Local racing team’s trailer goes through ice

When Darren Lowes got a call Saturday morning that 12 trailers, including his own, were sinking into Big Detroit Lake near Detroit Lakes, Mn., he didn’t believe it.
The Rainy River man was still in shock when he arrived at the lake and saw thousands of dollars worth of his equipment slowly slipping under the ice.
“It was disbelief,” Lowes said. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
As first reported in Monday’s Daily Bulletin, a pond-sized section of ice on Big Detroit Lake collapsed early Saturday morning under the weight of 16 closely-parked trucks and trailers on hand for the World Snowmobile Association Pro Ice races.
A dozen trailers and four heavy-duty trucks were submerged in up to eight feet of water.
“When we got the phone call in the hotel room, I thought Chuck [Arpin] was pulling a fast one on me,” Lowes said.
But it was no joke. Lowes’ trailer and the truck and trailer of Fort Frances native Chuck Arpin were among the sinking vehicles.
Lowes was attending the snowmobile races as back-up support for local racers Steve Arpin and Brent Lowes when the mishap occurred.
Both Lowes and Arpin spent much of the early-morning hours rescuing their equipment. Only the back wheels of Arpin’s heavy-duty truck and the wheels of his trailer were submerged and they got most of his out safely.
But Lowes’ trailer had to be dragged under the ice by rescue crews.
Though the races resumed later in the day, the local team didn’t compete.
Both Arpin and Lowes had been worried about ice conditions when their parked their trailers Friday night, especially given the recent spell of unseasonably mild weather.
“I was a little leery of the ice so I parked very close to shore,” Arpin had said Monday. “I told someone I would like to be right on shore when these rigs go through.”
“I was concerned,” added Lowes. “But they got all the proper permits . . . they must have known what they were doing, I assumed.”
As an extra precaution, Lowes and Arpin left more than double the recommended space between vehicles to ensure the ice would hold, but other drivers who arrived later that night parked in the empty spots.
Arpin estimates he had up to $4,000 in water damage to his equipment, while he thought Lowes’ trailer could cost up to $15,000 to repair.
Fortunately, his trailer was fully insured, though Lowes said the company was a little surprised when he called to tell them of the incident.
Organizers of the event also were shocked to find the ice had cracked beneath the trailers.
“In 30 years I’ve been around ice racing, this has never happened before,” Wally Scheer, president of the World Snowmobile Association Pro Ice races, said Tuesday.
Scheer said he didn’t know why the ice failed, and is waiting for information from local officials to help determine exactly what happened.
“We had 14-15 inches of ice, that’s plenty of ice for parking on,” he noted, pointing to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit his organization acquired for the event.
“We’ve parked on less ice.”
Organizers learned about the incident after some participants, sleeping in their vehicle, heard a loud boom around 4:30 a.m. and then noticed water on the ice and in their vehicle.
They quickly scurried to shore.
Scheer said he wanted to dispel the myth that the trucks and trailers plummeted to the bottom of the lake.
He said it was a slow process in which they had a great deal of time to get snowmachines, gas, oil, and equipment off the trailers before rescue and diving crews cut holes in the ice to drag the remaining ones ashore with steel cables.
“I want to emphasize they were in no immediate danger,” he stressed.
Scheer said he is waiting to find out more about what happened at Detroit Lakes before making any changes to their ice parking practices for their next lake event in three weeks.
Both Arpin and Lowes say they’ve learned from their experience. And while they’re definitely going to attend upcoming ice race events, neither has ruled out parking on the ice in the future.