An in-depth chat about ICE ROAD TRUCKERS
I recently had the fantastic opportunity to spend one evening chatting with Alex Debogorski, the animated character from History Channel’s ICE ROAD TRUCKERS. We talked, or rather, he talked, for quite a while about the common misconceptions that people have about truckers, and what he hopes that being a “movie star” will do to help the industry and people like him! Read on for a really enlightening conversation (note: I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in an interview ever, and I’ve spoken to quite a few comedians) and tune into ICE ROAD TRUCKERS’ season premiere on Sunday, June 6, for more!
Tell me a bit about your background.
I went to the University when I was about 17 years old and you know my wife got herself pregnant, the next thing we knew she quit school and the next thing you know…my son came along and [I was hired] to move coal in the coal mining region in Western Canada and of course I joined a union…and I went driving truck and I don’t think that even crossed my mind, the last job was driving a truck. I just started, came across an application and filled it out…about 9 years after that that I was talking about going back to University. I was 27. I actually started driving in the cold, coal mine, then ….then got on to the big coal truck, down the mountain and then I went to work for gold, one thing led to another and I ended up in the Northwest Territory because of gold…and at that time they had two big gold mines right inside the city, in the town. Because of my experiences all in construction, I think when I was 22 I started my own business, there was so much work to do here that there was so much to do they couldn’t find the people. In a lot of areas, just get it done and they didn’t care if you were qualified. They… (laughing)
They just wanted it done. Exactly.
I was working like four jobs. I was working security, I was doing carpentry work, I was running heavy equipment, and I started a business , with a little tax advice in owning a business, and all that stuff and of course after I made a bit of money I bought some property and then the first thing I did , I figured I had all this experience with construction, I went after those construction companies and bought a truck and went driving. I figured I had a dump truck well then when winter comes and in the north, well everything freezes so we live on the shore of a lake here, Gordon Lake, which is the widest lake in North America, and it‘s about 300 miles long and over 100 miles wide and we live right on the shore of it and then we have Northern Canada is full of lakes and rivers and we have native communities that have no access to the city or to civilization by road so in the winter time when the waters freeze up and the roads are built to the communities to haul fuel and groceries and then of course we have, in the north there are lots of minerals so then you can look for gold, diamonds and all sorts of stuff and when they find a place well then, and if you’ve got the supplies you can pull them in, so now we had a dump truck and some guys got a little mine in Gordon Lake and the big companies wanted too much money so what will you charge to come and haul some blasted rock from point A to point B in Gordon Lakes, so the next thing … we are gonna get a couple thousand bucks a day. You know talking to myself and flying saucers and whatever is up there. Pretty well once you get around these lakes by yourself, you are by yourself. You know you’re not only in the bush now you’re in the middle of the lake, so then one thing leads to another and then it’s just one of those jobs, like a lot of people don’t realize, .. North … There is a lot more work in Northern Michigan and the Dakotas then there is in Florida, or in Texas. Because you get bored and you know you have water pipes. The water holds and the water is warm and nothing ever happens. Let’s say in Northern Michigan they have the same water pipes they have in Florida but in the winter time everything freezes. So now we have a different kind of guy. Guys that fix water pipes that are freezing.. Do you know what I mean?
You know you have to go out there in Florida, your cars run all of the time, you don’t plug them in. No in Northern Michigan they have the block heaters, the battery heaters and has to know when he goes to fix the car he has to fix the car. In Florida you’re going to have to worry why doesn’t it run when it’s 40 below. And all these different jobs that are available in the north because of the cold it’s like for every job there is, there is second job because there is a warm weather job and there is a cold weather cold job. So it’s like that you have trucking here in the summer but then you got this particular kind of trucking where everything freezes. So I am here and there is, and I decided I was going to do that kind of work and off I went and you know I was 20 some years old and now I’m an older man, just at 60 and now I’m going to be a movie star you know what I mean…
[laughing] How did the show come about, was that something that they approached you about or was that something that you had a part in creating? How did Ice Road Truckers the Show start?
I was working for this company in the winter time and one thing lead to another. I bought a truck. Over last years and he hires trucks in the winter time so I got a truck and I have been working for this company, and there was a show. I believe I’m not 100% sure but there is a book written, about the ice road and there was a documentary made about John Edison and Nick Robinson and Huey Arden and a bunch of people that kind of were the pioneers of the ice roads in the north and the history channel has access to the show and every time they showed that show the rating would jump. People would want to see more, so they went and got a hold of Tom Beers Original productions who basically single-handedly pioneered the genre with things like AMERICAN CHOPPER, DANGEROUS CATCH and now they have done a thousand other productions and said, hey we would like to do the show so Mr. Beeers and Segal, the guys down there, used to ship a crew up here to Yellowknife, showed the plans to the trucking company that I worked for and then they went out and made the pilot so then they started looking for characters and so every time they would interview somebody that would interview people who worked for the company and whether the person they were interviewing or somebody that was sitting nearby listening in, somebody would say if you want a character you should go with Alex, because somehow through my life have been a character, basically not through my own doing, somebody else’s, but I have this knack of taking everybody else’s bullshit and giving it back to them.
When I travel to the southern 48 I say you know I’m your fault, too, because you know during the hard time what we have done is that the Americans have shipped their bullshit over the railway and especially a whole bunch north of Canada so what we do is put it through assessment and we are selling it back to you. I’m your fault too. (laughing harder again!). They usually take it fairly well.
Really I’m not you know people say well that’s because I am that elitist, no no no! I’m just one of these people that have been lucky to have been around so many bs’ers that I can reproduce it, so that it gives me so much more product (laughing)…
I live in a world full of bullshit and my job is just to reprocess it and make it sound like its mine.
Exactly. [laughing] I should start taking that approach. I love it. What is a common misconception people have about your job and about your work and things like that?
Well I think a huge misconception is the, you can pretty well see that 400 million North Americans, maybe all around the world and people really do not give those of us that are in the transportation industry credit for the effort that we have to make. Individual and as a group, the transportation industry is the biggest employer, especially of men and some women too, in North America. If you go on the highway you see those trucks running up and down the road but then he is some dummy hanging over the steering wheel sort of like he has one hand on the bumper and his truck is bouncing down the road and he is responsible first for himself and his family He is responsible for sometimes millions of dollars just to get on the road, but at least kind of for the freight, he is responsible for truck and trailer and there are worth $150,000 a piece and he is responsible for an infinite amount of value in all individuals in their vehicles that he passes because if he doesn’t pay attention and if he isn’t responsible he is going to kill somebody. And a lot of times, they have to drive defensively because a lot of times the people he meets aren’t driving very defensively and they are putting themselves in front of him in the situation in a big truck where you can’t stop because he has so much momentum and weight.
Sure there are individuals, there are truckers that don’t do a good job. It’s just like the priests. Okay say you’ve got a bunch of priests. There are a bunch of priests messing around with little boys and girls and stuff but you know the vast , I don’t know what the percentage is, but I am sure that the vast majority of priests are excellent people and they do the job they are supposed to do. Well the same thing for most truck drivers, but you go out there and I don’t know what the story is but just two weeks ago in Louisville I was at Mid-America there and a tractor trailer crossed the median and hit a van head on. It killed 11 people. You know the driver died too. Another trucker stopped and saved two children out of the van. It was on fire. So you know well everybody here killed a bunch of people but you don’t hear about the 99% of them that go up and down the road everyday and don’t get into trouble.
It’s a big responsibility that the general public misconception is just a bunch of bums going up and down the road that really don’t really know what they are doing and really don’t deserve to be paid any more than they do because all they do is they don’t do anything. I hold the steering wheel and I twitch a little to the left and twitch a little to the right and every once in awhile I step on the gas and sometimes I step on the brakes and then after 15 hours I just pull over and go to sleep. I don’t know why I’m sleepy. I should be doing this non-stop. I should be like a perpetual machine here.
Are you very aggressive?
I think I know that here you know I’ve heard people comment, they have a lot of drivers up here in the north because we are a small community, oh bullshit, it’s not that dangerous. But I deal with a lot of the general public, they just come up and say I didn’t know truck driving was such there was so much to it. I didn’t realize it was such a job. I didn’t know it was that complicated. You know because most people see the shiny truck. They see the driver get in and the truck leaves. The shiny truck comes back, stops and the guy gets out. So I see the guy get in and the guy get out. You don’t see the rest of the day in between so most people see the truck or they see us go by on the highway. But, they don’t see what the guy has to do for 8 10, 15 hours a day sometimes.
Yeah my dad was a truck driver, not on the ice, he drove across Pennsylvania.
So you know exactly what I mean.
I understand that.
You remember when you were a child or whenever you were, you tell people my dad is a truck driver and think of the reactions.
Yeah, the reactions like you said are oh he’s just a truck driver, but a lot of the goods that people have they wouldn’t have if people weren’t driving them across the country . Not everything goes on a plane.
A lot of them, all of the goods. If it’s delivered it goes on a truck and raw resources go on a truck and if there weren’t trucks there would be a big problem. It’s something that only the truck drivers and farmers and you know cowboys and then down the road, you sneak in the soldiers and pretty soon you have a chain. A lot of people take these people for granted.
You know it’s only the driver but then look at the driver’s wife and the driver’s kids, I mean as a child you don’t get to see your dad a lot because he was out there doing his thing. I mean drivers sacrifice so much. I don’t know what the number is, but I bet you I don’t know 40% of the drivers, their wives have left them and they are on their second wife or their third wife, because how do you keep the family when you’re on the road all of the time and you know you make a few dollars and then the truck breaks down well now you have to come out of the truck. That truck is like a wife, you have to keep watching that darn thing all of the time so then what happens after your family, you own your own truck but your family is taking a back seat to the truck because everything depends on that truck running.
So anyway the driver and the truck owner who really doesn’t get the credit, I think that is really the misconception. That the jobs, they are uneducated people, it is a lazy job, and it’s loads of fun. You know in some ways, what I’m doing right now, people are like “you’re traveling; you’re having lots of fun.” I hope everybody is having fun with what they are doing. You know you only get one life…so we better like what we are doing. So I can’t retire at 65, it’s silly you better retire now because if retirement makes you like what you’re doing because you only live the one life you see. We hope that you’re having lots of fun.
I go to the hotel room, I try to find something to eat and I go to bed watch TV and go to sleep because I have to get up the next morning and I have to sign autographs and shake the hands of a thousand more people. I enjoy it but I don’t enjoy it because of greeting and signing autographs for fans. I enjoy it because its fun but I enjoy it because so many of the people who I’m signing autographs, what better thing can you ask for then what makes the persons day with that. I think that’s the beauty of being a “movie star.” I don’t know about other movie stars. I know that people tell me that I am the better at a being a movie star than a real movie star….I really think it is my responsibility to make as many people’s day as possible. Probably the best example was a St. Ignace last year up in the upper peninsula near Michigan, the people are fantastic. The people really appreciated that I came to their community and there was a lady there who I call every couple of months. She is dying of MS and it makes a big difference to her to hear from me. She is confined to a wheelchair and she is not … she is only 45 years old and I have talked to her since I saw her the first time and it really makes a big difference to her and all I’m giving her is a quick hello, but because of the notoriety I can make a big difference in a few peoples day. You know when I call her it makes a big difference in her day.
You are also bringing more attention to the life. To help people understand a little more. About what they didn’t understand about what was going on in this trucker world.
Firestone brought me to mid-America, Louisville and last year what do you call the big guys with the big … there are a number of trailers around America and they go around talking to people about trucking. Basically their whole thing is to show the friendly side of trucking. But these people told me something, Alex you have become the face of trucking and so with that I have the responsibility of trying to help people realize that the industry and the individuals in it are people and like I said, and we actually sacrifice the individuals in this industry more often and sacrifice a lot more than what the actual guy does with his 8 to 5 job. We have a lot more responsibility and hopefully people will give them more credit. If you put all the truckers in a good mood in one day in America, you’ll put all of the Americans in a good mood. Because they are everywhere. There are on the highway. I mean they are everywhere. All you have to do is go out there and say thank you or you know if everybody puts one or two truckers in a good mood the whole country would be in a good mood. I mean there are so many ways. Of course I have traveled, I have spent 6 months in Alaska last year and 2 ½ months in Alaska and 4 months in the Southern 48. I had the opportunity of speaking 7 hours last week speaking with 7 different groups of students at Lincoln High school in Mantuak which is quite something. I spoke to students and high school students, over 1500 students I spoke to, and I had never really done that before and you talk about recycling bologna. Hahahah…..
We have season 4 coming up that premieres this summer. Why do you think people should watch?=
Well. I’m not sure. I got rid of my television 15 years ago?..
I don’t know if I could live without TV.
I know when I’m not at home there are TV’s getting snuck into the house. But there is no TV at home. There is a hole on the wall where the TV is to be and I meditate on the wall behind where the TV used to be and I think that is probably helps me stay being a character? I am really concerned about two things. I don’t want my mind to become homogenized and secondly I don’t want to become Bambi-ized. And mostly my age, we were raised on Bambi. And most people haven’t gotten over somebody shooting and hitting Bambi’s mother. That’s why we have a lot of the problems we have today in a nut shell. So did I explain why you should watch TV?
I think you explained why we shouldn’t watch TV but I get it. [laughs]
People say how can you make a show about trucking? I mean you go up and down the road and you go up and down the road, nothing ever happens. I don’t know about you but there is always something happening in my life. It’s like I have a parallel universe that I keep dipping into. I guess you should watch the show. You’ll have to watch the show and call me back and let me know if you should watch the show.
That sounds like a plan.
It was so great to talk to you today and I hope that we get to talk again because it was fantastic.
I will tell you a classic story. It’s hard for me to stop talking now. I was in Fairbanks. We were having dinner. We had a whole bunch of TVguys around. We were all having dinner and I am halfway through my dinner and I look in the bowl and there were some green beans in the bowl and here you know those long toothpicks that they stick through hors d’oeuvres? In the end they have this furry little plastic thing? Anyway here the plastic furry stuff is right there on a toothpick. So I picked this up and I thought well this is terrible. Somebody threw garbage in here so I put on a napkin. I looked around and I was going to tell the waitress or the owner, he would have wanted to know, you know it was a normal type of truck stop restaurant, but nobody was there so I set it on the side of my plate and I continued eating and we are talking and eating and stuff so anyway here comes the waitress and the owner so I looked on my plate to find this garbage to give them and my plate is clean. I looked at the plate, I looked underneath and it was clean underneath the plate. I thought shit I ate it!!!!!
What an awesome man – I truly hope to speak with him again in the future, and you bet I’ll be tuning in next Sunday!