Cutting Corners

by Megan Hooge —

Sometimes the tough jobs are best left to the experts.

In early February, authorities opened the ice roads for the first time that winter on Willow Bunch Lake in Assiniboia, Saskatchewan. According to Brian Buckland, a tow operator and dispatcher for Warner Towing in Regina, Saskatchewan, construction crews drive across the lake as a shortcut for their daily commutes.

“It’s much faster to drive 2 km across the lake than 30 km around it.”

“It’s much faster for them to drive two kilometres across the lake than thirty kilometres around it,” he explained.

In most places, the ice can be 24 to 36 inches thick, but as one driver found out, the lake is spotted with “ice pockets,” large patches of ice where the surface is only a few inches deep. Drive over one of those, and the next thing you know, your vehicle will be swimming in the lake. There is no pattern for the ice pockets, so it is very difficult to predict where the ice is thinner.

This particular driver went over an ice pocket that was only three to six inches thick, and soon found his truck in the water. Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) had Tyler Temple, owner of TRK Towing in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, drive out to the lake and cut the truck out of the ice.

Tow Canada readers will recognize Temple’s name because we covered a very similar story in 2016, where a different truck had fallen through the ice near Regina Beach. He is the go-to guy in the area for ice-cutting.

After Temple cut through enough ice needed to free the vehicle, it still needed to be pulled out. The driver told Temple that he and his friends would take it from there. They attempted to use an excavator to recover the truck — this attempt took 23 hours, caused significant damage to the truck, and had little success otherwise.

They called around to local towing companies, but they all refused the job. Working on the ice is dangerous, and you have to have the right trucks to be able to do it safely. Finally, they called Warner Towing, and Buckland accepted the job.

Three days later, Buckland and one of his fellow drivers, Brett Asmundson, began the almost three-hour drive to Willow Bunch Lake. They brought Temple with them, since a few days had passed since the truck had first been cut out, and the ice had now frozen back over.

“You have to be careful on the ice.”

They set up Asmundson’s 30-ton stiff boom wrecker about 20 feet from where the truck was, where the ice was three feet thick, and attached two winch lines to the vehicle. Back on the shore, Buckland’s 50-ton wrecker was parked about 200 feet away to act as an anchor for the 30-ton wrecker.

Once the scene had been rigged, Buckland says the active time was about four hours to cut the ice away and pull the truck out.

“We had it pretty good because the ice was thick enough where we had our lighter wrecker positioned,” he explained. “We had to reposition the wrecker a couple times, in order to get a high enough angle to keep pulling the truck out.”

By the time the vehicle was out of the water, Warner Towing driver Jim Mcquoid had arrived with his Landoll deck truck to transport the vehicle to the SGI yard. Buckland said that between the water damage and the damage caused by the owner’s initial attempt to pull it out with the excavator, the truck was a write-off.

“If you fall in, you don’t have many places to go.”

“The hood was busted, the bumper had been pulled off, it was full of water… the parts were coming right off of it,” Buckland recalled. So he was surprised when he got another call from the owners to load the vehicle onto one of their trailers. “They bought the truck back, so they could use some of its parts — the tires, the dumpbox, the pto — on their other trucks. I thought I was done with that truck, but obviously not!”

Buckland wants to take the opportunity to remind all drivers — both professionals and the general motoring public — to take precautions when driving or working on ice roads:

“You have to be careful on the ice. If you fall in, you don’t have many places to go. That’s why we put our lighter truck out there and anchored it with the big truck.”

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This article originally appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of Tow Canada.

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