Saskatchewan towing company embraces the slippery slope

by Pat Rediger

Tow truck drivers are known for their ability to deal with whatever nature throws at them, from wind to rain to snow. For TRK Transport and Recovery, in Lumsden, Saskatchewan, you can add another element to that list: ice.

TRK Transport and Recovery is close to Last Mountain Lake, a 93-kilometre long prairie lake that flows into the Qu'Appelle River. Tyler Temple, owner of TRK, has carved out a niche by helping unfortunate drivers whose vehicles get stuck in the ice.

“We’ve been doing ice recoveries since the company formed, just about four years ago. We take on a lot of these and other specialty jobs that other companies haven’t really got any interest in,” Temple said with a laugh.

“Every job is different and requires a new challenge. Sometimes it requires different equipment that we build right on the spot to be able to get the job done. It involves a lot of thinking outside the box, preparation and work once you’re prepared to do it.”

When TRK gets a call for an ice tow, Temple said safety is always their top priority. He said after driving out to the scene, he inspects the ice they will work with to make sure it is going to be strong enough. If it is not, then the vehicle will be left in the ice for a few days until the ice thickens and is sturdy enough for them work on. Temple said the key is never putting the tow truck or operator in danger.

“We don’t put our tow trucks on the ice,” he said. “We do all of that from shore, which means a lot of work because we have to have enough cable to get out to the vehicle. I’ve built a few custom pieces of equipment to make it easier for us to recover these vehicles, whereas years ago they just used telephone poles. I’ve come up with some systems that work much better.”

“Every job is different and requires a new challenge.”

This year has been a busy one on the ice for Temple’s crew. TRK has already towed seven vehicles out of the ice at different areas of Last Mountain Lake, including Regina Beach, Pelican Point and Grandview Beach.

The drivers stuck in the ice had been venturing out to ice fish on Last Mountain Lake. While Temple noted that many of the drivers whose vehicles have gone through the ice are experienced, he said they are no match for the extreme warm and cold weather shifts Saskatchewan has experienced this winter.

“When it goes from an extreme warm temperature to an extreme cold temperature you get expanding and contracting of the ice,” Temple said. “It’s like sticking a pop bottle in a freezer full of water. When you pull it out and it’s frozen, it’s going to have expanded or exploded. Ice works in the same way, except when the ice expands and contracts it creates a pressure and it actually breaks the ice and then creates an ice heave. That’s something you definitely want to stay away from when driving on the ice.”

While Temple embraces the challenge of towing vehicles out of the ice, he stresses to all drivers the importance of knowing the conditions before you venture out on the ice.

There have been some memorable challenges for TRK this year, but one that stands out to Temple was a job at Grandview Beach, where a truck was stuck basically in the middle of the lake – 3,000 feet from shore. The company was unable to use a tow truck because of the distance.

“Of course I could have got 3,000 feet of cable and attempted to pull it [from] on top of a big hill, but because it was in such a remote location you couldn’t get a vehicle out on the ice,” Temple said. “I went out and I secured the vehicle from dropping down to the bottom of the lake. Underneath the truck was water 30-feet deep, and you wouldn’t want to be recovering it from the bottom of the lake.”

Temple added that after inspecting the vehicle, he decided to anchor it. He has a system that anchors the underpart of the ice. “You drill a hole, drop the anchor through and when you pull up, it anchors the bottom side of the ice. I tied my cable to that and hooked it to the vehicle in the water. That way, if it wants to drop down any further I’ve got a 150-foot lead on it.”

Temple decided to use quads and then had to determine how to set up the rigging and equipment. It was a “shot in the dark” but it worked like a charm and the vehicle was successfully rescued.

Temple documents many of his ice recoveries on his company’s Facebook page. It has led some to suggest that perhaps he should launch a TV show that broadcasts the towing jobs on ice.

“I’ve thought about it,” he said. “I watch Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue: 401 and those types of shows. They’re great shows, but I wouldn’t know how to go about getting one started. Typically, it’s just normal towing out here. Last year we only did one ice recovery. A mini-series or something like that might work.”

While Temple embraces the challenge of towing vehicles out of the ice, he stresses to all drivers the importance of knowing the conditions before you venture out on the ice.

“If you’re heading out fishing or heading out to any lake – and that means any lake that’s frozen – make sure you’ve got knowledge of the lake before driving on it,” he said. “Knowledge is a key part of it, especially because you’ve got to worry about sand points and sand bars. There are springs in lakes that create constant water rotation under the ice and that washes the underside of the ice out to make it less thick. It might look thick on top, but it’s not thick enough to be driving on. Do your homework and get a lake map. There are lots of forums on Facebook that you can download for ice fishing and people will tell you where to stay away from. You can always ask local experts for advice.”

All photos courtesy of TRK Transport and Recovery


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