The new season of Highway Thru Hell will highlight the challenges of running operations in two provinces.
Last season, Jamie Davis Heavy Rescue lost a significant amount of business in B.C. when a new competitor scooped up half the recoveries, forcing Jamie Davis to seek new opportunities to off-set the restrictions. Taking a gamble, he moved into Alberta to tackle Highways 881 and 63, setting up a second operation out of Lac La Biche while maintaining headquarters in Hope.
“This season is going to be exciting because of the two locations. The fact that all us guys are split up in different places has changed the whole template,” said Davis, pointing out that the company has tripled in size in the last year and a half and there are now more than 40 trucks in the fleet. “Business is booming in Alberta in comparison to what we’re doing in Hope. With the competition and the economy in British Columbia being so hard, the status quo now is we utilize more of our older, paid for trucks in Hope because it just doesn’t justify new equipment.”
Alberta’s Highway 881 runs north 300 kilometres through remote forest, muskeg, and tundra between Lac La Biche and Fort McMurray. On a route supplying more energy to the U.S. than Saudi Arabia, hundreds of millions of dollars of heavy equipment must be moved daily on this narrow, two-lane highway into newly-discovered oil and gas fields. Almost 60,000 shift workers are in camps serviced by Highway 881, and on shift-change day, thousands of workers need to get home. Davis sent his best drivers and trucks to the Alberta oil patch and tasked Adam Gazzola to manage the new Alberta startup. His crew includes Colin McLean, a city driver fresh from Vancouver who has to earn Gazzola’s respect. Deep snow, bitter cold, and big recoveries that dwarf most loads in B.C. push Gazzola’s team to the limit.
Back in B.C., Davis faces more challenges this season. During the heaviest snowfall and worst avalanche conditions in decades, he’s left with a skeleton crew of new hires and old trucks in his battle to keep the Coquihalla Highway open. New drivers include Howie Irwin, a highly-skilled heavy recovery vet who used to work the Coquihalla for Davis and his brother before buying his own truck and moving to the city; and Don Starr, a 20-year mountain veteran with MacGyver-like ingenuity.
“This season you can really see the differences between the types of weather. Hope has heavy, wet snow conditions versus dry, blowing snow and colder temperatures in Alberta,” said Davis. “The brutal conditions there are hard on people. The cold weather really takes a toll on the equipment and tunes us up a bit as to the conditions out there.”
Highway safety is a major part of the show and Davis hopes the added exposure in Alberta will help reduce crashes, as it did on the Coquihalla Highway. Accidents locally reduced 36 per cent the first year and 50 per cent the second.
Highway Thru Hell continues to grow in popularity each season and is now broadcast in about 170 countries around the world. Season two was No. 1 in its time slot on Canadian entertainment specialty television among all key adult and male demographics, and was the No. 3 Canadian entertainment specialty program among adults 25-54 and 18-49 overall.
“We’ve certainly been through highs and lows in the years of the show. There’s some good days and bad days, and the show tells how tough it is to be in the business,” said Davis. “However, I think the town of Hope benefits huge with tourism. We’ve got people that stop in Hope now to come and visit. We do up to seven tours of the shop a day at times. When the film crews are here, they spend huge money too.”
Season three of Highway Thru Hell premieres Sept. 2 at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel. Fans can view exclusive video, photo galleries, and show information at discovery.ca. Two interactive experiences also put viewers in the driver’s seat and feature the show’s silent stars: the highways themselves. Fully immersive and interactive, “The Coquihalla Experience” builds community and sparks conversation through “Explore the Coq/Coq Stories,” offering users an opportunity to drive the highway, explore the wrecks, and contribute their own stories about the Coquihalla. In addition, viewers can join the Highway Thru Hell conversation with the cast and crew during live chats on Twitter (@HWYThruHell) during each Tuesday night broadcast.