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Support crews vital

Stephanie McDonald
Northern News Services
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

YELLOWKNIFE - It takes a team of hundreds of people to build and maintain the Tibbitt to Contwoyto ice road.

The first members of this team truckers encounter are Tyson Arnold and Sheldon Otto, who sit in the Nuna Logistics dispatch station in Yellowknife.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Brian Clarke is a security guard at the first portage stop on the road. He advises truckers of hazards further up the road. - Stephanie McDonald/NNSL photo

The two men receive a trip report from each of the truckers, describing what they are carrying, the weight of the load, and which mine it's for.

The most important part of their job is ensuring the trucks aren't too heavy.

Both men work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. They work a rotation of three weeks on and one week off.

"I'm warm, so it's OK," said Arnold.

A Yellowknife resident, he said another perk is that he gets to go home at the end of the day.

Patrolling the road 24 hours a day are Secure Check security guards, 90 per cent of whom are ex-RCMP officers. Their 10 trucks travel up and down the road, while other security guards work as dispatchers along the route.

Brian Clarke, of Kelowna, B.C., sits in a trailer at Meadows security checkpoint - the first portage on the road.

By the time truckers get to him, they have travelled for about an hour. The mandatory stop at Meadows allows them to check their straps and loads, look for any mechanical problems, and some add methyl hydrate to their air lines to prevent freezing.

"If there is a storm up ahead, the truckers can wait here or go back," Clarke said.

Further along the road is the Dome camp, temporary home to 35 to 40 Nuna logistics employees. These are the men and women who build and maintain the ice road.

Brett Wildman, foreman at Dome, explained the process of building the road: a Haglund, an amphibious tracked vehicle, profiles the road, measuring the ice thickness as it goes.

Three measurements are taken every foot.

"They are one of the most important pieces of equipment we have up here," said Wildman.

The Snow Cat is the next piece of equipment on the road, clearing and tramping snow.

After that, crews are constantly plowing, flooding and building up portages between lakes.

A rancher from Sanguido, Alta., Wildman has been working at Dome for the past six years.

"If you respect the ice, it will look after you," he said.

Wildman said his crews take a lot of pride in building a smooth road for the truckers, and have competitions with the other crews further up the road, to see who can build the best stretch.

After 12 hours competing with the elements on often-fickle ice, crews are happy to see the face of Jim Melanson, Dome camp cook.

His 31 years spent honing his skills as a hotel cook in Moncton, N.B., prepared him for a new life on the ice road.

His recipe for hearty beef and macaroni soup is a favourite among hungry crew members.