The reality show Ice Road Truckers premiered on the History Channel on June 17, 2007. It was a hit right out of the gate. The series features a crew of colorful drivers who traverse some of the most dangerous routes in the world. Their job is to take their massive trucks through the snowiest, iciest regions of Alaska and Canada on roads that can only exist under the coldest of conditions.
Suspense comes from knowing that peril awaits at every turn. Trucks slide on the ice, risk sinking into the water underneath, and face other potential calamities. The sheer drama is enough to keep viewers hooked, but the memorable personalities of the drivers is also a huge component to its success. There have been eleven seasons of IRT thus far, in addition to a spinoff show, Deadliest Roads, which has taken its subjects to the Himalayas and South America.
As with any reality series, there are a few skeletons in the closet — things the producers and cast members would prefer you not know. We’ve gone digging and come up with some surprising behind-the-scenes secrets about IRT and the drivers at its core. We have no doubt that knowing these stories will help you look at the program in a whole new light.
Here are 15 Dark Secrets About Ice Road Truckers.
15. Kidnapping Snow White
Timothy Zickuhr appeared on the second season of the Ice Road Truckers companion series Deadliest Roads. What he experienced in Bolivia pales in comparison to what he experienced in Las Vegas.
Zickuhr hired an escort named Snow White. To pay for her services, he gave the woman his ATM card, telling her to find a machine and take out the cost. Later believing that she took more than the agreed-upon amount, he arranged to meet Snow White again, at which time he captured her.
Snow White had the last laugh, though, giving Zickuhr the number of someone she claimed would pay him back. It was actually the number of a cop she knew. The reality star was arrested and charged with two felonies, including first degree kidnapping. A judge gave him five to fifteen years in prison for his behavior.
14. Footage from the opening isn’t real
Ice Road Truckers is filled with dramatic footage. One of the most jaw-dropping images from the first season is of a massive rig falling through the ice and plunging into the freezing cold water below. Making the moment even more harrowing is that the camera is right there, just inches away as it records what happened. That moment has raised questions about its authenticity, including from a few people involved with the production.
According to a report in the New York Post, some of the drivers were overheard on a two-way radio channel during the filming of the second season, complaining that Hollywood magic had been used to enhance the show’s opening sequence. And according to that same report, it’s true.
13. Lisa Kelly took time off because of the loss of privacy
Without a doubt, one of the breakout stars of Ice Road Truckers is Lisa Kelly. In a show filled with macho, burly dudes, it’s nice to have a little female representation. It’s also great that she demonstrates driving skills comparable to those of her male cohorts.
Achieving popularity on a TV program means the producers want to feature you more, which ultimately proved to be something of an issue for Kelly.
Fans noticed that Kelly was absent from an entire season of the show. In an interview with the website Uproxx, she said that she opted to take some time off because she was “trying to get grounded again.” Specifically, she cited having a camera following her around all the time and invading her privacy as something she desperately needed a break from. The slow pace of filming was another contributor that created stress, as it prevented her from just doing her job.
12. The plane crash
Tragedy struck the Ice Road Truckers team in August of 2016. Darrell Ward, who appeared in forty-nine episodes of the series, starting with the sixth season, died at the age of 52 in a plane crash not far from Missoula, Montana.
According to local authorities, Ward was piloting a single-engine Cessna 182 that took off from Dallas. Something went wrong as he began his approach toward Rock Creek Airport, causing the plane to crash into the shoulder of the interstate, then catch fire. His co-pilot also perished in the accident.
In a bizarre coincidence, Ward was on his way to film the first episode of a brand new series — one that would focus on recovery efforts in the aftermath of plane crashes. His death was a staggering loss not only for the cast and crew of Ice Road Truckers, but also for the fans who felt they’d come to know him.
11. Real truckers don’t think the show is accurate
Part of the appeal of Ice Road Truckers is that it focuses on a very unusual job that only a select few individuals are skilled enough to succeed at. Seeing the ins and outs of this career makes for entertaining viewing. That said, what you see on the show may not really be all that accurate, according to people in the know, at least.
TheTrucker is a website devoted to the profession of truck driving. In 2013, they ran a piece in which they polled truckers about their opinions on the show, and the responses were less than enthusiastic. One respondent claimed the show perpetuates stereotypes and makes truckers look like “buffoons.” Others complained that Ice Road Truckers makes the gig look more dramatic than it actually is. One even acknowledged that a realistic show “wouldn’t be interesting enough to keep an average person entertained for an hour.”
10. The cast gets paid less than most reality stars
Thom Beers is the brains behind Ice Road Truckers and a bunch of other reality shows, including Deadliest Catch, Storage Wars, and Ax Men. He also provides the narration for most of the programs he puts out. Clearly, given his resume, he’s interested in the lives and careers of blue-collar workers. The formula has proven massively successful.
There’s just one hitch: being a reality TV star isn’t exactly a blue-collar job. He wants his subjects to be relatable. That’s why Beers has a policy of paying his cast members significantly less than most people in the field earn.
In an article from the New York Times, Beers said that one of the ways he controls salary demands on his shows is by signing participants to multi-year contracts, meaning that he doesn’t have to pay them more money if the show becomes a hit. High-paying endorsement deals are also off-limits. It’s all part of the plan to preserve that working-class authenticity. Does he put the same limitations on his own income?
9. A man inspired by the show died on the job
Have you ever been so inspired by a TV show or movie that you attempted to emulate it in real life? Odds are you have, in some way, shape, or form. Lots of people find influence in the entertainment they love. Ice Road Truckers is no different. The program is so inherently dramatic that it has made a few fans seek work in the profession. In one instance, that had tragic results.
Brett Colley was a former solder who loved Ice Road Truckers so much that he decided he wanted to become one himself. After applying for the show and being rejected, he got a job driving a food delivery rig on Canada’s Alaska Highway, a notoriously dangerous route.
8. Producers fudge driver personalities and danger levels
Every episode of Ice Road Truckers contains at least a couple of moments that make you white-knuckle the armrests of your couch or recliner. The drivers, meanwhile, are a colorful bunch who can be friends or enemies, depending on the situation. In an interview with the website Huliq, trucker Rick Yemm warns that what you see isn’t necessarily how it really is. “We get slated in these character roles,” he said, suggesting that creative editing influences how the cast comes off. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
More shockingly, Yemm insists the driving is not always as dangerous as it appears. He continued, “We don’t take risks for anybody’s safety. We know when it’s clear to do stupid stuff, like drift around a corner. All that stuff that we do, it’s all done safely. But they never put it in the show that way.”
7. The production got kicked off a road
During the first season of Ice Road Truckers, the drivers navigated their rigs across what’s known as the Tibbett to Contwoyto Road. It was built by a group of mining companies to allow them to service mines and transport materials through the Northwest Territories. There’s no doubt that the area made a perfect setting for the show. Unfortunately, the producers were only allowed to use it for one season before being forced to find a replacement.
As it turns out, the mining companies believed that filming of the show was creating a distraction for the non-televised drivers. They also thought the show portrayed truckers driving across their road as reckless, unsafe, and motivated only by money. As a result, Ice Road Truckers was no longer allowed to use it for production.
6. Lisa Kelly gave her dog away
Lisa Kelly not only starred in the main show, she also appeared in the spinoff, Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads. One of the seasons took her to the Himalayas. Right before filming commenced, she decided that it would be nice to have a canine companion. She therefore found a puppy, whom she named Rampur Jackson. He accompanied her on the road, becoming an audience favorite in the process.
If you wonder what happened to Rampur afterward, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that Kelly gave him away. The good news is that, according to her personal website, he went to one of the show’s producers and “lives a happy life in California.”
5. A Hollywood studio planned & abandoned a movie version
From the moment it debuted, Ice Road Truckers was a hit. It was, at the time, the most-watched original program ever to air on the History Channel. About 3.4 million people watched that first episode, and most of them were instantly hooked. Whenever something makes a splash in the entertainment business, there’s always a scramble to capitalize on it. This case was no different.
Twentieth Century Fox, one of the biggest movie studios in Hollywood, bought the rights to use the premise of Ice Road Truckers for a feature film. They envisioned an action movie “tentpole” — that is to say, a picture that could spawn sequels.
Max Payne‘s John Moore was brought on to direct. He envisioned an all-star extravaganza along the lines of The Towering Inferno. And in 3D, no less! Obviously, the project got stalled in “development hell” and was never made.
4. Lives are endangered to get cool shots
Even if accusations that the driving on the show is made to look more perilous than it actually is, that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks involved. You’re still dealing with heavy trucks and icy roads. In order to get the harrowing shots for which Ice Road Truckers has become known, a little bravery is required.
The producers determined that 40MPH is the best speed at which to get some dramatic footage. On ice, that’s still pretty fast. A second vehicle carrying the camera crew has to drive alongside the truck being filmed.
According to a piece published on the Creative Planet Network website, Patrick Kligel, a cinematographer on the show, has been known to literally hang out the door of the “chase car” with his camera. Although he is supposed to be carefully harnessed to ensure that he doesn’t fall out, Kligel has, at times, simply wrapped a seat belt around his waist. It’s an incredibly dangerous way to film, but he gets visual gold from it.
3. Rick Yemm didn’t have much respect for his co-stars
Reality shows are known for conflict. It’s what they thrive on. Often times, that conflict plays out in front of the cameras. Other times, it spills over to the periods in between filming. Ice Road Truckers and its spinoff are no stranger to either form of conflict. You see some on the show, but there’s been backstage drama, too.
Cast member Rick Yemm lost patience with Lisa Kelly on IRT: Deadliest Roads. As per an interview with Huliq, he was angered to learn that “she wasn’t driving 90% of the time,” adding that “every time it got dangerous, she wouldn’t drive.” He viewed that as a cop out.
Yemm also wasn’t terribly fond of G.W. Boles, whom he derisively referred to as, like Kelly, a “show-made driver” as opposed to a “seasoned driver” like himself. He even went so far as to challenge them to a driving contest “without production manipulation” to see who was better. No word on whether that actually took place.
2. David Redmon says the show is scripted
David Redmon only appeared on fifteen episodes of Ice Road Truckers, but he had a whole lot to say about it afterward. In an interview with the trucking magazine Overdrive, he made some explosive allegations. First, he claimed that the show’s producers “went out of their way” to portray him negatively on the show. “They really, really spent a lot of effort making me took terrible in Alaska.”
Redmon went on to allege that his onscreen firing was planned in advance. “They had scripted me to be the bad guy on the show, and it just scripted me to get fired,” he said.
Perhaps most alarmingly, he reported that when he later moved on to IRT: Deadliest Roads, the producers gave him and co-star Rick Yemm trucks that were broken down to the point of being unsafe. “They were trying to get somebody killed,” he told the magazine.
1. Hugh Rowland claims his romantic life was ruined by a car accident
Hugh Rowland, also known as “Polar Bear,” is arguably the most popular cast member of IRT. Several years ago, he was involved in a serious accident that surprisingly didn’t involve a truck. Rowland was the passenger in a pickup being driven by one of the show’s producers, Will Morrison. Morrison lost control of the vehicle, which ran off the road and plowed into a group of trees. Both men were badly hurt.
Rowland sued Morrison, saying that the extent of his injuries — some of which were permanent — prevented him from returning to work at his trucking company. In a totally bizarre twist, part of the lawsuit sought damages for Rowland’s wife. The couple claimed that the injuries sustained during the accident prevented Polar Bear from being able to enjoy sexual relations, and that loss of intimacy took a toll on their marriage.
Who’s your favorite cast member on Ice Road Truckers? What do you like most about the show? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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