On The Haul Road

Staff | September 28, 2010

Delivering supplies and equipment to the Prudhoe Bay oilfields on Alaska's North Slope demands durable trucks and drivers to handle the rigors of the 414-mile Dalton Highway or "Haul Road," among the world's most treacherous stretches of highway.

The demanding, mainly gravel road begins from Livengood, Alaska, follows the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and climbs more than 120 mountain grades and hills with 25 grades approaching or exceeding 18 percent. Temperatures along the route can fall to 50 or 60 degrees below zero. And forget about finding lots of facilities along the way. After the lone truck stop — in Coldfoot, Alaska — the next 250 miles is said to be North America's longest service-free section of highway.

Yet, it's a route that Carlile Transportation Systems, one of Alaska's largest trucking firms, regularly tackles with experienced, skilled drivers behind the wheel of Kenworth W900s and T800s. The several thousand oil workers in Prudhoe Bay, home to America's largest oilfields and starting point for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, rely on companies like Carlile to deliver fuel, groceries and medical supplies, plus equipment and pipes to keep the oil rigs and pipeline working.

The Right Truck

According to John McDonald, Carlile Transportation Systems vice president and fleet operations manager, Kenworth and its dealer, Kenworth Alaska, work diligently to help spec the right truck to handle the challenging conditions that Carlile drivers face in Alaska, particularly on the Prudhoe Bay run.

"Kenworth engineers and our dealer, Kenworth Alaska, visit us to get a better sense of what specifications can work for us. That shows their commitment to the success of our operation," said McDonald.

McDonald also emphasized the importance of service after the truck sale.

"We count on Kenworth to provide parts and reliable service when we need them, and that's not always an easy task here in Alaska, but they get the job done," McDonald said.

The company chose Kenworth W900s and T800s because of their durability and driver comfort, according to Fairbanks terminal manager Lane Keator. The company's new W900s are equipped with Kenworth's 72-inch AeroCab FlatTop sleeper for a comfortable environment, especially important when sudden storms and extreme cold weather can leave drivers stranded on the haul road for hours, even days, Keator added.

Carlile drivers can't afford to become fatigued as they must shift gears an estimated 2,500 times when pulling a typical load weighing about 85,000 pounds to 90,000 pounds on the Haul Road.

"I feel more refreshed and ready to handle what comes up on the haul road because these Kenworth trucks have comfortable interiors and ride well," said Tony Molesky, a native Alaskan who began driving for Carlile 18 years ago.

Founded in 1980 by brothers John and Harry McDonald, Carlile Transportation System's fleet has grown from two used Kenworth tractors to nearly 300 trucks operating in Alaska and throughout western Canada and the lower 48 states. In addition to headquarters and terminal in Anchorage, the company operates terminals in Fairbanks, Kenai, Kodiak, Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse, and Seward, Alaska, and in Tacoma, Wash., Houston, Forest Lake, Minn., and Edmonton, Alb.

Carlile's trucks and hard-working drivers were scheduled to be featured traveling the "Haul Road" as part of a History Channel television documentary series "Alaska: Dangerous Territory," which aired in July. The series examined extreme jobs in Alaska.