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Getting down and dirty

CALGARY, Alta. - When Pathcom Wireless was asked to implement a new communications service for Alberta's wildfires operations system, there were a lot of challenges to overcome. Not the least of which...

CALGARY, Alta. – When Pathcom Wireless was asked to implement a new communications service for Alberta’s wildfires operations system, there were a lot of challenges to overcome. Not the least of which was how to get some mega-expensive equipment, such as solar panels and communications antennas to 91 mountain-based radio locations.

In the meantime, OCEAN Hauling owner Gord Cooper was busy prepping his brand new Kenworth tri-drive for its working life. When he found out about the project, he figured it would be a good initiation for the new rig, and so far it’s been an ideal marriage for the high-tech communications supplier, Pathcom, and Cooper’s small trucking company.

The Firenet project just recently got underway, with Cooper making the first deliveries of Pathcom’s communication stations to Goose Mountain in the Swan Hills area of Alberta. The cargo he hauled consisted of several solar panels, an antenna and a steel structure to house the unit. The entire load had to be delivered some 60 kilometres into the bush.

“It was a good test for (the tri-drive),” says Cooper. “The mud was up to a tall trucker’s ass and I’m not very tall.”

Cooper’s customized equipment handled the first delivery with relative ease. He hauled the load in on a homemade pin-on deck that connects to the fifth wheel of his truck. The shorter length enables the Kenworth tri-drive to negotiate the slick and muddy road much easier than with a full-sized flatdeck. The truck also features a crane, which puts the units in place once on-site.

“It was slippery but damage to the road was minimal,” says Cooper, noting that minimizing road damage is a key consideration during this project. The roads are shared by mining and forestry companies and the last thing they want is for the roads to be torn up by other users.

“There was mud, snow and dust and a combination of some pretty steep hills but I tried a combination of lockups on the differentials,” says Cooper. He was pleasantly surprised by the truck’s steering and maneuverability through the rugged terrain. In fact, Cooper hasn’t even had to equip the truck with chains.After the first delivery went off without a hitch, Pathcom asked Cooper to display his truck and a communications package at the company’s press conference in Calgary on Oct. 17.

“It was all nice and shiny when we left for Swan Hills,” says Cooper. “It took three hours to wash the Kenworth once we got it back to town.”

At the press conference, Pathcom president Chet Perry delved into a little more detail about the project.

“By merging technology with the safety requirements of the province, we have been able to design and build a radio network linked with satellite services that can reach almost all of the forested areas within the province,” says Perry.

While OCEAN Hauling is responsible for ensuring the communications devices are safely transported to the majority of their mountaintop destinations, there are some cases where even the tri-drive won’t be able to cut it. In those instances, helicopters are being used to lift the equipment to its perch atop the mountain.

However the increased cost of moving the equipment by helicopter makes truck the mode of choice.

“Everything’s air-ride so we’re getting this equipment out with minimum vibration,” says Cooper. “It rides like a Cadillac.”

Although Cooper’s newest toy was built and spec’d for a rigorous life off-highway, a lot of O/Os wouldn’t dream of subjecting their new truck to such a demanding job. Cooper, however, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It beats the hell out of running up and down the road all over North America,” he says. “This is where it’s at. And as long as it washes off, I’m happy.”

Pathcom is hoping to have the entire system online by spring, which means the first load was just a mere hint of the challenges to come throughout the winter for Cooper. He isn’t fazed by the prospect of hauling on winter back roads.

“In the winter time when it gets all snowy and frozen, I’ll have to put a set of chains on in some areas just to control the warm tire effect on frozen mountain roads,” says Cooper. But, he insists they’re ready for the challenge. He’s just genuinely excited about the chance to play a part in the launch of such an interesting project.

“On weekends, after hours, I’m happy to help them,” says Cooper. “It’s a very challenging job and it’s fun to provide the service.” He says Pathcom’s enthusiasm for this project is contagious and while trucking is just one link in the chain, Cooper says it’s extremely rewarding to be associated with the project.

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