The Driver’s Seat: Jay Steiger • Winlock, Washington

In May of 2002, Jay Steiger was seriously injured, not on the job, but as he freely admits, “heartbroken over a woman and being stupid, drinking and playing with guns.”

“I was target shooting with a muzzleloader rifle, and I shot it five or six rounds and decided to shoot it one more time before I cleaned it and put it away. That was one time too many,” says Steiger, who lives in Winlock, Washington and drives for Jack Dilley Logging, out of Elma.

The ball stuck in the barrel and Steiger couldn’t get it to seat all the way onto the powder. “I figured I’d just shoot it out,” he says. “That was the wrong thing to do.”

Steiger fired the gun and the barrel turned into a pipe bomb. “The explosion knocked me out; the guy I was with said I came too and asked what the hell happened. The paramedics arrived and sedated me and got me into the helicopter and flew me up to Harbor View Medical Center where I spent three and a half weeks.”

Steiger was kept in an induced coma for the first week so that he could start to recover from his injuries. When he arrived at the hospital, it took doctors 18 hours to get him stabilized. Doctors went back in for a series of twenty-plus hour surgeries and were forced to amputate Steiger’s left hand at the wrist.

“It looked like my hand had gone through a meat grinder and been turned into hamburger,” says Steiger, who now has a prostheses with a hook for a hand.

Steiger also lost the use of his left eye, and was lucky to not also lose hearing in his left ear “They ended up removing the rear sight of the gun from my left cheek that was clear back by my ear canal,” he says.

“I’m probably one of the ugliest guys you’ll ever see,” Steiger says with a good-natured laugh.

“It’s never really bothered me. The doctor came in and talked to me when I was in the hospital, and straight up told me, “Just F#@K it, you’ve got to move on with life. Ever since then, I’ve never let it get me down.”

Before the accident, Steiger had been working in a cedar mill, doing a little of everything from pulling green chain to running edger and trim saw. With his new limitations, he could have simply gone on disability, but that isn’t his mindset.

“I can’t bring myself to live off the working folks,” he says.

But why trucking, and especially log hauling? Surely, there are easier jobs that would have been better suited to his handicap.

“I’ve always had an interest in logging trucks. My dad worked for a construction outfit when I was growing up, and trucks just got into my blood,” Steiger says.

Steiger initially found a job with Bob Rogers Trucking, in Olympia, working in the shop. Bob did some research and found a specialist who was able to fit Steiger with a prosthetic. Rogers also helped Steiger get his commercial drivers license using one of the company trucks.

“If you talk to the wrong people they’ll tell you that you can’t do it. It took some fair time researching it, but we got it done,” Rogers recalls. “I’ve had a guy with a hook who drives long haul for me. I didn’t think he would have any problems.”

Steiger has since worked for B&M, Northfork Timber and Bucks Logging. The truck that Steiger now hauls with for Jack Dilley Logging has been outfitted with a suicide knob on the steering wheel with a metal ring where the knob would be to help him turn the wheel with his hook. Throwing the wrappers and securing the load of logs hasn’t been a problem for the most part since Steiger is right-handed.

“There really ain’t nothin’ to it,” he says, “You just throw your wrappers and get on the road.”  

by Darin Burt