By Mark Schauer
Cold Regions Test Center
Public Affairs Office, Yuma
Used with permission Fort Greely Interceptor
With responsibility for a fleet of over 40 wheeled and 20 tracked vehicles, Cold Regions Test Center’s vehicle maintenance shop is a vital component to ensuring testing on remote ranges in frigid cold and deep snow proceeds without a hitch.
Employed at CRTC since 2002, Dave Sutherland, acting lead for the shop, brings a lifetime of experience to the job.
“I grew up handing wrenches under the wheel well,” he said. “It probably isn’t my chosen profession, but it chose me. I still enjoy it—at the end of the day, you see something physical that you created.”
Born in Fairbanks but raised in Delta Junction, Sutherland is the third generation of his family to make Alaska home.
“My grandfather drove the Alaska Highway to come up here in 1947, when it was still pretty much a mud trail. He was from New York, and he and a couple of Army buddies when they got out of the service decided they were going to go to Alaska to live the dream.”
Having grown up on a farm, for a time Sutherland aspired to be a farrier, an occupation that combines elements of blacksmithing and veterinary medicine to care for all aspects of a horse’s foot. After high school he spent a summer apprenticing with a farrier in Fairbanks, then went to school in Oklahoma to gain certification in the craft.
“When I got out of horseshoeing school, I submitted a resume to Disneyland. I had an interview, but they were looking for someone with more experience.”
He still does farrier work as a hobby, but chose to return to Alaska rather than attempt to make it a career in the lower 48 states.
“I’d had enough of life in Southern California,” he said. “When I got back home to Alaska and realized how much I like it here, I stayed. I like the pace, I like the people and I like the country.”
Like many in rural Alaska, Sutherland enjoys hunting, using the Webley bolt action rifle handed down to him from his grandfather. In addition to moose and other typical Alaska game, four years ago he was drawn in the coveted lottery to hunt a Dall sheep, a stocky creature whose rams have large horns and lives at rugged alpine elevations. He succeeded in his hunt, which he attributes to patience and a lot of climbing. But he had less luck when he accompanied former CRTC commander Col. John Cavedo on the same hunt when the latter won a subsequent lottery
“We had a great week camping out in the rain, but we didn’t get him a sheep. It’s beautiful country up there: above the tree line, rocky. It’s probably the hardest hunt you can go on, but fun.”
Alaska has the highest per capita rate of licensed private pilots in the United States, and Sutherland has counted himself among this group for about 10 years.
“It’s something I always wanted to do. Up here, it’s so big that you can’t see everything by boat or snow machine — flying is the only way to do it.”
Though owner of a relatively modest two seat plane of tube and fabric construction, Sutherland was reluctant to own an airplane until giving in to his wife Karen’s encouragement.
“There’s a lot of time and money committed, but you just have to dive in and do it,” he said.
Sutherland likes working on ground vehicles in his spare time, too. While in high school he owned a 1966 GMC panel truck that he lovingly maintained for as long as possible.
When it finally succumbed to old age, he vowed he would own another one someday. Two years ago he finally found a 1951 model, though it needed more than a little tender loving care. “It literally had trees growing in it. I have it up and running now.”
Though he immensely enjoys his job and the farm he shares with his wife and daughter, Sutherland has for the past eight years made a point of taking at least one sea cruise annually, including one to Europe and several to Mexico and the Carribean.
“By the end of the test season when we’ve been in the cold and dark for three or four months, it’s a sanity check to get out on even a one week cruise. It’s enough to get Vitamin D back in your system and realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As vacations go, it’s probably the cheapest you can do.”
Nonetheless, there is no place like home as far as he is concerned, and he intends to stay for the long haul. “I like sun and sand and I could possibly see myself snowbirding someday, but I’ll always have a home here.