Truckers honor Dalton Highway driver with big rig procession

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2007

FOX - No one in the shivering crowd had ever seen anything quite like it before.

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Just after noon on Sunday, thousands of flashing lights poked through the winter haze covering the Steese Highway, just down the road from the pipeline viewing station.

A few minutes later, a mile-long caravan of trucks crawled down the highway, slowly passing the hundreds of people who came to remember the life of a great Alaska truck driver, Marvin Dale Harris.

This was a memorial: a celebration of a man and life, but also of his profession.

Harris, known by his handle "Spud," drove the Dalton Highway for 30 years, but on Nov. 29, he died in an accident on Mile 53 of the road he'd logged millions of miles on.

"Everyone knew Spud. He was a pretty lively character on the road," said Todd Powers, who drives for Big Horn Enterprises.

Idling in the Sourdough Express truck yard, Powers recalled meeting Harris as a child, and remembered how clean Harris always kept his rig.

When Powers learned his friend had died, he set about making a memorial decal to put on all the trucks. It features Harris' name, a cross and the words, "Keep on truckin'." Powers pulled out a cell phone and flipped through the photos of various rigs emblazoned with the decal.

"He'd want us to remember the good times and the high times," Powers said. "He'd love this."

The sound of humming engines and the smell of diesel fumes filled the truck yard as the trucks snaked through Driveway Street, wound along Phillips Field Road and took the Johansen Expressway to the Steese Highway. A young boy in a Spider-man coat announced each passing truck with the same exclamation: "Awesome!"

"Big Barb" Irwin, a trucker who shared the road with Harris for "27 and a half years" explained the procession.

First came "Nancy," Harris' rig. Then came friend and fellow driver Henry Klein "in the number 99 truck" and an empty spot for Harris. All of the Sourdough Express trucks followed in order, followed by trucks from other companies. Irwin held up the rear in her black pickup truck with the yellow stripe.

It was a difficult day for driving. The fresh snow makes the gravel haul road "tacky," Irwin said. Standing in the flurries, she sported the telltale tan of someone just back from vacation, having just returned from Mexico last week when she heard the news about her friend.

Pointing to the trucks around her, she described a brotherhood of the road.

"We're a team, all of us. No matter which company, no matter who drives what. We're a team," Irwin said.

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