Blackduck man takes on role in 'Ice Road Truckers'
Bitter temperatures, ice-covered roads and hazardous driving conditions help make the History Channel's "Ice Road Truckers" a captivating program.
Blackduck native Tim Freeman Jr. takes the driver's seat as one of the daring rookie drivers during season three of the show.
From the back roads of Blackduck to the icy roads of Alaska, Freeman has always had a penchant for thrills and adventure.
"We always had four-wheelers and snow machines that I would mess around on and find trouble with when I was younger," Freeman said.
He never thought his daring streak would take him to the level he is at now.
"I've been a thrill-seeker of sorts my entire life," Freeman laughed.
His father, Tim Sr., has been driving truck his entire life. While working his family's farm, Freeman drove heavy truck loads around and hated it.
"I never thought driving like that was something I'd be doing for the rest of my life," he said.
Freeman attended Blackduck High School until 10th grade when he quit to devote his time to working.
"I don't know that I did a lot of work," Freeman laughed. "I did more partying and getting into trouble. I did eventually get my G.E.D."
Freeman's first official truck driving experience wasn't something he enjoyed.
"I think I was 18 the first time my dad made me drive truck," he chuckled. "I wasn't very happy about the whole ordeal."
Yet, when he turned 20, Freeman got his trucking permit and decided that truck driving, was in fact, what he wanted to do with his life.
"I started running loads like pasture seed and what not with my dad," he said. "Then, when I was 21, I got a job for an outfit in Fargo hauling oversized loads down to Alabama."
That first job was only the beginning. Freeman said he worked all the country over "chasing the big money." He spent several summers hauling dirt in Alaska and winters in Minnesota looking for work wherever available.
As he progressed through his line of work, truck driving started to become more of a passion than just a job for him.
"I'm very happy with what I do," Freeman said. "Right now, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else."
In December 2008, Freeman was with his father in Alaska trying to figure out what he was going to do for the winter as there was no work to be found at home in Minnesota. While searching, Freeman's mentor, George "Scrap-Iron" Spears, an old family friend, helped Freeman get signed with a trucking company called Carlile.
Freeman had first met Spears in 1992. Ever since, they have been good friends. Freeman knows him as a great teacher.
After connecting with Carlile, Freeman left Alaska to spend Christmas in Minnesota. When he returned to Alaska in January, a film crew for "Ice Road Truckers" was waiting for him. Freeman was told that if he wanted to, he could follow Spears and as he called it, "be on TV."
"I was really skeptical at first," Freeman said of the sudden opportunity. "I didn't know if I really wanted to do this. I was really worried I would screw up."
Freeman's ice road trucking career began quickly. After being in the Alaskan winter for two months, the crew liked that Freeman would sign on and become the rookie of the show.
This season, drivers hauled large freight loads from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay. The Dalton Highway, the most dangerous haul road in the country because of its extremely sharp curves, is the only route across the 500 miles of mountainous territory.
Freeman's first trip along the Dalton was his first driving the complete distance by himself.
"I drove up there one time with my dad and did very minimal driving," Freeman explained. "I was scared to death."
Freemans recalled that on that first trip, he got to go with a film crew in his truck. "It was a little nerve-racking," he said.
One thing that calmed Freeman was that a woman on the crew was from Blackduck.
"Terri Utley was working as a pilot car driver up in Alaska," he said. "Work was slow so she got a job on the filming crew. I've known her all my life, so it was really nice to make my first trip to Prudhoe with her."
Working with a crew in his truck was definitely something Freeman had to get used to.
"Every 50 miles or so they would prod me with hundreds of questions," he said. "It got a little tiring after a while. There was even a couple times I told them to just get their cameras out of my truck."
Freeman said he still got nervous driving along the hazardous highway with every trip that he made.
"After a couple trips, I almost pulled the plug," he said. "I had had some trips with terrible weather, and I would slide down the mountain. I just about cancelled the entire ordeal."
Freeman said even the guys who had been in Alaska for ages said it was the worst winter in the past 10 years. Freeman remembers seeing countless numbers of trucks upside down in ditches over the course of the winter. Even two members of the film crew found themselves in a wreck that put them in the hospital for a few days.
On his second trip going to Prudhoe, Freeman had a close call of his own on a hill called the Beaver Slide.
"It was a complete whiteout and I could hardly see the end of my hood," Freeman recalled. "My tires were locking up and I couldn't see a thing. I was slowly sliding down the hill. It was a really scary moment."
Aside from the dangerous driving conditions, Freeman said the frigid temperatures can also cost lives and cause severe breakdowns.
"When it's that cold, I always turn my radio down so I can listen to my truck," said Freeman. "When it is minus 50 or -60 degrees, a lot can go wrong."
Even with a film crew following his every move, Freeman said he never really got a "celebrity feel."
"Like I said at first, I was just worried about keeping my truck upright on the road," he stated.
"About a month ago I was home, and all of this stuff came out on YouTube," Freeman said. "That is when it really hit me that I was for real going to be on TV. It got a little surreal then."
Another season with "Ice Road Truckers" is something that Freeman thinks will happen. He said if given the chance, he will participate. Being a haul-road trucker is something he can see himself doing for a while.
If he does return for another season of "Ice Road Truckers," Freeman will no longer be the rookie and he will no longer have Spears to work with.
"George says he is calling it quits after this year," Freeman said. "I guess we'll wait and see. He is kind of the Brett Favre of haul-road trucking."
Though he does get homesick, Freeman says he has settled himself into Fairbanks for awhile.
"I'm not leaving this haul road until I get it figured out," Freeman said. "I'm a long way from figuring it out."
"Ice Road Truckers" airs on the History Channel at 8 p.m. Sundays.