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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Thin Ice Means Fat Wallet For Ontario Tower

Larry Bartlett, owner of Bartlett s Towing, stands near the area where a truck and plow broke through the ice on Lake Nipissing, 1.3 kilometres from the shoreline of Link s Beach, Jan. 1. The garbage can in the distance is directly above the sunken vehicle.BRANDI CRAMER The Nugget
Brrrrrrr!!!!! Here's the story from the North Bay Nugget:

CALLANDER. — Winter means a slightly different kind of ice fishing season for Larry Bartlett.

Headed out to the scene of what will be his first vehicle recovery the season, the owner of Bartlett's Towing tries to reassure his nervous passenger the disquieting sound of ice cracking is not necessarily a dire warning.

"When you hear little cracks it is good because it is strengthening the ice," he said explaining driving across the ice sends a pneumatic wave ahead of the vehicle.

As for the noise that precedes a vehicle going through the ice, he doesn't know.

"I've never heard it . . . I guess it's the sound of your bumper hitting the ice, or a splash."

But he says common sense should always be the deciding factor before deciding to venture out on the ice.

"If you don't know, don't go."

And if you do go, drive slow.

"A common mistake people make is they drive too fast or they drive on unfamiliar ice," he said.

Bartlett's Towing has been preparing a recovery scene 1.3 kilometres from the shore of Link's Beach on the south shore of Lake Nipissing since Saturday.

The crew will be plunging its lines 29 feet to hook a 3/4 ton 4X4 truck with plow that went through the ice while hauling a shack out to a fishing spot New Year's Day.

"They hit a pressure crack and went through," Bartlett said.

The truck's plow caught the edge of the ice, giving the driver enough time to unhook the shack and pull it away before his vehicle sank.

Setting up Bartlett's custom engineered extractor — built locally by Central Welding — takes a varying amount of time depending on the distance of the vehicle from shore, depth of the water and — most importantly — ice thickness.

"We do ice thickness and quality tests," he said.

"As we go out we drill holes every 5,200 feet and do it all again every three to four days."

What is he looking for?

Clean and clear ice.

"Every inch of clean and clear ice is supposed to be able to hold up to 1,000 pounds."

Cutting a hole the size of the vehicle takes away from some of that strength, so Bartlett will double those numbers and score for 24 inches of ice to support 12,000 pounds — truck, gear and crew.

On Saturday, the scene had about 10 inches of ice and as of Monday, the crew managed to flood another six inches using gas-powered water pumps.

"It all depends on the weather. Now that is has warmed up it takes longer to freeze in between flooding," he said.

The crew work in shifts, manning the scene 24 hours a day, with hopes of setting up the rigging equipment to pull the truck out Saturday or Sunday.

"All my guys are trained in ice rescue, safety rigging and hoisting as well as various other certifications."

Each is clothed to the hilt and wear personal protective equipment and floater jackets, just in case.

Having worked in the towing industry since a young age, Bartlett's only complaint about ice rescue would be the open conditions.

"The blowing winds," he said.

But truth be told, the wind is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Especially when the work nets at least $10,000 per recovery and can climb significantly, depending on conditions.

"It's all fun. It's the kind of work I grew up doing. I love my job . . . I am lucky that way."

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