome in looking for the treasure. I’m looking for an old car, or for gold where the gold miners were in the 1860s and I’m out driving on the winter road.
How challenging are the ice roads?
It might be 40 below Celsius but because of the wind, the temperature could be well below 100. And if you get caught out in it…? Even if you’re inside the vehicle and the vehicle breaks down – and even new ones do – there’s a potential to get frozen if the wrong circumstances happen! When you get outside you got to make sure, especially if it’s blowing, that you don’t walk away from your vehicle as you’ll just disappear. In a blizzard you can lose direction and nobody finds you.
“We’re in places where you’d have to pay a lot money to get there as a tourist – not many people get to go there. The northern lights are phenomenal, the whole sky is lit up.”
How thick does the ice need to be?
We used to go on 22 inches (55cm). Now they want 28 inches (71cm). As the engineers go to more schools they decide to make the ice thicker so we have to wait longer and we need more cold weather and we haven’t had enough cold weather. At 44 inches we could haul a ‘Super B’, probably around 65,000 kg (71 tons).
On the road: Even the cold can’t stop Alex smiling. © Alex Debogorski
Had any close calls?
I’ve never gone through the ice but I have had some situations. I had a collision last year – I just barely tapped him. I hit the brakes and couldn’t stop and he went into the snow bank. That’s a close call. Luckily there was no real damage.
What modifications do you make to the truck to proof it for winter?
With a big truck you put a belly tarp on it. We tie it on the front bumper back to the end of the transmission, roughly 9ft by 4ft wide to keep the warmth of the engine in. We have a cover over the radiator and if the engine starts overheating we can open flaps to keep the wind out of the engine in case it’s too cold. Obviously our fluids tend to be compatible with the weather so when we grease our vehicle we use winter grease and we use a lot of synthetic oils as they’ll flow in the cold weather.
What are you transporting?
Everything from toilet paper to huge excavators, we bring ‘em in. There are billion dollar diamond sites up there and also native villages and communities that are cut off in the summer by the lakes. Airplanes are more expensive so it’s cheaper to get there with a truck over winter. A typical journey might be Yellowknife to Ekati Dominion Diamond mine, which is about 250 miles (400km). If everything goes really well we’ll be there within 16 hours. Loaded we travel at speeds of 15mph (25km/h). Sometimes it’s even less.
What’s the best part?
We’re in places where you’d have to pay a lot money to get there as a tourist – not many people get to go there. The northern lights are phenomenal, the whole sky is lit up. The cold is exhilarating. Sometimes we’ll see a herd of 1000 caribou, wolves that are probably the size of a small cow. We’re in the tundra where there isn’t a tree. Even in a blizzard it’s exhilarating. These places are very remote. The people who live there sometimes can’t get there unless by plane or boat.
“The cold is exhilarating.” © Alex Debogorski
What equipment do you never leave home without?
Underwear! I have a propane torch for thawing things out, I have a big bar for prying things open, a sledgehammer, tyre chains, tow rope in case I have to be pulled or pull someone else out. Of course I have a box of food in case I have to sit there for a couple of days, I always make sure I got a couple of rolls of garlic sausage, water, lots of clothes, big heavy sleeping bag that’s good for 40 below.
“I’m always looking for a tough phone – a phone that’s still alive when you’ve dropped it and run over it with a big truck.”
What Apps do you use?
I’m not big on the whole computer thing. I just want a hardy phone I can make a call with, that’s all that I’m interested in. I have an iPhone but I don’t really use it. I’m always looking for a tough phone – a phone that’s still alive when you’ve dropped it and run over it with a big truck.
Driving in treacherous, freezing conditions and often over long hauls, it’s essential for Alex to have a phone with a long lasting battery that can survive the cold. With danger lurking around every corner he needs to know that he can stay in touch wherever he is – that’s why we’ve sent him a Cat® S30 and we’ll be checking back in a few months to see whether it has stood the test of his rugged journeys.
Join in the conversation online with your own #RuggedStories at @Catruggedphones.