Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Pro Tip: Don’t Drive Big Rigs On Snowmobile Trails

Tractor Trailor on harrisburg Road Adirondacks - Photo by Charles SeveranceThis week we mark a strange anniversary.

On December 15, 1973, Canadian Charbot Germain attempted to drive his tractor-trailer from Stony Creek to Utica on a snowmobile trail. It didn’t go well.

It started out as tales of lost Adirondack visitors often do, with directions from a local. It was suggested that Germain could shorten his trip by taking Route 8 from the Northway toward North Creek. He found himself instead in Stony Creek, headed down the rough Harrisburg Road in the dark.

Harrisburg Road was once a town road through what is now the Wilcox Lake Wild Forest and on to Hope Falls, in northeastern Hamilton County. In 1973, it was a mostly dirt road that ended near Harrisburg Lake. Beyond, the old road was maintained as a snowmobile trail. At the time, Forest Ranger Charles Severance said it could be negotiated with a four-wheel drive vehicle, “if one doesn’t care much for the vehicle.”

“Charbot, comfortable in the heated cab of his personally own, $28,000 tractor, was undaunted,” Barney Fowler recalled in his book Adirondack Album. “With the empty rig singing its song of squeaks, grunts and groans, he crossed the narrow causeway at Harrisburg Lake and took off…”

“What was he thinking of when he started climbing over the boulders and going through the mud-holes with brush and tree limbs dragging over his windshield, I don’t know,” Ranger Severance said. “But it didn’t faze him. He kept right on going.”

An go he did. For three and half miles in the dark, illuminated by only his headlights, over a couple inches of fresh wet snow. “He was a determined man,” Fowler noted, “and he had a job to do.”

Tractor Trailor on harrisburg Road Adirondacks - Photo by Charles SeveranceDetermination, of course, wasn’t enough. Charbot Germain eventually reached a grade near Wilcox Mountain that he could not climb. As the truck reached its limit it began to slide back and jack-knifed. In the process the fuel line was fouled and the engine began stuttering. Then the rain came.

“So there he was,” Severance told Barney Fowler “to hell and gone, out in the boondocks, miles from the nearest house, in pitch black, and getting colder than hell. He went back to two hunting camps, tried to get in, but both were locked and though he easily could have broken in he made no attempt to do so. He spent the night crouched in his cab in a foreign land and almost froze. The engine was running so poorly he couldn’t get any heat.”

It poured rain the whole next day until finally a jeep coming north encountered the incredible sight – a tractor trailer in the middle of the woods. They picked-up Charbot Germain and drove him to the ranger at Stony Creek, Lynn Day.

The next morning, rangers Severance, Day, and Mike Hagadorn (who spoke French), together with fire wardens Tom and Lou Fisher, headed into the woods to see what they could do. They brought along some chain, and an International 500 bulldozer.

Using the dozer, they managed to unhook the tractor from the trailer, get them swung around and headed back north. They reattached trailer to tractor and with the dozer pulling made it back to Harrisburg Lake and eventually back to Stony Creek. In the end, the fuel line repair and a patched radiator were all that was needed.

Photos by NYS Forest Ranger Charles Severance.

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John Warren

John Warren has been exploring the woods and waters of the Adirondacks for almost 50 years. After a career as a print journalist and documentary television producer he founded Adirondack Almanack in 2005 and co-founded the geolocation services company Adirondack Atlas in 2015.

John remains active in traditional media. His Adirondack Outdoors Conditions Report can be heard Friday mornings across the region on the stations of North Country Public Radio and on 93.3 / 102.1 The Mix. Since 2008, John has been a media specialist on the staff of the New York State Writers Institute.

John is also a professional researcher and historian with a M.A. in Public History. He edits The New York History Blog and is the author of two books of regional history. As a Grant Consultant for the William G. Pomeroy Foundation, he has reviewed hundreds of historic roadside marker grant applications from around New York State for historical accuracy.

11 Responses

  1. Scott van Laer scottvanlaer says:

    Love the story! I will share this one. I didn’t know Hagadorn could speak French but nothing about him would surprise me. He could read more from a map than any other ranger.

  2. Boreas says:

    Why am I not surprised? In his defense, there probably weren’t a lot of places where he could turn around a big rig.

  3. Bruce says:

    I live on a mountain road in the Smokies of western North Carolina. There is one spot where 3 tight curves are together on one side of the mountain. 2 or 3 times a year, someone tries to drive a big rig through there and they always get jammed up, in spite of signs at each end of the road saying not to.

  4. Randy says:

    Thanks for making my morning! Read it aloud to my wife and we both cracked up. Your comment “determination, of course, wasn’t enough” reminds me of the caption under a picture of a grizzly bear with a salmon in its mouth…”Sometimes the journey of a thousand miles ends very badly”

  5. Worth says:

    Great story, John! Thank you.

  6. Paul says:

    A friend of mine tried to drive his Volvo wagon down a snowmobile trail once. That didn’t go well either!

  7. John Sullivan says:

    Good story. Thanks, John. But I wonder if today’s DEC would ask to widen that trail.

    • John Warren John Warren says:

      New snowmobile trails are made to the width of this road (10 feet), and wider at the turns and bridges (12 feet).

  8. Dave Swan says:

    Thanks for the great story. Having rode the trails off and on over the years while serving in the Marines, I can visualize the incident and believe alcohol had to be involved. Chuck Severance was one of my role models growing up and I used to see him all the time around Johnsburg. Sure miss him and the other Rangers from the old days. These men were rugged outdoorsmen and great story tellers. All mostly true of course. They inspired me just for being who they were. Upstanding, honest men.

  9. Charlie S says:

    Stupidity knows no bounds.

  10. [email protected] says:

    Wow, as someone who has taken jeeps, quads, and motorcycles down harrisburg road many times in the last 10 years or so, that is really a crazy story.

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