Tales of Alaska’s ice road hauls

June 2, 2011  | by: Lucinda Coulter

In April 1963, American trucker Hank Miller left New York City in his GMC tilt-cab tractor hauling a load of electronics bound for Anchorage, Alaska. He traveled along Route 2 across Montana to Alberta, Canada, where diesel cost 36 cents per gallon, and on to British Columbia.

Miller published a travelogue in Overdrive’s July and August issues that year about his three-week stint to and back from the nation’s 49th state on the Alaska Highway.

Although he had little emotional support from his wife, who, he says threatened to divorce him for taking such a hazardous haul, he had a trip scout who helped him. The supervisory engineer who oversaw the truck’s loading was a native of Anchorage. “He gave me the run-down on what to expect on the road,” Miller writes.

His trek lacks the choreographed finesse of the History Channel’s TV series Ice Road Truckers, whose fifth season premiered Sunday, June 5. And no gorgeous women truckers, like Lisa Kelley and Maya Sieber, enhance the pages of his travelogue.

But long-haulers surely enjoyed his first-person tips on where to buy diesel and what roads to take. And they most likely empathized when he got stuck, still 1,100 miles from Anchorage:

“About 6 on morning, I came upon a long series of these soft spots. When I hit a long one after having just about pulled out of a deep one, I poured it to her, felt and heard some large rocks scrape my crankcase and rear, and then I stopped dead. I tried putting her in gear but couldn’t. I climbed out and looked underneath. I was down to my axles and I had a big dent in my crankcase.”

A highway department grader and bulldozer eventually helped Miller out of the rut, and he recommended later that truckers wait until summer to haul to Alaska.

Forty-three years later, that’s exactly what Overdrive’s Editorial Director Max Heine did. He rode along Alaska’s Dalton Highway with Ice Road Trucker veteran George Spears in the summer of 2006, shown in Heine’s photo of him here. Spears has since retired as a driver for Carlile but when interviewed, expressed surprise that he had garnered fame as a TV celebrity. You can read Heine’s Truckers News story about Spears here and his 2010 follow-up on Spear for his retirement at Heine’s blog, OverdriveExtra.

You can read more of the magazine’s ice road truckers’ coverage, including Heine’s tribute to Dale Harris, who died on the Dalton Highway in 2007, and Todd Dills’ Channel 19 entries on the TV series’ newest female truckers, Lisa and Maya.

The gen-set photos in the gallery below were provided by Hank Miller as part of the 1963 travelogue about his haul on the Alcan Highway.

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