Freres Lumber Co.
By Darin Burt
Royce Longfellow sips a cup of coffee at the Gingerbread House, a local café in Lyons, Oregon where “old timers” from nearby Freres Lumber Company gather at their regular tables to jaw with their buddies about the good ol’ days.
At 65 years old, Royce is still younger than most of the regulars, but he’ll soon be able to join in the storytelling. After 38 years as the senior log truck driver at Freres Lumber Co., he turned in his keys at the end of December 2013.
“I’m looking forward to retirement. But I’m going to miss my truck and the guys who I work with. I’ll miss the brush; getting up there a couple hours before daylight when it’s clear and all the stars are out,” says Royce, who actually started with Freres in 1974 as a part-timer hauling chips and veneer.
Royce was a young buck of 29 when he came to work at Freres and after serving in the ARMY. He had already hauled a few loads of rock, grain and produce for various outfits in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and his first log hauling experience was with Young & Morgan, and that’s when he caught the attention of Rocky Rockwell, the truck boss at Freres Lumber.
“I was loading my trailer one morning, and Rocky came over and asked if I wanted to come to work,” recalls Royce. “I said, sure because it would be on the highway and all winter work too -- in those days they didn’t work all winter in the brush like we do now. After three years, Rocky decided to make up a log truck, and he decided to put me in it.”
Royce, however, didn’t want anything to do with it; at least at first. At the time, he and his wife had a new baby, and were paying for a new home. Rocky promised to keep him working year-round. Fred Moore, Noise Whitton and George Nelson were the main logging contractors working with Freres, and Freres was also getting into harvesting their own sales, so they needed more trucks to haul the logs. Royce was the first on the job, but they quickly expanded the fleet, adding a handful of trucks each year until they numbered fifteen presently.
As a teenager Royce had an after school job washing the Freres trucks, and at that time, the fleet was all Peterbilts. When the logging trucks came in, Freres switched to Kenworth.
“Serviceability and parts availability was a big thing. Roberts Motors was always available,” Royce says. “Preferably, I would like to have had L-models, but I tried and tried to talk Bob Freres into getting a long nose, and he said one time that he decided not to get one because then everybody in the fleet would want one,” Royce recalls.
Over the years, Royce has driven eight or nine different trucks for Freres as they would upgrade to new model every five years or so. He’s seen a number of technology changes in the trucks from electronics to cruise control, which he says is a “God send” that he uses about eighty percent of the time. The first truck that Royce drove for hire was a 1947 International L190 with a six-cylinder gas motor and 5-4 transmission.
He learned from his dad Harold Longfellow, who hauled for Freres Lumber, in a 1955 Kenworth with a 280 Cummins and a 5-4 tranny.
“It took forever for the RPM to drop when you were shifting, and we were coming up out of Salem one time and had to do double shift. It went in, but dad reached over and POW, he about knocked me out of the seat! He said pull over and we’ll start out again,” Royce says.
“Dad was a perfectionist and would tell you if you did something wrong. But I consider him to be one of the best drivers ever.”
“Some of the main things that I learned from my dad were looking out as far ahead as you can possibly see, and making sure that the trailer never crosses the center line. I learned professionalism, courtesy and maintaining proper behavior from my dad; to always be in control and to always drive the load. Anybody can drive a truck, but you’ve got to get the trailer behind it.”
“The best drivers are those that learn from other drivers,” Royce adds. “Of course, it also takes miles and time to REALLY learn.”
And it’s not uncommon for a driver to have a bad day where he gets a little more schooling than he anticipated. Royce’s career has been relatively accident free, but he’s still had a white-knuckle ride or two.
“One of the best drivers I’ve ever hauled with was Larry Reiester, and I learned a lot by just watching and listening to him. One day, we were hauling for George Nelson off of Twin Meadows. We were following a string of traffic and a guy who was hauling ahead of me called back and said that a boat trailer up there didn’t have any brake lights. Pretty soon, I got there and they weren’t stopping – they were stopped! I cranked the wheel over to the right, and got over as far as I could, and just tapped the other log hauler. If I would have had six inches to go, I would have missed him. It broke my hood and my air cleaner. That was a good lesson in always being aware.”
Another time, a binder sprung up and hit Royce in the face, breaking his jaw in 13 places, shattering his eye socket and knocking his eyeball out.
“I was laying there in the snow and my face was on fire like I’d fallen against a wood stove,” he recalls. “I put my finger in my mouth and no teeth were missing, and I could see, but things were really blurry,” he says. “We didn’t have any communication in those days, so I got down to the office and got my chains off; I figured if I’m at work, I’m tough enough to get it done.”
“I was in the hospital for 14 days. I had plastic surgery and I told the doctor to make me look like Robert Redford,” he adds.
Royce may not be a movie star, but he has some rugged good looks with long grey hair and a friendly smile. His fellow log haulers will tell you that he’s one of the best guys around, and while there are many older than him still behind the wheels of logging trucks, Royce is ready for a new chapter in his life. On his retirement to-do list are trips on his Harley-Davidson to the Grand Canyon, Mount Rushmore and the Navajo country. He’ll certainly be spending lots of time with his wife of 44 years Sharon Lee, his two daughters and grandkids.
“I’ve all kinds of stuff to do, and if I can’t find anything, I’ll invent something,” he says.
One thing Royce won’t have to invent is the fond the memories from his days hauling logs. Retirement for many is a time to do what they love, and while Royce certainly will be making the most of his new-found free time, he’ll also be leaving a job that he’s enjoyed, that has enabled him to raise and support his family, and one at which he’s proud to say he’s always given his best.
“Every day is a challenge when you’re hauling logs,” he says. “When it’s dry, the gravel is loose; when it’s wet, things get soft; and when it snows, it definitely gets slick. Highway drivers are great guys, but it’s a different breed of driver hauling logs.”
“I’ve always tried to do my part and to do it well. I’m hoping that when I’m gone that guys will say about me; ‘He could really haul.’ There’s not much more that you could ask for than that.”