Colby Jackson: Redding, California

Article by Darin Burt

“As a kid, growing up over on the coast, we lived over by Ukiah, and Schuster Enterprises was a big logger and trucker, and they had a whole string of Mack Superliners. One of my earliest memories was seeing one HUGE tree on all five of the trucks,” says driver Colby Jackson. “It was always in the back of my head that I wanted to be a log truck driver.”

Jackson, 42, is now sixth in seniority among the company drivers in Sierra Pacific Industries’ Anderson, California Division. He’s been hauling logs for them 12 years, and has been trucking a total of 25.

“I wouldn’t do it, if I didn’t really enjoy working in the woods,” he says. “Not many people have the chance to get out and see what we do and do what we do.”

Jackson started out in the woods, working as a chaser on the landing, and as a mechanic in the shop, turning wrenches. “I was working for Blue Ridge Forest Management here in Redding; they taught me to drive truck and I just kind of fell into it and whenever they needed a water truck or chip truck driver or something I would go out and do that,” Jackson says. “I ended up driving lowbed after the driver left, and when we weren’t using it as a lowbed, we had a hayrack trailer we’d put on it.”

Jackson’s real driving lesson came on the lowbed, moving heavy logging equipment such as shovels, delimbers and chippers, in the woods and on the highway. “That was a sudden learning curve. We had a good truck- A Kenworth T600 - with big Cat power and a super Jake brake and retarder so it was an easy truck to learn to drive on,” he says. “You just have to take your time, make sure everything is tied down and make sure you don’t get an over-height ticket . . . or worse, take out the overpass.”

Although, he liked the challenges of his job, one thing Jackson realized was that working for a gypo logger, with no health insurance or benefits, wasn’t exactly the best way to take care of his wife and kids. Working as a hired driver for Sierra Pacific, on the other hand, provides him with a steady job, a predictable hourly wage and a good benefit package. He likes working on an hourly basis, and says, in his opinion, that’s how it should be everywhere.

“They ought to outlaw letting a guy work on percentage or by the mile,” he says. “You’re just looking for somebody to tear up the truck, kill themselves and/or somebody else.”

The trucks from Sierra Pacific Industries’ Anderson Division haul logs all over northern California’s Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, Lassen, Trinity and Humboldt Counties. Jackson’s favorite hauls are over on “the Westside,” on the west side of Interstate-5 in the Trinity and Humboldt area.

“Call me crazy and silly, but it’s steep, hard ground and it it’s hard on trucks. It’s a challenge and it keeps you on your toes There’s one road over there with a half-mile long 30 percent grade,” he says.

If he had his druthers, Jackson would also rather pull a mule train than a conventional long logger. “It’s just different. It’s a little slower pace and you’ve got to pay more attention to what you’re doing,” he says. “People say you’re doing twice the work for the same pay, but you’ve got to throw just as many wrappers.”

Log hauling in this part of the country is relatively steady, although Jackson jokes that, “Being that this is California, we’re not allowed to work, period.” Typically, there’s a spring thaw break up period where trucks are not allowed to run on soft, muddy roads.

Hired drivers with Sierra Pacific are expected to haul right up to a legal load – nothing more. Their responsibility with the trucks – other than being a safe, conscientious operator - is little more than filling out a report detailing any problems for the mechanics to check out and hang it on a clipboard at the end of the day. Jackson goes a step further, taking special pride in his “office.”

“A truck doesn’t have to be all shiny and look like a show truck, but I’m a firm believer that if you have a clean truck when you roll across the scales, the inspectors are going to be more likely to just let you go,” he says.

And what would Jackson pass along about what others should look for in a good hired driver? “Don’t hire me, that’s for sure . . .that’s why I’ve never been asked to become management,” he jokes.

“The main thing I’d tell (new drivers) is to just do what they’re told, do it and go home. There are guys who will run their truck until you feel sorry for that old truck, but that doesn’t get them any farther ahead at the end of the day. Just keep it steady as you go.”