Ice Road Truckers: 15 Things We Didn't Know About The Cast

Whether or not you think that Ice Road Truckers is a true “reality show” or not, we can agree on one thing: the show has certainly changed the way we think about truckers. The show has challenged this stereotypical view that people had about folks who drive trucks for a living, showing them (for the most part) as smart, motivated people instead of dodgy, sometimes even creepy characters.

While they may be a little rough around the edges, we’ve grown to love the cast of Ice Road Truckers. But behind the scenes, there may be much more to them than what gets featured on the show. Some have bad-mouthed IRT after leaving the show, saying that the series is scripted, others had run-ins with the law, and some have sadly even passed away.

Ice Road Truckers began in 2007 and is now in its eleventh season. The show was created for the History Channel by Thom Beers; a man who can’t seem to miss when it comes to reality shows. He is also the brains behind Deadliest Catch and Ax Men and has produced more than 40 TV series since the mid-1990s.

Here are a few things you may not know about the cast of Ice Road Truckers

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15 Hugh "Polar Bear" Rowland Sued The Show

Hugh Rowland joined IRT in the very first season and over the next 8 seasons became one of the show’s most recognizable figures as both a driver and an owner. But when IRT returned for its 9th season Rowland was noticeably absent. So what happened? Well, it turns out that the reason he was “let go” from the show was that he filed a lawsuit against IRT in 2014. He alleged that a producer's reckless driving was responsible for the “severe and permanent injuries" he suffered in an accident. TMZ reported that his wife added that she was also affected as she was deprived of "love, companionship, and the enjoyment of sexual relations." Following this lawsuit, the network was left with few options other than to fire him.

14 Rick Yemm Says IRT Painted Him As The Bad Guy

Rick Yemm was one of the show’s most memorable drivers – who can forget that raging blue hair? Right from the start he was known for being hard on his trucks and had a tendency to drive fast over rough roads while shouting “Yee-haw!” He actually quit in his very first season due to tensions between him and Hugh Rowland. The floor heating in his truck malfunctioned and he felt Hugh did not respond to the issue quickly enough. But since his departure, Rick has been spilling the beans about IRT – and just how fake the “reality show” really is. He also says that he’s been painted as the bad guy. “We all get slated in these character roles,” he said, “And there’s nothing we can do about it.”

13 Why Steph Custance Decided To Become An Ice Road Trucker

Make no mistake – ice road trucking is a dangerous job. So why would a young single mother decide to take on such a challenge? Well, Steph Custance, who joined the show in season 10 says that she is doing it, not only to prove herself, but mainly for her 5-year-old son. “It’s my son. Everything I do in my life I do for my kid,” the devoted mom said. According to industry insiders, ice road trucking is one of the most lucrative jobs that you can land in the trucking world. On average the drivers can earn anywhere from between $20,000 and $80,000 for a season (the length of the seasons varies according to the climate) and even up to $250,000 for two months of work.

12 Ronald "Porkchop" Mangum’s Driving Skills Got Him Fired

Do you remember Ronald "Porkchop" Mangum from season 6? Let’s refresh your memory. He was the trucker from South Carolina who barely managed to pass the driving stage of his interview, but Lane Keator from Carlile Transportation decided to give him a shot anyway. While he seemed like a nice enough guy, his driving skills left a lot to be desired. When he wasn’t grinding the gears on his rig, he seemed distracted; staring off into space, fussing in the cab, and generally not paying attention to the road. Other drivers complained that he wasn’t keeping a safe following distance and viewers were horrified when he leaned on his steering wheel, looking as though he was about to nod off. The final straw came when his rig needed minor repairs and he just sat in the truck and let the other drivers do the mending. He was fired before the season ended.

11 How Hugh Rowland Got His Nickname

On Ice Road Truckers, most people got to know Hugh Rowland by his nickname; Polar Bear. But how did he get this nickname? Did he get into a tussle with a polar bear at one stage during his journeys, perhaps? That would be quite a story, but sadly that’s not the case at all. It seems that back in the 80s, a few of Hugh’s friends saw the words branded on a truck and decided that it fit his personality perfectly. He obviously didn’t mind and the nickname stuck. According to Hugh, he likes to think that the name “Polar Bear” refers to his bear-like stamina and attitude towards the dangerous ice roads and the high number of loads he always manages to deliver. Whatever the reason we agree that this name suits him down to the ground.

10 Why Lisa Kelly Got Into Ice Road Trucking

Believe it or not, one of Lisa Kelly’s first jobs was delivering pizza as a teenager. She says it was this job that made her realize that she didn’t want a career that involved going into an office every day. She wanted to be out and about. “Delivering pizza, I could drive around town,” she said, describing why she felt attracted to the job. Then after a while, she slowly realized that she wanted to drive a truck so she signed on with a school bus company that paid for her training. She drove a school bus for a year but says it was tough to be a professional driver and babysit 40 kids at the same time. “I couldn’t wait ’til my freight didn’t scream anymore,” she said. Well, she has certainly come a long way since then.

9 T.J. Tilcox Did What Few Other Rookies Can

Back in season 1 of IRT, we were introduced to a young man named T.J. Tilcox, who was at the time 21 years old and an ice road rookie. According to him, he decided to try ice road trucking not for the money, but for the incredible life experience. And he certainly got that. After answering an ad in the newspaper, he managed to land his first job but got into an accident before his truck even hit the road. A brake line disconnected from his trailer and he was cleared of any wrongdoing, but his bad luck was only just beginning. Shortly afterward he injured himself while tying down a load and a few days later he was suffering from such severe abdominal pain that he had to be flown out to receive medical care. But he recovered and returned to ice roads and managed to complete the season – something very few rookies actually manage to do.

8 Steph Custance Had Less Than A Year's Truck Driving Experience When She Joined IRT

Before becoming an ice road trucker, Steph Custance had less than a year's worth of truck driving experience. Typically, the drivers that we see on IRT all have experience in trucking, most of them have been doing it for years and years before they make the decision to take on the ice roads. But that wasn’t the case for the Steph, the youngest female driver on the show. She was just 22 years old when she was hired, and despite a less than stellar driving interview, they decided to take her on as they were short of drivers. Some fans feel that IRT may have influenced this decision in order to get some “eye candy” on the show, but so far Steph is proving that she has what it takes.

7 Why Lisa Kelly Had To Take A Break From Ice Road Truckers

In a show like Ice Road Truckers, filled with burly male characters, it’s nice to have a little female representation. Lisa Kelly, one of the shows two female drivers, has managed to become one of IRT biggest stars, driving up the ratings. You may have noticed that Lisa was absent from season six, but do you know why she needed to take a break from the show? Well, Lisa says that she loves doing the show but needed to take a break in order to get “grounded” again. Having a camera following you around all the time and invading your privacy is trying enough, but Lisa has also had to learn how to deal with being famous, and getting recognized wherever she went. So she took a break for a year and spent time with her family before returning for season seven.

6 Timothy Zickuhr: Trucker And Convicted Felon

We bet the History Channel would just love us to forget about Timothy Zickhur (season 2 of IRT: Deadliest Roads) but how on earth could we? The former ice road trucker was hit with felony charges back in 2015 for kidnapping and extortion. Here’s what happened: Timothy allegedly caught a lady of the night stealing from him and decided to take her hostage. As if that isn’t bad enough, he also had plans to sell her “services” and keep the money for himself. Oh, and around the same time, he robbed and assaulted an 80-year-old lady. He left his shoes at the crime scene too, so we’re not dealing with any kind of mastermind criminal either. He was found guilty on two felony charges and sentenced to a 5-to-15-year prison term.

5 Why Jack Jessee Became The Bully Of The Dalton

Jack Jessee joined IRT in season 3 with 15 years of trucking experience behind him. He had a reputation for hauling massive loads and in his first season, he managed to haul the largest number of loads. But when he returned in season 6 fans noticed that he had changed – and not for the better. He seemed so threatened by the other drivers and tried to maintain his “top dog” status by bullying them (which he called “pulling seniority”) and trying to make sure that he got all the good loads. When he heard that another driver had been given a cabin to haul, he tried to tell his boss that he should have been given the load, and that didn’t go down too well for him. He hasn’t been back on the show since.

4 Was Dave Redmon Really So Bad Or Was It Just Made To Look That Way?

Dave Redmon first joined the franchise when he appeared in IRT: Deadliest Roads along with Rick Yemm and Lisa Kelly. This Alabama native, with more than 25 years of trucking experience under his belt, then joined season 6 of Ice Road Truckers, which marked his first year driving on the ice. But things did not go well for him and he was ultimately let go due to concerns about his attitude toward other drivers and his driving performance. But Dave says that the show went out of their way to make him look like the bad guy and added that the production crew often completely fabricated scenes for the show. “They really, really spent a lot of effort making me look terrible in Alaska,” he said. “The stuff you see on TV is totally so far from the truth it’s just unreal.”

3 Darrell Ward Was Filming A Plane Wreck Documentary When He Was Killed

Darrell Ward was undoubtedly one of the show’s most popular drivers, so when he suddenly died in 2012 fans were devastated. But the events surrounding his death are more than just a little ironic. Ward was killed when the small plane he had been traveling in crashed as it came in to land, and his co-pilot also died on impact. It was a cruel twist of fate for the 52-year-old, who had been on his way to film a pilot episode for a documentary series about recovering plane wreaks when the accident occurred. Ward, who was also a long haul trucker and volunteer firefighter, joined the show in season 6 and remained on as a driver until his death. We’ll always remember him for his never say die attitude and his motto “Any road, any load”.

2 Hugh Rowland And Alex Debogorski Are Both Authors

Even though Hugh Rowland and IRT have parted ways, he still remains very much a reality TV star. He and Alex Debogorski have more in common than just truck driving; they are both authors of books all about ice road trucking. Hugh’s book On Thin Ice: Breakdowns, Whiteouts, and Survival on the World's Deadliest Roads, which he wrote in conjunction with author Michael Lent came out in 2010, and then one year later Alex released his own story King of the Road: True Tales from a Legendary Ice Road Trucker. Both books have been received well, with positive reviewers from readers and fans, proving once again that you should never judge someone simply based on the work that they do. Have you read either of these yet?

1 How Steph Custance Got The Nickname “Hammer Down”

“Hammer Down” is not the kind of nickname we would expect a young pretty trucker to have, is it? So how exactly did Steph Custance wind up with this handle? Is it due her driving style perhaps? Well no, but it does have to do with the way she tackles problems and that’s head on. Here’s how she earned her nickname: Steph and Todd were sent to retrieve two trailers from a tiny fishing village, but when they arrived, they found that the one trailer was completely frozen and they were unable to hook it up. Todd tried using a large chain to free it, but when that didn’t work Steph grabbed a mallet and began pounding away. And wouldn’t you know it, she managed to release the trailer hitch. And that’s how “Hammer Down” became her nickname.

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