Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hell On The Highway

Edgar Allen “Tow” Stratton chains up his ‘03 379 Peterbilt during a March 28 snow event while Jonathan Berman catches every move. Stratton's company Dependable Tow will be featured in National Geographic's documentary “Hell on the Highway,” airing Wednesday nights.

I just threw the photo in because I've known Edgar for 30 years.

"Hell On The Highway" is the somewhat overblown title of a new TV show on NatGeo TV on Wednesday nights. Story in our local fishwrapper, the Sierra Sun from yesterday.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Winter rages across Donner Summit, 100 mph wind gusts blow Pacific storms of blinding snow that ravage the 7,240-foot pass on Interstate 80 above Donner Lake. The brutal storm systems dump an average snow accumulation of 415 inches yearly — the 2010-11 winter a massive 700-plus inches, with 250 inches still piled high on May 23, 2011.

Who better to capture the trials and triumphs of keeping the pass open for travel and commerce than National Geographic, airing the 10-part documentary “Hell on the Highway” Wednesdays at 10 p.m.?

“We are telling the story of the men and women in tow trucks, Caltrans, the California Highway Patrol who fight the snow every winter to keep Donner Pass and I-80 open,” said Conal O'Herlihy, line producer with America's Star Media, an outfit that creates award-winning documentaries, such as “Deadliest Warrior.”

“An element to the story is how vital I-80 is, not just to California, but to the nation. WalMart sends 250 trucks over the pass each day,” O'Herlihy added.

Swell. Not to mention the rest of the nation's commerce, the Chinese gambling tour buses, anybody and everybody who has business or pleasure east of Northern California, most of whom can't drive a lick on snowy roads. That includes a lot of truckers. One big rig on its side up there can stop the whole fucking nation! Heh.

Caltrans Superintendent Bryan Carlson, who worked in South Lake Tahoe for 29 years and now manages the Kingvale station, gave the camera crews a taste of local snow removal life. “I put them in the seats with operators — snow blowers, graders, sanders — to give them an overview of what we do,” said Carlson. He joked about the public perception that Caltrans doesn't “do anything.” If you got a look at the substation, you would be impressed with what goes on October through May. A 90-room dorm accommodates a 24/7 staff, with kitchens for crews pulling 12-hour shifts and a staggering 200-plus employee payroll. It's a nerve center of operations evaluating and staying ahead of winter storms.

Episode descriptions here. Check your local listings.

We live here and have better sense than to go over Donner Summit under bad storm conditions, so this is an interesting show for us.

By the way, there's a difference between Donner Summit and Donner Pass. Donner Summit is a geographical area of several square miles. I-80 passes through it. Donner Pass is just that, a pass through the mountains. It lies along old U.S. 40 and also passes through Donner Summit. The terms are often used interchangeably. You can get stuck in the snow there whatever you call it.

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