Old Crow Rumours flew through the community of Old Crow Friday as people tried to figure out when the first convoy of trucks would arrive.
One person would tell you they were due in an hour, and the next would say the trucks were still 180 kilometres out, travelling no faster than five or 10 clicks an hour.
Thirteen trucks had set out Thursday morning from Eagle Plains, the first convoy to travel Old Crow’s first winter road since 2004.
They expected a full, long day to travel the 260-kilometre road.
But no trucks came around the bend on the Porcupine River Thursday evening, and Friday came and went without a sighting, too.
When the 13 trucks finally rolled into town Saturday afternoon, they had put 40 driving hours into a trip that was expected to take less than 20.
“It didn’t matter how slow you go, you’re just bouncing in the cab,” said Dave Lieuwen, a trucker with Mercer Contracting. “It got awful hard on the shoulders and neck just from hanging onto the steering wheel and bouncing around.”
Lieuwen hauled in building supplies for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation – mostly lumber, some trusses, a few pallets of cement and some odds and ends.
There were quite a few slowdowns along the way, he said.
“Starting out, when we first turned off of Eagle Plains, a lot of the loads were falling apart. We had to stop fairly often,” said Lieuwen.
“After the first day, it wasn’t so bad. Everything was tied down good and settled into place. It held together that way. It’s just the road was so rough, that was the worst part.”
One of the trucks carried a Caterpillar tractor as support to help the others up steep hills or out of tight spots.
The Cat had to be unloaded 25 times over the two-and-a-half days on the road, said Lieuwen.
The worst incident happened Saturday morning, he said.
“Every truck that went over, the road got worse. I was fourth from the end. Everybody made it except the very last truck. He just about tipped over. His trailer slid and it was pretty bad.”
The top speed they reached was about 30 km/h, but there was “probably no more than five minutes of that in the whole trip,” said Lieuwen.
“There was times we were going so slow you couldn’t even see it on the speedometer.”
The winter road project is now days behind schedule, with close to 40 trucks still waiting to start the trip.
The original plan was to close the road March 17. The permit for the road expires after March 31.
Now the plan is to get the road fixed up and continue to maintain it while sending smaller convoys through in hopes that it goes quicker. But the first convoy has to get off the one-lane road before the next group can start.
Saturday evening and Sunday were spent unloading trucks and loading them back up with old tires, oil tanks and heavy machinery on its way back out. Trucks were lined up on the Porcupine River ice, ready to leave Sunday evening.
The convoy made it back to Eagle Plains late Tuesday, said Randy Shewen, the project manager, on Wednesday morning.
The next convoy of four trucks is scheduled to head out towards Old Crow Thursday morning, he said.
“Guys are working away up there, struggling with a blizzard, it sounds like. But they’re working hard to get the road in shape and get it healed up from the trucks coming back out loaded, and get ready to go back in.
“We’re just kind of rolling with the conditions and trying to get all these loads in before the end of March.”
Ross Mercer, owner of Mercer Contracting and one of the truckers on the first convoy, said he is feeling optimistic about getting all the loads into Old Crow in time.
“I think the rest of the job will probably go a lot better.”
Despite the setbacks, the trip so far has been a lot of fun, and he’s happy for the chance to be a part of the project, Mercer said.
“It’s a big job for us. We’re a pretty new business. So it means a lot to me personally and to my partner that we pull this off and do a good job and get everything in that we said we would. It’s a really neat opportunity to do so very much Yukon-style
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at