1952 - 2007
- Accident claims life of truck driver on Dalton
By Chris Freiberg
Published December 1, 2007
A Fairbanks truck driver died Thursday following a collision with another semi-truck.
Alaska State Troopers responded to the scene of an accident shortly before 7 p.m. at 53 Mile Dalton Highway, about 125 miles north of Fairbanks, near the Yukon River.
A semi-truck with a trailer was going north around a downhill curve when the trailer slid out from under it and struck a semi-truck without a trailer being driven by Dale Harris.
Harris was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of injuries he sustained in the crash.
The other driver, whose name was not available Friday afternoon, suffered minor injuries. He was treated by Alyeska EMS at the scene and released.
There was hard, packed ice on the roadway, but conditions were not out of the ordinary for this time of year, said Sgt. Rodney Johnson. The accident occurred on a gravel portion of the road.
The collision is under investigation and troopers have not issued any citations. Alcohol does not appear to have been a factor.
Published December 5, 2007
M. Dale Harris
A celebration of the life of Fairbanksan Dale Harris, one of the most experienced and conscientious drivers on the Dalton Highway, will be held Monday at 4:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge.
His first name was Marvin, but his friends and family knew him as Dale and his fellow truck drivers knew him by his CB handle of “Spud.”
All Dalton Highway drivers are invited to join in a truck parade on Sunday at noon, starting at the Sourdough Express yard on Driveway Street. The semi trucks will leave Sourdough and go on the Steese Highway and the Elliott Highway to the Hilltop Truckstop as a memorial salute to Dale.
Dale’s family and other friends are invited to gather at the trans-Alaska pipeline viewpoint in Fox to watch the trucks roll by.
Dale, 55, died Thursday Nov. 29, 2007, in an accident at 53 Mile Dalton Highway, a road on which he has driven close to 2 million miles over the last 30 years.
Dale was born May 16, 1952, in Yakima, Wash., and was a graduate of Highland High School.
He visited Alaska as a teenager and moved to Fairbanks in 1974, where he sold bar supplies and resurfaced pool tables before he managed to break into the field he had dreamed of since childhood.
In 1981, he purchased a Western Star truck that he named “Nancy” and hauled freight throughout Alaska, especially on the Dalton Highway. After 22 years as an owner-operator, he became a Sourdough Express driver, taking on many difficult jobs for the company.
He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Joyce, who said that while Dale had many things he always meant to get to around the house, he always made sure that those he loved knew how much they meant to him.
“There are unfinished projects, but no unfinished people” where Dale is concerned, she said.
He never left for a trip without telling his wife and kids, “You know how much I love you,” and asking “Are you sure you’re going to be OK while I’m gone?”
His daughter Heidie, 25, is about to graduate with a nursing degree from the University of Alaska Anchorage. His son Joe, 22, is living and studying dance in New York City, where he made his professional debut in a New York production of “The Nutcracker” the day after his father’s passing.
Through most of their childhood years, Dale took a lot of time off in the summers, which allowed him to be a full and active participant in their lives.
He went to baseball games, karate lessons, helped out at countless horse shows, enjoyed Boy Scout camping trips, wrestling tournaments, school plays and anything else that attracted his kids’ interest.
Dale is also survived by his mother and stepfather, Ellen and Everette Hilton of Yakima; and brothers, Rick Harris and Michael Harris of Cowiche, Wash.
Donations for the family may be left at Sourdough Express at 600 Driveway St.
Arrangements were by Fairbanks Funeral Home and Crematory.
Truckers plan Steese convoy Sunday in memory of irrepressible Dale Harris
By Dermot Cole
Published December 8, 2007
Dalton Highway truck drivers plan to form a convoy Sunday at noon on a farewell ride from the Sourdough Express yard in the railroad industrial area to the Hilltop Truckstop at 5.5 Mile Elliott Highway.
The parade of semi trucks is to honor the late Dale Harris, a guy who wanted to be known as “Double Nickel” when he started as a truck driver, but another driver christened him with a better name, so he was forever known as “Spud.”
Harris’ family and other observers will gather at the pipeline viewpoint in Fox to watch the procession.
Harris, 55, died last Thursday in an accident with another truck at Mile 53 on the Dalton Highway, south of the Yukon River Bridge.
Theresa O’Kelley, the dispatcher at Sourdough Express, said when a difficult driving assignment came up she called Spud because she knew he could handle just about anything and do it with good cheer.
O’Kelley said she was teasing him at the end of the summer about how it was time to get back to work and get out of “vacation mode.”
“Yeah, it’s a happy place,” Harris told her about vacation mode. “I think I’ll stay here.”
When his children Heidie and Joe, now both in their 20s, were younger, Harris was in that “happy place” every summer. He was a regular at the horse shows all over the state that Heidie enjoyed and he was one of the most active parents in Boy Scout Troop 1 when Joe was rising through the ranks. He went to karate and plays and wrestling meets.
He had countless stories to tell and an impish grin that suggested he was never far from laughing out loud. Like many of our best storytellers, he was not, as Joyce, his wife of 27 years put it, a “stickler for the truth.”
On one of those long Scout trips to Canada a decade ago, the starter went out in his Bronco and he couldn’t get the vehicle running unless the boys got out to push it, which they did several times a day.
I think that the boys responded well to Dale because part of him was always 15 years old. I mean that in the best way.
He was a positive influence on those boys, several of whom went on to become Eagle Scouts.
Fred Austin, who has driven 1.5 million miles on the Dalton Highway, said Harris was one of the best drivers he knew.
“I never saw him one time unhappy,” said Austin, a friend for 30 years. “You always felt a little better after an encounter with him.
“And he is one of the few drivers that I would put in my truck and sit back and feel absolutely comfortable about him driving it,” Austin said.
In 1981, Harris purchased a black Western Star semi with blue stripes. He gave names to all of his vehicles and this one was baptized Nancy. To Harris, Nancy was not an inanimate object made of steel, glass, cloth and rubber, but his traveling partner.
At the family home north of town, there are many family scrapbooks featuring Joyce, the kids, Dale and Nancy.
As an owner-operator, he traveled the Dalton Highway in Nancy for 22 years, putting 1.8 million miles on the truck.
It was in his nature to look for a way to help when someone needed it and he would invariably strike up a friendly conversation. He told me this summer that if I wanted to hear his best Haul Road stories, I should ride along with him to Prudhoe some day. I would have come back with enough for a book.
If conditions were right, the trip north took 16 hours with a load and 12 hours coming back, with time out for rest. He took good care of his truck and polished it on his days off.
In 1981, when Joyce was pregnant with Heidie and a little overdue, Dale suggested to his wife that “if you wax the truck with me, maybe it will help.”
Nancy went into semi-retirement a few years back and is now a yard truck at Flowline.
Harris would periodically drop by to check on how she was getting along, however, and informed Joyce that she was doing well, relaxing after the rigors of the road.
As we looked through the family photo albums the other day, I thought that one picture in particular best expressed Dale’s irrepressible personality. It was a photo of Dale and his horse bobbing for apples in a big corrugated tub at a horse show. The horse is entirely visible. Dale is visible from the waist down. The rest of him is bent over and under water, inside the steel tub, searching for the apple.
Like most teenagers, the Harris kids sometimes mentioned that their parents were clowns. Joyce was a professional clown named Jingles, and she wanted some moral support, so Dale put on the greasepaint and oversize clothes to become Junkyard Dog, the clown.
Looking through the family mementos of years of clowning around, I was impressed with something Joe wrote at age 9, a fitting tribute to any father: “My dad taught me how to use tools. He taught me how to work with them. He even taught me how to build a bird house. He was a great help to work with. I really would like to work with him again.”
Joyce said she is grateful that before he left on every Dalton Highway trip, Dale would always tell her and the kids, “You know how much I love you.”
She said he “lived life without regrets.”
A celebration of Harris’ life is to be Monday at 4:30 p.m. at the Elks Lodge.
Donations can be dropped off at Sourdough Express yard dispatch at 600 Driveway St.
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