Ice Road Truckers is one of History channel’s most successful shows, and likely for good reasons. The popular reality series that follow the journeys of several truck drivers, as they haul their freights across the icy landscapes of Alaska and Canada, raked in more than three million viewers at the height of its popularity.
The show is a constant provider of excitement and suspense, as the drivers face day-to-day dangers and difficulties that present real threats, which seems to keep its audience glued to the screen. It has been on air for several seasons, and even inspired a spin-off series that documents the dangerous roads travelled by truckers daily all over the globe.
Unfortunately, like so many other reality television shows, some parts of Ice Road Truckers are fabricated and often creatively manipulated by the producers to keep viewers intrigued and entertained.
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Even more, the show has met with disapproval from some communities, and was banned from filming in certain towns. Ice Road Truckers also fed their viewers a bunch of lies just for the sake of growing an audience – the show’s producers would preferably keep quiet about several of the secrets about to be uncovered.
The first creative work done on the show starts with its iconic intro. The opening of the show depicts the very real dangers the star drivers face during their travels, but those who have watched the show may have noticed that the mash of scenes in the opening does not occur in the show.
These scenes, often showing trucks in dangerous situations, are recreations done in a Hollywood studio. One scene in particular, where a truck dangles over the edge of an icy cliff, and another where a truck sinks into the ice, are entirely fake.
The recreations make use of a model truck one-sixth the original size, optically manipulated to seem life-like. To achieve the realism of the snowy features, they make use of shaved ice and sugar. Sounds of the ice cracking and other effects, which seems incredibly realistic, are produced in a sound studio, and then later added to create the perfect illusion.
In their defence though, going to extreme lengths to produce nothing more than an opening for Ice Road Truckers would be overkill.
The Roads Aren’t So Lonely
On the show, the truckers often go on solo hauls, with only their driving partner as companionship, and, of course, the film crew. However, in truth, it’s not like that at all.
From the show’s point of view, they make it seem like a lone cowboy adventure, but for safety reasons, truckers hauling over the snowy landscapes of Canada and Alaska travel in groups of up to four. Sometimes they often have escorts driving with them, with full roadside assistance.
It might be that the show only does this to add to the excitement and drama, but it puts a creative spin on the actual reality of the industry. Since the roads out on the ice are extremely isolated and desolate, going out on a solo haul would be far too risky, and could even be life-threatening.
Not to mention, a driver could get stuck for days waiting for help to arrive. Another thing that is done differently on the show is the time lapse between hauls. In reality, hauls can depart every 20 minutes, since wasting time could cause the industry to collapse.
The Camera Crew Are The Real Heroes
The show’s opening might be a recreation, but it still depicts some of the real dangers drivers face out on the snow and ice. However, for dramatic and entertainment purposes, the dangers are quite often exaggerated.
That doesn’t mean the drivers don’t face real dangers and difficulties, as those who watched show would have seen, but of all the people involved in the show’s creation, the filming crews could be considered the real heroes and daredevils.
These men and women put life and limb at risk to get that perfect angle, and to film the best shots. From hanging out of windows and dangling from moving vehicles only by the strap of a belt (and not to mention braving the coldest conditions imaginable), they probably have it the worst.
There was even one occasion where a filming crew crashed into one of the trucks, though this was mostly because of poor visibility. On top of all the dangers the camera crew faces, they hardly get any respect or rightful credit, but they might receive bigger salaries, loaded with danger pay, perhaps more than the drivers!?
The popularity of Ice Road Truckers is certainly undisputed, since so many fans and viewers kept tuned in to follow the series. A few hardy fans even tried driving on the ice, and sadly, for not heeding the warning ‘don’t try this at home’, one fan paid for it with his life during an accident.
Despite of the show’s popularity with viewers, some people and communities are not fans of the show at all. Members of the trucker communities, especially some working as ice truckers, have voiced their disapproval of the show.
Some have even said that Ice Road Truckers exceedingly exaggerates the dangers, and give the industry a bad name. Furthermore, isolated towns in Alaska and Canada where the show has been filmed were so displeased with the drivers and filming crews, that they sought legal help to ban them from entering or filming in town.
Of course, the locals’ complaints are not unsubstantiated. When filming on the road, the crew uses more space than they should be allowed, often causing blockages and hazards for other truckers and drivers. Quite often, this is the reason why the show’s production had to relocate.
One thing the producers love doing on the show, to add drama, create tension, and ultimately spice up the entertainment value, is to hire rookie drivers. This not only creates tension between the veteran drivers and management, but also creates unnecessary potential danger on the roads.
In an industry where there are enough hazards and difficulties, adding to it by hiring inexperienced drivers might be overdoing it. That the producers would go to extreme lengths to boost viewer ratings, and their lack of consideration for the lives at risk, make it seem that they are nothing more than corporate no-goods.
The show has featured several instances where some of the drivers complained about the rookies, but since a great part of the show is scripted, it becomes difficult to recognise which complaints are real. While seeing new faces on the show, and the conflict that arises from the creative damage might boost viewer ratings, unfortunately it can cause productivity delays for the truckers.
Productivity, after all, is a trucker’s livelihood, and the less they haul, the less they get paid. To make things worse, the producers do not compensate the truckers for this.
The Truth About Speed Limits and Stops
Two of the most interesting facts about ice trucking in general, are the strict rules that drivers have to follow if they want to complete their journey safely. The first of these rules is an enforced speed limit, that has to be maintained when driving across the ice.
A trucker needs to maintain a speed of 10 miles an hour – exceeding the limit could cause serious problems, possibly the ice to crack and give way, swallowing the truck and its load in the cold, icy waters.
To make things even worse, not maintaining the speed limit could result in hefty fines or punishment. Even a first-time offender could be banned from using that road, since it not only puts the driver in danger, but causes hazards for other truckers.
The second rule strictly forbids any stops on the ice. The heat radiated by the truck when standing still can easily melt the ice, resulting in a very bad situation. When a truck has to pull over, possibly because of a breakdown, the driver has to take the necessary precautions, and whenever possible, pull over where the ice is thick enough.
The producers of Ice Road Truckers have been in trouble not only because of their disregard, shameless reality fixing, but also because of the poor contracts the stars of the show, unfortunately, agreed to.
The truckers who all appear on the show earn far less than reality stars do on other shows. Their compensation does not include any extras for acting work, despite often working from a script, and receive the same compensation they would for trucking with a real company.
Prohibitions put in place by their contracts also prevent the stars from doing any off-camera endorsement work and sponsorships, or any of the meet-and-greet appearances as other reality television personalities. Their contracts even go as far as controlling what they look like when filming, and they have to often perform from scripts that dictate what they say, and how it is delivered.
The reason, as explained by the producers, is to prevent the stars of the show from undergoing personality changes due to sudden fame and fortune. However, this seems bogus, and sounds like another corporate ploy to simply make more money by saving on expenses.
Real and Creative Conflict
As mentioned, the truckers perform from scripts. These scripts not only control their everyday interactions with the camera, but the producers have gone so far as to create conflict and scripted arguments between drivers.
It is hard to tell on the show what is real and what isn’t, since a lot of the reality in production is nothing more than produced drama. However, one character on the show, Rick Yemm, a regular star of Ice Road Truckers, has been known to form real disputes, arguments, and conflicts with his co-stars.
For the better part, it doesn’t appear to be fake, scripted drama or acting that is done by him, but merely his actual personality. Among his many conflicts, some of the noteworthy ones include with Lisa Kelly, a prominent figure and star of the show, and another driver G.W. Boles.
Among other things, he called Kelly and Boles fake drivers and show-made truckers, but in general, Yemm treats everyone with disrespect.
Injuries and Tragedy
While parts of Ice Road Truckers might be fake, some parts are real, and the crew and drivers have had accidents and unfortunate mishaps. One accident involved a fan favourite of the show and one of the most experienced drivers, Hugh Rowland, who later sued the producers for the injuries he sustained.
The accident occurred while one of the show’s assistants drove the truck in which Hugh was a passenger, and in the crash he sustained injuries that prevented him from driving trucks ever again. Whether or not he won the lawsuit is a mystery, as no public reports about the case are on record.
Several other stars of the show, including Steph Custance, have also been left behind because of health issues, leaving fans wondering what happened to them. The show also experienced the tragic loss of one member. Lisa Kelly’s driving partner and a fan adored favourite, Darrel Ward, passed away in 2016.
While piloting a small aeroplane to a filming location for the show, Darrel met his unfortunate end when the plane crashed. Following the misfortune, Lisa took time off to recover from the loss.
Honest Rig Report
One intriguing fact about the show remains a disputed argument by different sources. One source claims that the trucks, which according to the show are owner-operated, were actually provided to the show’s production company by a trucking company.
Reportedly, the trucks were not in the pristine condition needed for the harsh environment of ice trucking, which explains why the drivers suffered so many breakdowns. It seems the trucking company did not care about the conditions of the trucks they supplied, simply because of suspicions that they would be returned in a worse state.
If true, this is more evidence of the producers’ blatant disregard. However, another source claims that all the breakdowns are just another means by which the producers add creative damage, to cause drama on the show. According to this source, the trucks used on the show are in absolutely tip-top shape, and very well prepared for employment in the icy conditions.
Keep in mind that the trucks need to be fit for the cold, since these conditions could cause severe damage and plenty of breakdowns, as well as very expensive performance up-keep and fuel consumption.
Despite these revelations, Ice Road Truckers will undoubtedly continue to supply fans with endless excitement and drama, as well as plenty of fond memories to relive. Although the show may have come to its final conclusion, Darrel’s memory will live on with every re-run viewers binge-watch.