The Driver’s Seat: Rick Sargent • North Bend, Oregon

by Darin Burt

Rick Sargent is perfectly content being a hired driver. “I won’t own a truck,” he states, emphatically.

Sargent drives a mule train for Chuck Bracelin Trucking, out of Coos Bay, Oregon. He’s been part of the Bracelin’s crew for three seasons, and has been trucking trees since 1994. Previously, he’s worked for King Logging and Grant Creek Logging in the Myrtle Point area. Sargent worked for Bracelin for a short while back in 2004, but when a truck opened up, his old boss asked if he would like the job.

That first season, Sargent was hauling long logs, but he’s since switched over to short logger. That suits him fine, because that’s what he originally learned to drive.

“It was a ‘74 359 Peterbilt with a V12 and a 5-4 transmission. I don’t mind short loggers at all. There’s not really anything to driving a long logger, but when I first started I didn’t know any different.”

How Sargent came to get his CDL is kind of unique. He was working in the rigging, and the shovel swung around and hit him and broke his leg. He spent the next two months riding around in a truck with a cast on his leg.

“I’ve always wanted to drive truck. I saw my friend, who hauled for the company, at the tire store, and asked him if he was looking for any drivers. He said come on down. I thought he was kidding. I rode around with him while I learned how to drive,” Sargent recalls.

“He taught me ‘old school,’ that’s the best way I can describe it,” he adds. “It’s really just an attitude - don’t think that you’re the best driver around if you’re new to it; just listen and do what you’re told. It’s all pretty much common sense. If you pay attention to what the old timers tell you, you’ll have it made.”

At Bracelin’s, Sargent is behind the wheel of a 2008 Peterbilt 389 that is set up as a permanent mule train. The truck is powered by a 550hp Cummins ISX motor and equipped with a 2008 Whit-Log trailer. And along with its old school inspired red and black paint scheme, it shines with lots of chrome - from the stacks to the steps.

“It’s the nicest truck I’ve ever driven,” Sargent says. “It’s got everything you’d ever want in a truck. It’s just like driving a Cadillac.”

Being a big guy - 6’, 4”, 220 lbs - means Sargent likes lots of room in the cab of his truck. That’s one of the main reasons he likes the Peterbilt. “I don’t fit in a Kenworth. The Peterbilt has lots of legroom because the floor is flat, whereas Kenworth’s have a floor that slopes up.

Sargent treats the truck as if it were his own. “Nobody else drives it,” he says. “I keep it polished and cleaned up. Chuck Bracelin takes care of us bar none. He has awesome equipment and is pretty picky about how it looks. Bottom line: If we do him good, he does us good. “

“If something happens to my truck, it’s MY ass. It’s not my truck, but it’s my responsibility.”

“I’ve been doing it for twenty years, I’ve had three opportunities to get my own truck and I’ve turned them all down. When it’s all said and done, a guy with his own truck doesn’t make any more money than I do as a hired driver. Plus, I don’t have the responsibilities that they do; I don’t have to make the payments and keep up with all the expenses,” Sargent points out.

Sargent has a handful of loggers, including Smith & Wirth, Four Mile Logging and King Logging that keep him busy. The majority of the jobs are over on the coastal range, where conditions are different than the other side of the mountains, or way up north, for that matter. “The snow over here is more severe than like over in Eastern Oregon. The roads you see on Ice Road Truckers are a joke - I’ve trucked up in Alaska and it’s totally different snow,” Sargent says. “The snow here is wet and slicker than snot. You’ve got to chain up every tire.”

Snow or not, the ground can be pretty steep. Sargent can recall times pulling 20 to 30 percent grades. “When I worked for King Logging, one time I loaded on a road that was 27 percent grade. There was a little cubbyhole in the cab of the truck and stuff was falling out if it,” he says.
And being over on the coast, especially during the summer, means watching out for tourists on the road. “Highway 101 is terrible and can get pretty plugged up,” Sargent says.

Sargent is a second-generation trucker. His grandpa, Enno J. Dornath, drove back in the 1940s and 1950s. Enno also owned Sturdi-Bilt Toy Company, located in Norway, Oregon, a lumber town near Coquille, which designed and built die-cast toy trucks. The company stopped making toys in the mid 1950s, and Sargent still has the last two trucks to come out of the workshop.

“I’ve been around trucks since I was a kid. I remember getting a truck and loader for Christmas when I was about seven years old,” he says. “I love driving truck and it’s what I’ll do ‘till the day I die.”