Arts council breathes new life into six-ton trencher used in highway construction

A historical society wants to turn an industrial machine into a piece of punk art with the community’s help.

Roger Gregoire, a member of the Northern Trails Historic Society, said his group will donate a trencher that may have been used in the construction of the Alaska Highway to the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council, to be modified by local artists.

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Gregoire estimates the trencher machine weighs six tons, and is eight-feet high. Trenchers such as these were used to build the ditches along the highway in the 1940s.

The machine was built by the Cleveland Trencher Company out of Ohio. It’s current red colour is similar to that used by the 340th Engineers, the U.S. group that built the Alaska Highway.

The item has had numerous owners over the years. It originally belonged to an oil and gas pipeline outfit, where it was used to put dirt over a trench where a pipeline was placed. After that, it was taken to a farmer, who used it to pull items around.

And after that, Ian Middleton picked it up, not because he needed to dig trenches, but because he needed an engine.

The machine came into Gregoire’s hands a year and a half ago—with a replacement engine.

The machine won’t be used for building highways any time soon, but Gregoire and others are still hoping to put it to use for an art project.

According to Gregoire, a lot of museums have old equipment, but an artistic spin could help bring in a younger crowd. 

The trencher will go to the Peace Liard Regional Arts Council, who plan to put out a call for artists at the end of November to do something new with it.

“We’ve got some fairly high-end artists who will give general advice and oversight of the project,” said Donna Kane, the council’s executive director.

“Hopefully, after the end of this year, we’ll have identified the artists who are working on it, and then through 2016 they will be modifying (the trencher).”

The council hopes to have the project finished in time for the Alaska Highway’s 75th anniversary in 2017. Kane said her group has not determined where the final project would end up.


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