Sep 1, 2007 12:00 PM
When it snows a few miles away from this truck equipment shop, the snow just sits there, and sits there, and sits there.
Eventually the weight of the accumulated snow is enough to turn the snow to ice and to turn the ice to glaciers.
That's just the way things work in the mountains around Anchorage. But that's not the case for other places such as streets, highways, driveways, and parking lots. People in Alaska have the same expectations that residents of the Lower 48 have. When they hit the road, they want to be able to remain on the road and hit nothing but the road.
Not surprisingly, sales of snow and ice control equipment are an important part of the product mix for Truckwell of Alaska, a multi-line truck equipment distributor based in Anchorage. Average snowfall in the immediate area around Anchorage is 69 inches per year. Granted, that is nothing like the 141 inches that Marquette, Michigan, averages or even the 93 inches that Buffalo, New York, receives in an average year. But Truckwell does not just serve the Anchorage area. The company covers all of Alaska, including Valdez.
What's special about Valdez? Had it not been for the infamous oil spill of 1989, this city would be best known for being the snowiest place in America. According to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Valdez receives an average of 326 inches of snow per year, That's more than 27 feet per year. By contrast, Buffalo is balmy. Snow and ice control equipment comes in handy in Valdez.
But when it comes to truck equipment, the climate in Alaska does more than just create a need for snowplows and spreaders. It also affects how trucks and trailers are designed and operated.
Trucks and the people who operate them need some special care in order to be protected from the extreme cold, especially in the northern portions of the state. Example: some van bodies have to be insulated more heavily than the average ice-cream delivery truck in order to keep the cold out of the bodies.
Putting ice on the road
A lot of distributors install truck equipment to take snow and ice off the road. Truckwell of Alaska does that, too, but the company also equips trucks to put ice on the road. That's because the oil industry, the most dominant segment of Alaska's economy, travels on ice. In some cases, roads made of ice are the only avenues to oil.
There are no conventional roads leading to the oil-rich reserves beneath Alaska's North Slope. In order for the heavy rigs that explore and produce oil and gas to reach these fields, they must travel through fragile Arctic tundra. As such, truck travel is highly restricted. Environmental regulations require that trucks travel over the icy terrain only by rolling along a road of ice.
And these roads do not exist for much of the year.
Ice roads are permitted to be built only after we have had between 15 and 30 days of continuous below-zero weather, says Arnie Swanson, president of Truckwell. The ground has to be frozen solid. Then trucks equipped with water tanks are used to build up the ice to a depth of 16-18 inches. When the ice is deep enough, a rake grooves the top of the surface. It's a pretty expensive process it costs about $1 million per mile to build.
© 2013 Penton Media Inc.