Up and Running

Gene Kelly Trucking
Emmett, Idaho

November 5, 2012. Gene Kelly was hauling a load of logs on Highway 55 about two miles outside of Smith’s Ferry, Idaho. It was a road he’d traveled numerous times, but this day was about to be different.

“I’d been around the same corner 8 million times in my career. People say I might have been going around the corner too fast . . . to be honest, I just don’t know what happened.”

“The trailer came up off the ground on the right side, and took the truck with it. The truck laid over on the driver’s side and broke the side window out – my arm was scraping the ground. The truck probably slid for 50 feet on its side. When it came to a stop, I was able to climb out the passenger side, and was luckily not hurt too badly other than from being thrown around.”

“The logs were strung out all over the highway. I just thank god that there was nobody hurt in the whole ordeal.”

As you can guess, the truck was totaled; the wreck causing about $10,000 worth of damage. Being a 1984 359 Peterbilt, the older truck wasn’t worth much to begin with. Gene had driven the truck for 10 years, and owned it for the last eight.

“It was a highway truck that was made into a logging truck. I’d been through it top to bottom. I loved the truck; it was like family to me.”

“At the time, I thought I was done,” he admits. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I was looking at either rebuilding the Peterbilt or going to work for somebody else.”

It was just his luck that Peterbilt of Utah had a 2000 Kenworth W900L for sale. It too had been an old highway truck, but Gene saw that as a positive because being on the pavement meant that it hadn’t been used and abused under severe conditions in the woods. It was a steal at only $28,000.

“I just wanted a cab and chassis rather than a complete log truck because I still had the logging gear from the truck that had been wrecked,” Gene says, adding that the fact that the KW came with a stack of maintenance records, from all kinds of rebuilt and upgraded components from the clutch to the steering box, was another good sign that he was getting a good deal. 

“I wanted something that somebody else had put all the money into, so that I save can my money with it,” he says with a laugh.

Another plus – the new truck was significantly lighter weight at around 24,000lbs “on a bad day.”

Because the KW was in such good condition, it took only a couple of weeks to turn it into a logger so that Gene could get back to work. Over a weekend they had the sleeper off and the backend cut and ready for the stinger. He couldn’t have done it without the help of fellow log haulers Tommy Reedy and Shawn Pruitte. Gene’s dad Tom Kelly lent a hand as well. 

Gene, 33, followed the lead of his friend John Etchemendy, who drove for Canaday Logging into the log hauling business. “I thought it would be neat to start hauling logs,” he says. Gene was 21 at the time, and found a job with Charlie Yates, of Emmet, who taught him the do’s and don’ts of logging. He followed that with driving jobs for JI Morgan, of New Meadows, and Eastern Oregon Fast Freight before returning to work with Yates. It wasn’t two years into that job that Yates offered to buy Charlie a log truck – the 1984 Pete - that he was driving. 

“I talked it over with some people and asked if they thought it was the right thing to do and I just jumped into it. It was a scary deal because owning a business was something new to me. I had a job lined out with Brown Brothers Logging, in Emmet, before I had the truck and knew that I could go right to work.”

Gene worked for Brown Bros. for a couple of years, until the spring breakup forced him to look for work to keep him busy. He went to Grand Coulee, Washington and hauled logs for Columbia Helicopters, and when that job ended he traveled to Northern California for more helicopter logging. Eventually he returned to Idaho and his old job at Brown Bros. where he’s been for the last couple of seasons. 

Despite having to move around a bit for work in order to keep current on his truck payments, Gene is the type of guy who likes to have a steady job. “Even if you’re not making the big bucks, it’s good to have a steady job where you know you have a paycheck.” 

Being newly married, to his bride Desiree, it’s good to be home as well, Gene adds. “I’m glad I went back home because otherwise I never would have met her,” he says. 

In his free time, Gene likes to go fast. He has a 1968 Camaro Roadster equipped with a 1,015hp, 640” big block Chevy engine that he’s planning to race at Firebird Raceway in Boise. He expects to clock low eight’s in the quarter-mile. “From now on,” he says, “I’m going to keep all my speeding on the drag strip.” 

by Darin Burt