Hugh “The Polar Bear” Rowland
Profession: Truck driver and star of IRT: Deadliest Roads
Hometown: Lacombe, Alta.
- IRT: Deadliest Roads (IRT stands for Ice Road Truckers) premiered to more than 1.1 million viewers, becoming History Television’s highest-rated single episode
- He represents Canada as one of the drivers on IRT: Deadliest Roads, on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET.
He’s an off-road trucker who has dominated the icy, treacherous roads of Canada and Alaska.
Dubbed “the Polar Bear,” Hugh Rowland is a veteran of ice-road trucking and the Canadian driver in History Channel’s hot hit, IRT: Deadliest Roads, where this season big rig drivers tackle South America’s Andes Mountains.
When he’s not manoeuvring his 2001 International big rig through the Amazon’s jungles and steep cliff sides, Rowland drives a 2011 Ford F-350 Super Duty pickup at home in British Columbia.
What’s the deadliest road you’ve driven?
Probably in Bolivia and Peru – that was the worst roads I have ever driven on.
Death Road was quite a road. I tell you, we were pretty hairy in some spots. In the three months we were down there from January until March or April, 43 people got killed on that road.
I definitely don’t treat it like a joke. The roads are definitely dangerous. I’ve been driving the back roads, off road, my whole life so I’m used to it. It’s just that it was way worse than any other one I’ve been on.
I was nervous. Everybody was worried about it. But it was a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun doing that stuff.
I had a couple of breakdowns. I dropped my steering on a mountain top there. I lost the brakes – odds and ends like that.
What was your worst driving moment on the show?
It would have to be when the guy came around the corner and he totalled my truck off.
I thought I was going to die that day. He hit me head on and took all my tires right out from underneath me. That’s probably the worst.
I fell through the ice once, but it was right on the edge of the lake so I was alright. The back end went in the water, I was half on shore when the truck went through. If it had been any further out, I wouldn’t be here today.
Are you mechanically inclined?
I have my own big truck shop where I do my own welding and all kinds of stuff like that.
I have an excavating company. I have Cats and excavators and trucks and track machines and all kinds of stuff. I always say don’t go anywhere without a roll of duct tape and a roll of haywire.
Who taught you to drive big rigs?
I’ve been driving on the farm since I was about six years old. I’ve been driving my whole life.
I always drove standards on the farm and then I started gravitating to the big trucks. I had to drive them – that was our livelihood.
I started driving ice roads when I was 15 in the Northwest Territories. After that I got my big rig licence and I just kept driving the ice roads.
Did you ever imagine you’d be a TV star now?
Not in a million years. Even when they came up and asked us if they could put some cameras in our trucks, I said, ‘Yeah, but everybody in Canada has driven ice roads so I don’t think anybody would watch that show.’
How many big rigs do you own?
I own four of them.
I got three Internationals. I like the International trucks – I always have. My 2001 big silver International has a Cat engine with 550 horsepower. It’s got about one million kilometres on it.
I retired the Crow’s Nest [the truck he drove on the Ice Road Truckers series] It’s a ’98. It was getting a bit smashed up by the other people. I just said it made me lots of money and I thought I’d just retire it.
So I keep it here all shined up. I drive it every year a little bit if I’ve got to move something around the yard. I fire it up and move the trailers around and keep it running.
But aren’t big rigs a huge investment?
Yeah. Probably every one of them would be about $100,000. You probably put another $25,000 to $30,000 into getting it the way you want it.
Once you get it rigged up the way you want it for the ice roads you don’t like to change them too much. And it can be gone in 15 seconds.
Your daily driver is an F-350 – why did you go with a Ford instead of a Dodge Ram or GMC Sierra?
I’ve always ordered my trucks from the factory since 1987. More than 25 years I’ve been getting my trucks from Ford.
What does a Ford truck say about you?
Rough and tough.
What’s the best and worst feature on it?
The best feature is the new engine in the 2011.
The worst feature is the traction control. I don’t like it because you can’t step on the gas if the traction control is on. It won’t let the tires spin. I don’t like that. I always like to have a little bit of fun.
Have you had any mishaps in the F-350?
Oh yeah. I’ve probably wrecked more trucks than most people have owned.
In ’05, I had a brand-new tractor and I came down off a mountain top and I was pushed over a hairpin and the trailer went over the bank and pulled the truck over.
Do you like to drive fast?
Oh. yeah. I’ve always driven pretty fast.
I used to get speeding tickets more when I was younger, but now I’ve smartened up. I drive all over the place. Every day I’m on the road.
What do you listen to on the road? Is there an iPod connection in your big rig?
Yeah, I’ve got an iPod connection. I listen to a little bit of everything. I listen to country music. I listen to old classic rock and roll.
Do you sing behind the wheel, too?
Lots of times. I don’t have a favourite song, but I sing to a lot of them.
What was your first car?
My very first car was a 1965 Galaxy 500. I paid $500.
It was a ragtop – that was the best thing. Then I went right into the trucks. I had a ’60 Ford pickup.
If I can bring you the keys to any vehicle, what would it be?
I’d have to have another F-350. I won’t sway from them.
This interview has been edited and condensed.