When the ice is starting to give you that sinking feeling, who are you going to call?
by Pat Rediger
If you are stuck in the middle of Lake Winnipeg, chances are that you will call True North Track Truck.
The company is a bit unique in that it modified a pickup truck with tracks instead of wheels. As owner Brandon Friesen said, “We can pretty much go anywhere.”
The specialty-built, off-road vehicle has 400 horsepower and a 25,000-pound winch, so when vehicles get stuck in the ice, this company has become the tow truck operator of choice in the area.
“People can die on the ice so you have to be careful,” said Friesen. “The track allows you to spread out your weight on the ice, but it’s still dangerous. So when people call, we have a built-in GPS and we can get out there and find them.”
The idea for the track truck came a few years ago when Friesen was stuck on the ice over a 12-hour period. He discussed it with his father, Leonard, and they realized a track made much more sense for this application, so they modified their pick-up and created the company. Not only do they rescue vehicles, but they also haul ice-fishing shacks, offer taxiing to fishing holes, and provide tours on Lake Winnipeg.
“We’ve had a cottage here for over 20 years and
I’m kind of a bush guy, so I know what we can do.”
This winter the company was called in to rescue a truck and camper that had fallen through the ice near Balsam Harbour. Friesen said the individual had only owned the camper for a week and was attempting to cross the lake when the ice gave way beneath him. While they were on the scene to haul out the truck and camper, a second truck nearby suddenly cracked through the ice while three men were inside.
All three men made it to the surface, but the last person was on his final breath when he surfaced. The only reason they were able to escape was because the passenger had left the window open, through which they were able to exit. Had the window been closed, it would have been impossible for them to open the doors because of the water pressure. True North Track Truck was able to pull the vehicles out of the water, but the camper had to remain in place for a few days because the ice was too thin for it to be safely hauled out. In most cases, when vehicles have been submerged, the insurance company considers them to be a write-off.
Despite the dangerous conditions, Friesen said it is all in a day’s work. “We’ve had a cottage here for over 20 years and I’m kind of a bush guy, so I know what we can do.”
Friesen said the company just has the one truck, but that keeps them busy. They are contracted by CAA to provide service in the area, and with their track truck, they are often called upon to rescue snowmobilers.
“You don’t want to leave someone stranded on the ice or stuck in the back country. We can go out and get them. Snowmobiles can go all over the place and sometimes they can break down and they need to have someone to go get them. We can pretty much go anywhere,” said Friesen.
The business operates 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week and Friesen said that they are willing to go across the country to provide service. The GPS unit they had installed in the vehicle makes it easy to locate individuals and—considering their line of work—they opted to have heated seats in the truck.
Friesen said that they do not have a lot of competition for what they do since their vehicle is equipped for pretty much any terrain. That is why they do not just tow vehicles, but rather offer a variety of winter-related services.
“The winters are long, but it’s really about helping people,” he said. “And you can make a buck while doing it.”