New kid to hit the ice roads? More problems for the veterans

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Updated Mar 6, 2018

It looks like there may be a new kid on the ice roads.

Steph Custance, a 22-year-old driver from Winnipeg with less than a year’s worth of driving under her belt joined the cast of grizzled veterans in Thursday night’s episode of the History Channel’s “Ice Road Truckers.”

Steph Custance (Photo: History Channel)

The single mom did a test drive around Mark Kohaykewych’s Polar Enterprises yard, and while she didn’t nail it, she did well enough to at least get a foot in the cab. Expect to see more of Custance as loads are piling up at Polar and the ice road season looks to be a short one; Kohaykewych is desperate for drivers.

Custance will be the 26th driver in the 10 years the series has been on the air.

Also in Thursday night’s episode, the veteran drivers continued to face the problems created by a warm winter, a late start and deteriorating roads.

Alex Debogorski white-knuckled it as the first driver to cross the relatively thin ice of the lake leading to Little Grand Rapids.

“This looks sketchy,” Debogorski said as he eased his orange Kenworth onto the ice, which popped and cracked. “I hope it holds.”

The 62-year-old veteran of 40 years on the ice roads drove much of the crossing on the running board outside the cab in case he had to make a dive for it. He called it, “a quick way to leave the scene” if the scene turned dangerous.

But, he cleared the ice, and delivered 20 tons of heating fuel to the First Nation village.

(Debogorski talks about his faith in video at the bottom of this article.)

Art Burke got off to a flying stop Thursday night, lamming — really slamming — his truck nose-first into a snowbank next to a swamp on his way back to Winnipeg after delivering his first load of the year.

“My God. My God. My God,” said Burke, seemingly surprised by his misfortune.

He tried several times to back the truck and empty flatbed out of the mess, but failed.

No small amount of surveying the scene and swearing followed, before night fell. As Burke took stock of his supplies — four cans of beans, some bread and a jug of milk — he saw lights in his rearview.

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A road crew stopped and used its bulldozer to yank Burke’s truck out of the snowbank only to reveal the impact had bent the rim of the right front tire, which, of course, was now flat. Blessed to have been visited by the best of Good Samaratins, Burke watched as the road crew’s members took a tire off the rear of the flatbed, put it on the front of the tractor and sent Burke on his way.

Darrell Ward and Todd Dewey seem an unlikely match, but stranger things have happened on the ice roads.

Dewey was headed to North Spirit Lake with a flatbed filled with 30 tons of lumber when his truck started losing power. Through a bit of dumb luck or good script writing, Ward was right behind him with a modest load of empty plastic water tanks.

Over the CB Ward asked Dewey why he was limping along: “You spill your coffee in your lap?”

The two pulled over and discussed Dewey’s problem and decided that the Code of the Ice Road dictated a solution: they swap loads in the hope of Dewey’s half-powered truck could cope with the lighter load of plastic as Ward carried the heavier lumber.

Setting rivalries aside, the two made it to North Spirit Lake and Dewey was able to head home to the repair shop.

Lisa Kelly struggled on the ice roads as well. But, hers was a problem of gravity not mechanics.

Having made a drop at Poplar Hill, Kelly headed home just as a heavy snow started to fall, making the road not just rutted but slick as well.

Things went well enough until Kelly came to the 20 percent grade known affectionately by ice road truckers as Suicide Hill. Cautious as she could be, Kelly could not make it up the hill as her wheels spun on the fresh snow.

Not one to give up easily, Kelly started back down the hill in reverse to encounter another problem.

“Why is everything sliding?” she asked just before getting stuck part way down Suicide Hill at 4:30 in the morning.

Like Burke, Kelly benefitted from the arrival of help. A guy in a burly Ford pickup appeared and tried towing Kelly’s trailer back onto the road. It didn’t work.

Kelly asked if she could give it a try and the guy agreed. Instead of a nice easy tug like the pickup’s owner had done, Kelly got a running start and gave her trailer — and the backend of the Ford — a considerable yank. She did it again and got the trailer back where it belonged.

In short order — but with still more wheel spin and a bit of fretting — Kelly conquered Suicide Hill and sped home.

“Oh, my gosh, I made it!” she said.

“Ice Road Truckers airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern on the History Channel. Check local listings.