Diving into a cold lake in the dead of winter doesn't seem like it would be a dirty job.
Gary Thompson, owner of Tri-State Diving, thought otherwise when he decided to e-mail the producers of the Discovery Channel show "Dirty Jobs" suggesting they come out for an auto recovery operation. Well, they did and the show will air Monday at 8 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.
In "Dirty Jobs," host Mike Rowe goes around the country working in some of the most disgusting work environments imaginable. Cleaning out sewers, performing autopsies on whales, farm work and maintaining heavy machinery are all featured.
This, time, though, Rowe would learn what it takes to raise a car from a frozen lake - diving into the frigid waters of Pickerel Lake.
A previous recovery job sparked Thompson's interest. "We (along with the owner of the vehicle) discussed it and thought it would be kind of neat if we had a "Dirty Jobs" segment on this," Thompson said.
"We never in our wildest dreams, when we contacted them, thought it would be that fast," Thompson said.
Thompson said it was a one-day turnaround when he e-mailed the show and then heard from the producers.
"(We) sent e-mail on Wednesday two weeks after a job on Rainy Lake," Thompson said. "On a Thursday they were calling me to set it up. "
The show was already set to come out to Minnesota to film a segment at a lutefisk factory in Minneapolis and a turkey farm near Hoffman. The segment at the lutefisk factory was canned, so the show ended up coming out first to Detroit Lakes.
What made the auto recovery segment compelling was the fact that Thompson has a patented process to raise automobiles in three to four hours instead of a day and a half. Plus, only nine inches of ice are required to set up, instead of a foot and a half that conventional recovery companies need to operate.
The dirty setup
When the crew finally got here, Thompson said the filming process was shrouded in secrecy. "Our hands were tied." Thompson said. "We could not tell anybody what was going on."
He couldn't even videotape his own operation, something Thompson said he always does.
"Every job I do, we shoot video of it for liability reasons and for coming back and seeing what we could do differently," Thompson said. "We weren't allowed to do that. We couldn't even have cameras down there."
"I said 'What happens if we have a lawsuit, for example?'" Thompson said. "Then you have to get the video from us and we'll release it."
He had no choice if he wanted the segment to go ahead.
Even nearby onlookers couldn't shoot their own video.
"I know there were some people down there that live on the lake that were asked to put them away," Thompson said. "Because they don't want all that stuff to end up on YouTube or whatever."
Some speed bumps occurred the week of the shoot as well. Thompson said that the shoot was originally scheduled for a Thursday, bumped to Wednesday, and then shifted back to Thursday.
"We (Thompson and producer David Barsky) went out to the site and we showed him what was going on," Thompson said. "He got back here and we were getting everything ready to go Wednesday morning."
But a snowstorm kept Rowe away until the next day.
"It ended up that he was stranded in Chicago, bad weather," Thompson said. "Barsky wasn't even five miles down the road when he called back and said 'can we do it Thursday?'"
So everything had to be rearranged -- his crew, the Becker County dive team, and sheriff's deputies who helped out. Thompson himself had a meeting with the Veteran's of Foreign Wars later on Thursday that he had to be mindful of.
"I was on a timetable, too," Thompson said.
The dirty details
Rowe wasn't a rookie diver coming in. He's dealt with sewage and sharks. But it was his first time diving through the ice.
Thompson was prepared for it all. He drew up comprehensive plans to make sure everyone involved, from him, to his crew and then to the "Dirty Jobs" crew were on the same page.
"You have to realize that normally I have one person that I have to worry about at any given time under the ice," Thompson said. "Here, I have four people (Rowe, a member of Thompson's team, and two camera operators) down there."
Plus, Thompson had to plan for the four backup divers from the Becker Country dive team and then four others working the ropes for the divers in the water.
And the producers were grateful for the planning.
"Nobody has every drawn anything out like that for us," Thompson said, recalling what the crew said about his preparation.
Rowe ended up doing a bit of everything. He worked the ice auger to open up the holes, went into the water and then helped bring the car back up to the surface.
Thompson had to limit what Rowe could do - saying Rowe was an "air hog" - since he didn't want him stuck under the ice in case he used up all of his air. Instead of Rowe handling everything, he had help in lugging gear back and forth.
It turned out the dirty part didn't come until the end. Thompson said that each job is different, with cars being absolutely filthy to squeaky-clean. This job turned out to be in-between.
"There was an oil-film on everything when we brought it up," Thompson said.
Rowe ended up having his fun shooting the opener, after all of the hard work was said and done. Thompson's son-in-law let Rowe borrow his truck to drive "donuts" on the ice. It took four takes, but Thompson was convinced that Rowe intentionally messed up in the first three.
"We didn't know if the first take would take or he thought it was the coolest thing to get out there and spin around on the ice," Rowe said.
The dirty aftermath
Thompson said that the producers were pleased when he spoke with them in a conference call during the editing process a few weeks after filming.
"That's the easiest job we've ever done," Thompson said about Barsky's take on the project. "As far as his responsibilities and stuff."
In the end Thompson is glad that his work and worry is done with. "I'm glad it's over," he said. "I've never had so many sleepless nights."
"Dirty Jobs" can be seen on channel 35 on ACS, channel 182 on Dish Network and channel 278 on DirecTV. The episode will also be available for download via iTunes for $1.99 starting on Tuesday.