Lisa Kelly became one of the most recognized truckers in the world of professional truck driving, through the reality television show “Ice Road Truckers.” The truckers made their living driving on thin ice, and the huge risks they took each time they went on the road captured the interest of viewers during the 10 years that it aired on History Channel. Being a woman in one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, Lisa gained the respect and awe of fans. When the TV show bid farewell in 2017, fans were curious as to what happened to her, and if there was a chancethat she would return to the small screen if the show was rebooted.
- 1 Get to know Lisa Kelly
- 2 Lisa’s stint with “Ice Road Truckers”
- 3 Lisa Kelly’s whereabouts after the reality TV show was canceled
Get to know Lisa Kelly
Here are some of the interesting things about Lisa Kelly, before she became known to many as the first featured female truck driver in “Ice Road Truckers”:
Growing up years
Lisa was born on 8 December 1980, in Grand Rapids, Michigan but was mostly raised in Sterling, Alaska after her family moved there when she was about six years old – she recalled that it was such as small town that all the residents traveled to the next town for their groceries. Living on a farm developed her affinity for the outdoors and animals, which she said explained why she grew up a tomboy, preferring jeans and shirts to dresses. She was also taught to have a positive mindset, and to be self-reliant.
Education and part-time jobs
Just like most teenagers in her hometown, she worked part-time, mostly in their family-run gas station while finishing high school. She learned how to make espressos, process payments as a cashier, and pump fuel. Lisa went back to Grand Rapids for college, and enrolled at Cornerstone University. After returning home for Christmas break, she decided to forego college and stay in Alaska. At that time, she had an accident while driving her best friend’s truck, and needed to pay for it but didn’t have any money. She also realized that she’d rather enroll in a school where she had the option to learn things that were more interesting to her. Her plans changed as she fell in love, saying, ‘Instead of going to the new school, I met a guy and didn’t want to leave.’
The start of her trucking career
She worked in a pizza place, delivering, and this was how she discovered that her interest lay in driving a van. Soon, it wasn’t enough for her, and she wanted to drive a bigger truck, and.so moved to another company that would let her do that. The job of driving a school bus enticed her, because the owner paid for the training and licensing she needed to drive a bigger vehicle. After she earned her Class B license, she continued working there for a year, but sent applications to several trucking companies. It took her a while before a company called Carlile called her up. Initially, she was assigned to drive a van, but was promised to be given a big truck soon. Each time she finished her courier work, she would spend time with experienced tractor drivers to learn how to handle huge trucks. Practicing to drive those trucks around the company’s yard was a regular thing for her, and helped her get used to them. After doing that for quite some time, she took the test to get her Class A permit, and aced it.
Her fascination with big trucks was an indication that she loved facing challenges – Lisa was into dangerous hobbies as it gave her a thrill, and so fell in love with racing dirt bikes, riding horses, paragliding, and skydiving during her spare time. It was when she shopped for a new Kawasaki bike that she met a man named Traves Kelly, an Aleut Native Alaskan. They were both avid dirt bike racers and would meet often at racetracks. Lisa said she couldn’t forget the first time they dated since it ended badly, as he got into an accident during a dirt bike freestyle event in Anchorage, and sustained an injury called a separated shoulder. They dated for four years before they tied the knot on 26 September 2008. However, during one of her live streamings on YouTube in 2022, she would constantly talk to a man named Caleb on the CB, and would exchange ‘I love yous’ in some of their conversations. Some fans said she was already single at that time. Lisa mentioned that she was quite grateful to Caleb – if not for his help, she wouldn’t have know what to do whenever there were problems with her truck, even if it frustrated her that she couldn’t be more independent.
Met Lisa Kelly Ice Road Trucker pic.twitter.com/BUAJNonZ
— WomenInTrucking (@WomenInTrucking) September 25, 2012
Lisa’s stint with “Ice Road Truckers”
Somewhere on the top of the world, there’s an outpost like no other, and a job that only a few would dare to seek, due to the high risks involved. Lisa Kelly was one of those brave individuals who accepted the challenge of driving a truck on dangerous ice roads. Her time on the road was documented in “Ice Road Truckers” – out of the 11 seasons of the show, she appeared in seven of them. After being a regular cast member from the third through the fifth season, fans thought that she was fired because she was conspicuously absent in the sixth season, and no official explanation was given. However, fans were delighted when she returned to the set in the seventh season, and stayed with the show until the airing of the final episode. She later explained that she needed a break from being followed by a production crew and wanted to return to her family.
What was “Ice Road Truckers” all about?
The History Channel in 2000 produced a documentary series called “Suicide Missions,” which was later retitled, “Dangerous Missions.” The TV series featured the life of road truckers as they drove on frozen lakes in Canada in an episode entitled “Ice Road Truckers,” which was inspired by the book, “Denison’s Ice Road.” It had reruns under another title on the cable channel, and achieved pretty good ratings. The cable executives thought that it would generate a huge following if they produced a reality series solely focused on it. Thom Beers, an executive from Original Productions, the same man behind the very successful TV show “Deadliest Catch,” was hired to produce the series. In 2007, after a year of filming, “Ice Road Truckers” premiered in high-definition video, capturing over three million viewers that night.
The dash for the cash
The TV series chronicled the lives of six men with a single mission, which was to haul critical supplies across 350 miles of frozen lakes to Canada’s richest real estate on the planet. On the doorstep of the Arctic lies the land of the Tlicho people, and their land was immensely blessed with minerals. Initially, there was gold under the ice, and later they discovered diamonds. At that time, the diamond mine was estimated to be worth $40 million, but the mine needed supplies to continue to operate, including heavy equipment, huge tanks, technical gadgets, and millions of gallons of fuel. Everything must be planned carefully as the challenge was to ship out 10,000 loads in two months before the road disappeared. The rewards were great but the risks were even greater. The ice road truckers could make a year’s worth of wages in just nine to 10 weeks.
First woman truck driver featured in the show
It was in the third season that female trucker Lisa Kelly, from Carlile Trucking, was featured in “Ice Road Truckers.” Out of more than 200 truckers out on Dalton Highway, she was one of only three female truckers who dared the ice road, and also the youngest at 28 years old. In the first two seasons, the dash-for- cash was fought on the smooth pavement of Canada’s arctic ice. In the third season, the old crew including Lisa joined forces with US truckers to tackle the continent that had one of the most deadly ice passages in the world. She and the other truckers at Carlile Trucking had less than three months to haul 2,000 loads from Fairbanks to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope. With the temperature dropping to 70 below, Lisa was quite aware that driving would be even more difficult, but she had extreme confidence that she could do it without any untoward incident. It was mainly due to the elite road builders who used modern technology to accurately measure the thickness of the ice so that snow plows could be used to create the temporary road.
Lisa’s reason for pursuing extreme trucking as her career choice
Many people especially men were shocked when they learned of Lisa’s profession. Most of them doubted her claims that she was a trucker, much less an ice trucker. The thrill-seeking Alaskan freestyle motocross champion pursued this career for one simple reason — because she wanted to. Lisa knew that as a woman working in a man’s world, she had to want it more than anyone else, so she would work doubly hard. By the time she appeared as a regular member of the cast in the show, Lisa was only in her second year on the ice, but was already focused on her next big goal and shared, ‘I’d like to do more big stuff so that way people won’t make fun of me.’
Things Lisa Kelly does before going to the road
Lisa said she had never flipped a truck before and had no plans of doing it. However, accidents do happen, and so each season, while waiting for the call from the trucking company for her first load, she always made sure that her truck was winter-ready for its dangerous trip. She would secure her load tightly on the back of her truck. The vehicle must be filled with the right amount of heavy-duty anti-freeze to avoid any build-up of moisture along the airline. When the climate was 40 and below, the engine system must not have any moisture because water wouldn’t stay as water. Ice in the air system would mean no brakes, and to prevent that from happening, Lisa said that all trucks should have evaporators that could pump methyl hydrate alcohol through the lines so any ice on the way would melt. She would place a heavy winter coat underneath the truck to help keep the engine running warm.
Proved her grit and continued driving when others quit
In 2010, “Ice Road Truckers” created a spin-off series called “IRT: Deadliest Roads,” and Lisa Kelly along with other truckers went to India to take on the challenge of transporting loads using one of the narrowest roads in the mountain passes between Delhi and Shimla. Due to the huge risks involved becaause of the horrific condition of the road and the low-powered trucks, other drivers turned back. It was only Lisa who continued driving the route until she delivered the entire shipment of jet fuel to the rescue helicopter crews. They were allowed to practice around the yard before they started so they could get used to the vehicles given to them. She said, ‘The trucks are super under-powered, and they’re overloaded all the time.’ and so she made some adjustments on how to drive the truck, using a different technique to avoid sliding down hills.
Lisa Kelly’s whereabouts after the reality TV show was canceled
After proving her worth as one of the most efficient and reliable ice truck drivers out there, she partnered with one of the original cast members in the show, Darrell Ward, to establish their own trucking company. However, Darrell died in an airplane accident in 2016 just before the final season was aired, and then by 2017, “Ice Road Truckers” was canceled.
With a new trucking company
With Darrell gone, the newly established company didn’t prosper well, so Lisa found another trucking company to work for that was based in Alaska, working hard and saving money to put up her own business. On 30 July 2021, she opened a company called Arctic Fox Trucking LLC in Wasilla, Alaska. Later on, she established a shop in Fairbanks, which offered trucking services all year round. The job openings for ice trucking weren’t as abundant as before, and it was said that the trucking rates had increased so many companies opted to ship things by airplane, however, there were still a lot of items that couldn’t be flown. Lisa said that driving had been her livelihood for quite some time now, and that there was nothing else that she knew how to do.
What type of truck does she drive now?
Establishing her new company meant a new truck for Lisa, a grey 2019 Peterbilt 389 with a red frame that was referred to by many truckers as the icon on the highway, as it was built specifically to endure long hours of driving on the road. The difference between this model and the previous Peterbilt trucks was that it gave drivers supreme comfort and convenience with the Peterbilt SmartNav System, which included Bluetooth connectivity technology. The drivers no longer needed to take their eyes off the road while driving as the technology would provide them access to data and entertainment features of several devices. These new features worked pretty well for Lisa.
When she first introduced the truck to her fans via her YouTube channel in October 2021, she said that she was in the process of making it officially hers, but it wasn’t brand new. She was quite excited to use it as she announced that she’d just accepted a new job, and would constantly update the fans on what was going on with her truck thru video live streaming. During a February 2023 live stream, she shared that she had been dealing with some maintenance problems, so some fans suggested that it would be better to buy a new one, but she said, ‘The thing is the Peterbilt dealership here is extremely hard to work with.’ The truck was still good but she felt that the mechanical problems must be somehow connected to the ‘bad juju’ leftover from its previous owner, who’d done some shady things in the past. However, her mechanic said that she shouldn’t think that way, since most of the truckers they knew were also having problems with their trucks, so it wasn’t just her.
As per her YouTube vlogs, Lisa now operates her own trucking company, and continuously offers trucking services in Fairbanks, Alaska. When a fan asked her through one of her live streams if she had any plans of returning to the small screen, she said that she had always been open to it. She had a great experience being in “Ice Road Truckers” for seven seasons, and she still talked to some of the cast members. Some kept a private life after their reality TV show stint, but Lisa delighted in sharing her trucking adventures with her fan base. She said that if anyone had a good idea or concept, she would be willing to film again, but for now, she considered her YouTube vlogs as her own reality series. She had a moderate number of subscribers, and loved interacting with them while driving on the road.
With many canceled TV shows being rebooted after the pandemic, many of her fans were hoping that “Ice Road Truckers” would be one of them, including Lisa of course!