Ardco four-wheel drive boldly goes where other vehicles fear to tread.

After working in the Canadian oil and gas fields for more than 40 years, Derwin Bellrose has turned into a jack-of-all-trades contractor. That versatility is reflected in the diverse services provided by the company he owns, D & H Holdings — and in one of his key machines: an all-wheel-drive flatbed buggy made by Ardco, a division of Pettibone
Traverse Lift.

D & H Holdings is a general support services company based in Paddle Prairie, Alberta. The business does a little bit of everything: opening up and freezing in access routes to drilling pads in remote, rugged backcountry, fighting forest fires, hauling operators to distant gas-plant processing sites, pulling out vehicles stuck in swamps and excavating pipelines for repairs. The common denominator in all those jobs and more? The Ardco K -— a big-wheeled buggy that serves as the company’s workhorse.

“I bought it last fall for about $200,000 and it’s been a real good machine,” says Bellrose, 59, who established his company in 1994 and has been working in the oil patches of Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories since he was 16 years old. “I do quite a few different things … a little bit of everything.

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“We keep fairly busy because we’re always doing something somewhere,” he continues, noting that the company also owns a Caterpillar bulldozer, a Komatsu backhoe, a mulcher made by Braun Machine Technologies, two GT1000 tracked haulers made by Bombardier Inc., a Bombardier Muskeg tracked machine and a 2006 Kenworth tractor cab. “And since we work in such remote areas, we’ve got to have a little bit of everything [equipment] on hand, so if a customer asks if you can do something, you can do it.”

One reason the Ardco buggy is so valuable: It can go just about anywhere. As Bellrose points out, there aren’t any highways where the machine works in northwestern Alberta. Instead, there’s a lot of very rugged terrain, featuring obstacles such as creeks, thick brush, beaver dams, deep coulees, swamps and muskeg (boggy land that can swallow entire vehicles if operators aren’t careful).

D & H crews mainly use the Ardco to help them cut roughly 20-foot-wide swaths – or cut lines – through heavy underbrush during winter, then grade and water the newly cut pathways so they freeze hard enough to hold much heavier vehicles headed for gas field drilling pads. The work typically starts in early November and lasts through April, Bellrose says. In summer, the ground is too wet to work.

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The Ardco’s mobility stems from its large Primex tires, which allow the vehicle to traverse soft, wet terrain that would hamper most other heavy vehicles. Made by Alliance Tire Co., the tires measure 66 inches tall and 43 inches wide, Bellrose says.

“If there’s no cold weather and we get a lot of snow early, and there’s no frost in the ground, it gets very muddy and you can get stuck quite easy,” Bellrose points out. “Some muskeg are 50 feet deep – you can sink a machine and bury it out of sight.

“So if you’ve got a machine that can ‘float’ very well, you get a lot of work,” he continues. “The Ardco can go through 4 feet of water. And if there’s, say, 2 or 3 feet of snow on a cut line, you can just drive on top of it. You don’t need a snow plow or any other equipment to get through.”

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The buggy weighs 21,500 pounds and measures just more than 25 feet long and slightly more than 11 feet wide and 11 feet tall. Its payload capacity is 15,000 pounds. The unit Bellrose ordered features an Allison six-speed automatic transmission, a Cummins 190 hp turbo-diesel engine and John Deere differentials that can be locked with the push of a button to boost traction under the most difficult conditions. It also features a 20,000-pound-capacity winch on the front end, made by Ramsey Industries, and a 3,500-pound-capacity picker crane, made by F.lli Ferrari Corp. S.p.A.

“We’ve even used the picker crane to pick up a dead moose and swing it on up to the deck,” Bellrose notes.

Bellrose opted to buy the Ardco unit for two other reasons: speed and reliability. The Ardco can travel up to about 27 mph, which is almost three times as fast as other off-road vehicles he’s owned. “It makes us about 30 percent more productive, and the companies that hire us like that because we can get more work done each day,” Bellrose explains. “The companies get more bang for their buck.”

Dependability is just as valuable, especially because D & H operates in such remote areas, where it can take two or three weeks to get repair parts. “You’ve got a limited window here in which to make money, so the last thing you want is equipment breakdowns,” Bellrose says.

“That Ardco’s been going since November and it hasn’t stopped once, except for a few days over the holidays,” he adds. “We work for five different companies in the area, and they all like that machine because we get so much more work done in a day. With the high-flotation tires, the Ardco can cross thinner ice than other machines. And the tires don’t disturb terrain as much as tracks do.”

Perhaps the best testament to the Ardco’s value is the fact that Bellrose has ordered another one. “It’s a very versatile machine,” he explains. “I plan to put a 1,500-gallon water tank on it for watering [freezing] the snowfields. I also might try putting a drill on the back of it, which we could use to test for contaminated soil on well sites. It has a lot of potential. I’m also considering putting on other attachments, such as a backhoe or a snowplow.

“The drill could open up a new market for us,” he predicts. “We won’t even have to open up cut lines to get to drilling sites because the Ardco doesn’t need them. Once other drilling companies recognize that we can get to a remote site without first building a road, they’re going to want to use it because it can save them a lot of money.

“It’s a very versatile machine,” Bellrose concludes. “It’s very valuable to our operations.”

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