Controversies And Secrets Behind The Scenes Of Ice Road Truckers

Released on the History Channel in 2007, Ice Road Truckers is a reality series that follows a team of truck drivers who work in some of the coldest and iciest conditions in Alaska and Canada. The show was an instant hit, with the characters and stressful situations keeping viewers glued to their TV with every newly released episode. While the show is a massive success, it has its fair share of controversies and secrets that would shock even the most avid of viewers. So, pump your breaks and check them out!

You won’t believe the legal trouble one of the cast found themselves in.

Lisa Kelly Needed Her Privacy

Lisa Kelly Needed Privacy
Rick Gershon/Getty Images for A&E

Lisa Kelly, a strong woman surrounded by rugged men, quickly became a fan favorite on the show. Because of this, she became one of the main characters, which meant more camera time. Fans later noticed that Kelly was absent for an entire season of the show.

Kelly told Uproxx that she needed some space from the show because she was beginning to feel suffocated by her lack of privacy. The filming was also negatively affecting her job, as she was becoming more of a television personality than what she really was, a truck driver.

Real Truckers Don’t Buy Into The Show

Real Truckers
History Channel

Truck driving, especially on icy roads, is a job that only select people have the skillset to do. This is part of what makes the show so interesting to non-truck driving viewers. In a poll on the website TheTrucker, real drivers had their own opinions about the show, and they definitely weren’t praising it.

One commenter noted that the series stresses negative stereotypes about truck drivers, portraying them as “buffoons.” Others added that the show makes the job look much more exciting than it actually is just to increase viewership. They claim if it wasn’t so exaggerated, no person would be able to sit through an hour-long episode.

The Cast Isn’t Well-Compensated

Not Well Compensated
Brian To/FilmMagic

Thom Beers is the producer of Ice Road Truckers as well as Deadliest Catch, As Men, and Storage Wars. To ensure that the cast of his shows remain true blue collar workers and not television stars, he doesn’t pay them all that much money.

In an article from the New York Times, Beers explained that he has the cast sign multi-year contracts, so they can’t demand wage increases even if the show becomes popular. In addition, he doesn’t offer high-paying endorsement deals — another way to make sure the cast doesn’t start driving sports cars instead of their trucks.

A Crew Member Was Killed In A Plane Crash

Plane Crash
History Channel

The Ice Road Truckers family experienced a devastating loss in 2016 when Daniel Ward died in a plane crash near Missoula, Montana. He was 52 at the time and had appeared in 49 episodes of the series. Taking off from Dallas, Ford was flying a private single-engine Cessna 182 when something went wrong, causing the plane to crash on the side of the interstate, killing him and his co-pilot.

Sadly, Ford was on his way to film the first episode of a new series focused on the recovery efforts that occur in the wake of a plane crash.

Rick Yemm Isn’t The Biggest Fan Of His Co-Stars

Rick Yemm
History Channel

Considering that Ice Road Truckers is a reality show, there’s no shortage of drama both in front of and behind the camera. Rick Yemm threw Lisa Kelly under the bus in an interview when he proclaimed, she wasn’t driving 90% of the time […] every time it got dangerous, she wouldn’t drive.”

He also had something to say about G.W. Bowles whom he referred to as a “show-made driver.” Yemm went so far as to challenge Bowles to a driving contest without “production manipulation,” although it’s doubtful it ever happened.

Some Of The Opening Sequences Are Fake

Fake Opening Sequences
History Channel

In the opening sequence from season one, a rig can be seen falling through the ice and sinking beneath the water. The footage is shocking and intriguing to viewers. The only problem is that it’s fake.

In a report from The New York Post, two of the drivers were overheard on a two-way radio channel complaining that they weren’t happy with the fake scene, made in hopes of luring audiences in. As it turns out, the whole scene was completely staged, using miniature models and filmed inside of a studio.

The Danger Is Overexaggerated

Not Unsafe
History Channel

In almost every episode of Ice Road Truckers, there’s at least one scene that gets your blood pumping. Watching people drive massive rigs on ice is nothing short of an adrenaline rush, even if you’re sitting on your couch at home. But apparently, not everything is as it may seem. Yemm admits that the driving is made to seem much more dangerous than it actually is.

He claims, “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.”

See how that may not always be the case for the rest of the crew.

An Accident Supposedly Hurt Hugh Rowland’s Marriage

Hugh Rowland Accident
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

Hugh Rowland, otherwise known as “Polar Bear,” is a fan favorite on the show. Years back, he was involved in a serious car accident that didn’t involve a rig. Rowland was a passenger when producer Will Morrison was driving and lost control of the car and crashed into a group of trees.

Both Rowland and Morrison were severely hurt, leading Rowland to sue Morrison on account that he couldn’t work for a while. Surprisingly, the lawsuit also sought damages for Rowland’s wife. The accident apparently caused intimacy issues between the two which put a strain on their marriage.

There Was Discussion Of A Movie

Jack Jessee/Facebook

Many may not have anticipated it, but Ice Road Truckers was a hit from the start. For a time, it was even the most-watched original History Channel program to ever air, with 3.4 million tuning in for the first episode.

Seeing the series’ success, Twentieth Century Fox wanted a piece of the action and bought the rights to turn the premise into a Hollywood film. They wanted to make a blockbuster hit with the potential for sequels and in 3D (of course). Unsurprisingly, the film was placed on hold and was never made.

Their Personalities Aren’t Genuine

Fake Personalities
History Channel

The characters on the show are engaging to watch, with their personalities either clashing or acting cohesively depending on the circumstance. Although it’s entertaining to watch, their characters aren’t necessarily genuine.

According to driver Rick Yemm, for the most part, the characters on the show are created to create conflict, enhance the drama, and raise viewership. He commented, “We get slated in these character roles […] There’s nothing we can do about it.” Essentially meaning that how your favorite characters act may not be who they are in real life.

The Photographers Put Themselves In Harms Way

Filmers In Danger
History Channel

Even though the driving is meant to look more perilous than it actually is, that doesn’t mean everybody is entirely safe. Film cars drive in the front and back of the rigs at all times to get the necessary shots. The trucks usually drive around 40 MPH, which means that the film cars have to match their speed. This can be tricky on ice.

On top of that, they have to get extremely close to the monstrous rigs. Numerous times, cinematographer Patrick Kligel has hung out of a moving vehicle with no protection other than a seatbelt. Anything for the perfect shot.

Ever wonder how “Steph “Hammer Down” Custance got her nickname?

Lisa Kelly Gave Her Dog Away

Rampur Jackson
Lisa Kelly/YouTube

Besides being a cast member of the original Ice Road Truckers, Lisa Kelly was also in the spin-off, Ice Road Truckers: Deadliest Roads. At one point, she was required to go to the Himalayas to film and decided to adopt a puppy to keep him on the road. She named the pup Rampur Jackson, and the dog quickly became a fan favorite.

Suddenly, Rampur stopped appearing on the show, leaving audiences disappointed. It turns out that Kelly gave the dog to one of the show’s producers who now lives in California. She even wrote a book titled What Happened to Rampur Jackson?

Steph Custance Only Had A Year Of Experience

Steph Custance

Understandably, most of the drivers on the show have had years of practice and experience both on and off the icy roads. But this wasn’t the case for the show’s youngest female driver, Steph “Hammer Down” Custance. She only had under a year’s worth of experience driving a rig before being hired onto the show.

Many people felt this was incredibly unsafe, and something that the showrunners did only to add suspense whenever Custance was in front of the camera. Luckily, she seems to be handling herself out on the road.

Why Alex Debogorski Left In A Hurry

Alex Debogorski
History Channel

Alex Debogorski was a star in the ice road trucking industry, with more than 36 years of experience and a radiating positive attitude. He was so respected that it was considered good luck whenever he pulled the first load over the ice each season. He wasn’t just loved by his co-workers, but by fans of the show as well.

However, he disappeared in the middle of season two, leaving a lot of fans scratching their heads. The reason was that he was seriously ill with a medical condition known as pulmonary embolism. Thankfully, he recovered and is back on the road today.

They Are Banned From Filming On A Particular Route

History Channel

In the first season, the drivers drove their rigs through what is known as the Tibbett to Contwoyto Road. It was originally built and used by mining companies to ship and receive materials from the Northwest Territories. It turned out to be a perfect route for the show and was used throughout season one.

Eventually, the mining companies thought that filming on the road was distracting other truckers and told production they were no longer allowed to use it for the show. The miners went on to ban commercial filming on the road.

The Snow White Scandal

Kidnapping Snow White
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Dept via Getty Images

Timothy Zickuhr was a cast member on the Ice Road Truckers spin-off series, Deadliest Roads. He found himself in quite a bit of trouble on a trip to Las Vegas after ordering an escort who was dressed as Snow White. Zickuhr gave the woman his debit card so she could take out his payment from the ATM.

Believing she took too much money, he arranged another meeting with her where he kidnapped her. The escort tricked him into calling someone who she claimed would pay him back but was actually a police officer. Zickuhr was arrested and sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison.

A Man Died After Being Inspired By The Show

Inspired Man Dies
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Under the assumption that the show portrayed the true life of an ice road trucker, former soldier Brett Colley was inspired to try his hand at the profession. He even applied for the show. After being denied, he took a job rig driver on Canada’s Alaska Highway, a dangerous route.

On one trip, Colley lost control of his rig on the ice and the truck fell down an embankment. Although Colley was killed, unfortunately, his co-driver managed to survive the accident.

The Meaning Behind “Hammer Down”

Hammer Down
Steph “Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

It seems a little strange that 22-year-old Steph Custance would have a nickname like “Hammer Down,” but the story behind it makes perfect sense. She didn’t actually acquire her nickname from driving, but rather her skills with a mallet. At one point, Steph and Todd had to go to a fishing village where trailers had been left behind from a previous season.

One of the trailer hitches was frozen shut, so Todd tried to free it by hitting it with a chain. Steph came to the rescue with a mallet and whacked at it until the job was done. That day, Steph “Hammer Down” Custance was born.

The Show Started Out As An Episode From Another Series

Episode From Another Series
Eric CHRETIEN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Ice Road Truckers may seem like a unique idea for a show, but it didn’t come from nowhere. The show’s inception actually started in 1999 on the History Channel show Suicide Missions. There was a 46-minute-long episode about ice road trucking and the episode was featured on reruns for the Modern Marvels series.

The single episode was a success, so the executives at History Channel got a bright idea. They decided to make a stand-alone show about ice road trucking, and it turned out to be a success.

The Show Is Surprisingly Well-Liked By Critics

History Channel

When it comes to reality television, it’s no secret that many critics scoff at the thought of it. Most shows are typically packed full of useless drama, poor dialogue, and bad production. Yet, Ice Road Truckers isn’t just popular among viewers, but critics as well.

Adam Buckman from the New York Post commented,Ice Road Truckers’ is astonishing,” with other critics from The New York Times sharing his view on the show. After all, Ice Road Truckers wouldn’t keep going season after season if nobody liked it.

Polar Bear’s Nickname

Ice sculpture artist Pete De Grandis, Ice Road Truckers star Hugh
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

How did Hugh Rowland earn his “Polar Bear” nickname? Well, many believe it came from a fascinating story of how he battled a polar bear in the ice and managed to survive. That would be sweet, but that’s not the case at all.

The name comes from the ’80s when one of Rowland’s friends saw Polar Bear on the side of a truck. He thought it would fit perfectly and Hugh likes to think the name is a play on his bear-like stamina.

Attitude Gives You The Boot

images_dave redmon

If you recall correctly, David Redmon only appeared in fifteen episodes of Ice Road Truckers, but he left an impression. Fans began to label him as the “bad guy.” Soon enough, he got the boot from the show, but was he really that bad?

Redmon spoke publicly about the mishap and he has a different side to the story. “They had scripted me to be the bad guy on the show, and it just scripted me to get fired.”

Real Truckers Don’t Approve

A general view at a celebration for the new season of
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

Most of the people who enjoy this show don’t have trucking experience. Getting the chance to see people doing something dangerous like this is probably the biggest draw the show has. Those who’ve done this line of work shared their own opinions.

An anonymous driver spoke with TheTrucker and said a realistic version of Ice Road Truckers, “wouldn’t be interesting enough to keep an average person entertained for an hour.” Others also expressed that the show embellishes too much.

Getting Stuck For Hours

Lisa Kelly, the only female driver for A&E's
Rick Gershon/Getty Images for A&E

Due to the remote roads truckers use, there’s hardly any traffic flowing near them. That can be a good thing sometimes, but when you’re having car issues, that isn’t that great. If their trucks develop a problem, they can be stuck there for a long time.

One time, Lisa Kelly did something not-so-smart when her truck broke down. She shut off the engine, which then froze. That made it harder to get the thing started again!

Health Problems Get You Kicked Off The Show

Lisa Kelly, the only female driver for A&E's
Rick Gershon/Getty Images for A&E

As much as the producers like to think they’re in control of everything, they still have to abide by the strict laws governing the profession. That includes getting time off for medical conditions, even if you are the most popular on the show.

For example, Lisa Kelly had to take time off thanks to stress. Meanwhile, Steph Custance had to watch from the sidelines when while suffering from pancreatitis. Health is important, and reality TV shouldn’t get in the way.

Former Bus Driver

Ice Road Trucker Lisa Kelly visits
Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage

There are many facts and secrets about Lisa Kelly. We’ve told you a few already, but here’s one that’s pretty interesting. Before landing a role on the show, Kelly tried her hand at school bus driving.

Kelly started her career as a truck driver for an Alaskan haulage company called Carlile Transportation. Everyone has to start somewhere before they get to a place they can call their own. It just took Kelly a little longer.

School Wasn’t For Her

 Ice Road Trucker, Lisa Kelly visits
Jeffrey Ufberg/WireImage

Higher education isn’t for everyone. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Kelly relocated with her family to Sterling, Alaska when she was only six. That’s quite a climate change for a young kid!

When she grew up, she returned to her hometown so she could go to Cornerstone University. One semester in, Kelly dropped out of college and moved back to Alaska. It sounds like she couldn’t make up her mind. The cold is where she belonged!

Motocross Champion

Lisa Kelly visits
Donna Ward/Getty Images

Lisa Kelly’s love for vehicles traces back to when she was young. Before she was having issues deciding whether or not she should complete college, Kelly was in love with racing. She once won the state freestyle motocross championships!

Not surprisingly, she got married to a dirt biker, Traves Kelly. The two of them share a love for racing and pets. A strong bond consists of shared interests, among other things, so it seems like they’re a nice match!

Kelly And Ward Were Close

DARRELL WARD on twitter

You can’t predict when tragedy will strike, but you can bet that it will happen at some point. Ward’s untimely passing was hard for everyone, but Lisa Kelly took it harder than many.

She often referred to the late trucker as her big brother whenever asked about him. The pair started a business together before he passed away following season ten. Kelly still carries out this business venture and we commend her for doing that.

Started When He Was Young

Ice Road Truckers star Hugh
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

Like Kelly, Hugh Rowland got his start with vehicles at a young age. Polar Bear started trucking when he was only a teenager! That’s a young age to start going down dangerous trails, but Rowland says it was more than the money that kept him going.

The income was good when he was a teenager so that’s why he took the job, but he fell in love with it not too long after starting the career.

Net Worth In The Millions

Ice sculpture artist Pete De Grandis, guest and Ice Road Truckers star Hugh
Matthew Eisman/WireImage

For many of us, having a net worth of at least one million would be amazing. Hugh Rowland makes many of look average with his two million dollar net worth. That’s quite a lot of coin for trucking, but the Polar Bear sees it as hard work.

Not only is he one of the best ice road truckers in the industry, he’s also been at it for over three decades. He earns a nice salary from trucking with only having to do it for a few months each year.

Polar Bear Means Business

Ice road trucker Hugh Rowland visits the SiriusXM Studio-145461807
Cindy Ord/Getty Images

If you thought ice trucking was all that Hugh Rowland did, you were wrong. He keeps his life busy because he has businesses to run when he isn’t trucking around. Hugh has his own construction company that brings him a ton of revenue.

Other than that, he also manages different trucks in addition to his primary one. His main mission to take care of his family, and when he isn’t working you can find him spending quality family time.

No Speeding… Or Else!

Eric CHRETIEN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Just like the regular laws in place, you can’t speed no matter what. Not only is it dangerous, but you can get a serious ticket costing a ton if you get caught. Besides, you aren’t Vin Diesel, so keep it safe.

Speed limits on ice can be as low as 10 miles per hour. The trucking industry has a strict set of rules that they enforce often. If you get caught breaking any limit, truckers can expect to receive a ban.

The Fans Love It!

Lisa Kelly, the only female driver for A&E's
Rick Gershon/Getty Images for A&E

There has to be some reason why a show continues to run for seasons on end. It comes down to the fans. If there isn’t good viewership, then you can expect the series to get canceled at any moment.

Thankfully, critics enjoy this show a lot. Adam Buckman of the New York Post said, “Everything about ‘Ice Road Truckers’ is astonishing.” Of course, opinions don’t carry any weight unless they’re true and then at that point it becomes a fact. Buckman’s remark is surely an opinion.

Most Watched Original Show

Lisa Kelly, the only female driver for A&E's
Rick Gershon/Getty Images for A&E

It’s no surprise that Ice Road Truckers was an amazing hit, even from the start it set records. You might not have guessed a show with this subject matter would be so popular, but it is.

According to Reality TV World, Ice Road Truckers’ Sunday night premiere episode hauled in 3.4 million overall viewers—a rating performance that made the Deadliest Catch-like series’ debut the most-watched original telecast in the History Channel’s own 12-year history. That is pretty impressive.

Ending In Tears

Steph Custance facebook page
Steph ”Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

Fans were on the edge of their seats when Steph Custance had to make her first lake crossing, even with veteran Todd Dewey by her side. She admitted that she had no idea how to put the chains on the tires, so he gave her a quick lesson.

Things were so tense because they were about to cross a lake that a different trucker crossed earlier that day and broken through. When they made it through to the other side, she immediately burst into tears.

Why Did Steph Choose This Job?

Why did Steph Choose this job?
Steph ”Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

Well, how did Steph Custance get into this field? It’s one of the most dangerous jobs, so we can’t wrap our heads around her reasoning, especially because she’s a single mother. But if you ask her about it, being a mom is precisely why she’s in it.

“It’s my son, she said. “Everything I do in my life I do for my kid.” In some cases, truckers can take home around $250,000 for two months of work.

Very Active On Social Media

big into social media
Steph ”Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

Part of being in show business today means being active on social media, even if it means having a manager run your accounts. Custance loves to keep her followers in the loop with all of her posts.

Her Instagram account has 19.6k followers and her name is iceroadmama. She states that she’s a “West Coast Canadian Kid” in her bio. Whenever she posts, her fans always chime in and tell her how much they adore her.

She Joined The Series At A Bittersweet Time

joining the show at an awkward tme
Steph ”Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

Sure, something all fans love is when there’s a new face to join the cast. What type of energy will this new person bring? Will they mess up the chemistry, or will they fit right in?

Custance joined the show at a bittersweet time. It was the last time fans would see Darrell Ward, but they would also get more of this awesome girl. A fan favorite passed away, but a new soon-to-be favorite brought new life.

Steph Is The Youngest Female Driver On The Show

Youngest On The Show
Steph ”Hammer Down” Custance/Facebook

Long before Custance arrived on the series, Lisa Kelly was the only female trucker from season three to five. She said, “I had to work twice as hard. I had to pull my weight and everybody else’s and get the job done as fast, or faster.”

In season five, rookie driver Maya Siber joined her and expanded the women count. For a while, it was just those two ladies, then in season ten, Custance became the youngest female trucker when she joined the show.