Monday April 21, 2014

The ice road trucker cometh

Murray Mitchell

Ice road trucker Alex Debogorski, centre, poses with Kamloops residents Dana Ranger and Brad Davidson at a meet and greet at Kamloops Harley-Davidson on Saturday. Ranger has worked as a rock truck driver and Davidson is an equipment operator and former truck driver.

It was easy to spot Alex Debogorski at Kamloops Harley-Davidson on Saturday - he was at the end of a lineup of fans of the reality TV show Ice Truckers.

For more than 30 years, the Yellowknife resident has been running the ice, bring goods to and from the Canadian North.

Since 2007, he's been an international celebrity due to the popularity of the Emmy-nominated History Channel program, but he wears it well with a sense of humour that's probably helped him through thick and thin.

"I always knew I was famous; now everybody else has found out," he said while signing copies of his book, Kind of the Road.

"It's not like what people think," he added. "Being a celebrity, you have to work at it. I'm a T-shirt salesman today."

When he was interviewed during auditions, Debogorski joked and teased the whole time, thinking it was all a joke. They were going to pay him $4,500 for that first season of the show.

"That's three free trips," he said. "You have only two months to make money on an ice road and you have to make as many trips as you can."

He brought his larger-than-life personality to the program, earning a reputation as "John Wayne driving a truck." The show is all about character first, subject matter second, he said.

Over the years, he's had his share of adventures and close calls - "a little too much testosterone" - though his truck has never gone through the ice. He's eased back on the throttle of life, though, and takes better care of himself nowadays as a father of 11 and grandfather of 13.

"I'm not a good example of a Christian, but I'm a much-improved version of what I once was."

It's had a good, long run, yet there is no guarantee the show will go back into production this season with negotiations continuing between the network and the production company. There has been talk of an ice trucker film, too.

"I expect they'll probably say yes, but I'll be going back to work in February no matter what," said Debogorski.

Followers of the program - professional truckers among them - were keen to meet Debogorski. When they heard he was touring in the "off season," they contacted his publicist to request a Kamloops visit.

Dana and Brad Davidson know ice roads well. The Kamloops couple built them together, although she's now a stay-at-home mom. Brad, a heavy-equipment operator, laughed when he was asked if the work is dangerous.

"It's not for the faint of heart," he said.

Tanner and Meghan Ellison have watched the show regularly since it first aired.

"I do have a lot of respect for what he and his cohorts do," said Tanner, a trucker.

While the show is a 21st-century phenomenon, ice roads have an ancient lineage. Debogorski said today's truck routes often follow the ice roads used by native peoples for centuries.

"I retired when I was 28," he quipped of the gold claim he's held since 1976. The idea was to make the Cariboo placer claim a viable livelihood, but he hasn't figured out how to make it pay yet.

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