No Shortcuts TJ Harrison Trucking • Cambridge, Idaho

TJ Harrison, 57, has 40 years in the timber industry to remember. Right now though, things are a little foggy as he’s recovering from a logging accident late last year where he rolled a Cat and ‘took a pretty good shot to the head’. He spent five months in the hospital, and is slowly getting better back at home now with the help of his son Levi, Rod Kesler (the logger he was working for at the time), and many friends and family. TJ gets around pretty well in his wheelchair these days, but he’ll be the first to tell you, it’s nothing compared to driving a logging truck.
TJ got his start when he was just a young man in high school, running a HD5 CAT and rubber-tired skidder, for his dad Bob Harrison, owner of Harrison Logging. After graduation from high school in 1976, TJ moved into a truck and started hauling logs.

“One thing led to another, and he needed a little help, so he put me behind the steering wheel of his old International and said, ‘go to town and I’ll see you in a couple of hours,’” TJ recalls of his humble trucking beginnings. “We had a really good friend, named Bud Wagner, who unloaded trucks at the mill. He’d pull my wrappers off, unload me and load my trailer, and back the woods I’d go.”

That first truck had a 318 hp motor with a 5-4 transmission, but it was more than familiar to TJ. “From the time I was about six years old, I rode in the truck with my dad all the time,” he says. “I’m sure that first trip I did by myself was scary - if I could remember it, but dad just put on another load and I went right back to town.”

“I thought I was ten-feet tall and bullet-proof,” he adds. Probably what gave him the gumption to go ahead and buy a Western Star logger from Woodpecker in Pendleton, Oregon. Looking back, TJ says he was probably more “stupid than gutsy.”

TJ went on to work for B&G Logging, operating an FMC skidder for a couple of years, while at the same time keeping a log truck on the road. That was also about the time that TJ’s son Levi became old enough to work in the woods, and so he taught him the ropes.
“The only thing that I tell Levi is to keep all 18 wheels on the ground. . .it works best that way,” TJ says.

Over the last five years, TJ built up a handful-size fleet logging trucks, and he knew most of them well, having rebuilt the trucks and log trailers to suit his needs – and save money over newer ones.

“I started with a little bit of nothing, and built it from the ground up,” TJ says. “When I first started driving trucks, a bunch of guys that I worked with told me that anybody can buy a new truck, but not just anybody can build one; my dad had worked for a guy by the name of Ken Croker in Meridian, Idaho and he was kind of a ‘fix it all man’; he would take older trucks and fix them up like new, and I took that too heart.”

“Over in our area you were paid by whatever you had on, and the trucks I had were pretty lightweight and made more money per trip. The last truck that I had, I basically built the bunks for the truck and the short log trailer which only weighed about 5,800 pounds – where most are around 7,500 pounds. It took a lot of years of studying to build it that way.”

“One of the things that I learned from my dad was how to make shortcuts. When I got into building my own trucks, I rebuilt the motors because it cost a lot of money to take it in to a shop and have it done. I got to where I could tear a motor down and rebuild it in about three days where it took Kenworth or whoever a week or longer. I would take the transmissions to Six States Distributors in Boise because when you got into a 13 or 15 speed it became a little hectic to rebuild.”

Over the years, TJ ‘mellowed out’ on the trucks until he was eventually running just one. His first was a 1969 Peterbilt followed by a White Wetern Star, and then he began buying Kenworths and the last was a longhood Peterbilt.

“For a while I had more Kenworths than anything,” he says. “Right now, in my opinion, the best truck is the one on which you get the best buy.”
Logging, hauling or building trucks, TJ was into ‘all of the above’. He logged for companies including Boise Cascade, Crowman, TR Johnson, and Ellingson, who were scattered all over Idaho and Oregon. With work so spread out, it was too much of a hassle to keep things under watch, so he eventually dropped back to just hauling logs.

“The last little bit I was into the trucks, but for quite a few years, I was into logging and had a skidder, couple trucks and hired people. . . but it was too much of a headache,” he says. “In our area, you had to bid on the jobs and compete with other people – it wasn’t like you just said, ‘okay, I’ll do it for this much and they’d hire you to do it.’ Things just got too competitive.”

TJ’s trucks hauled for ‘just about everybody.’

“You kind of float back and forth between half a dozen guys,” he says. These days, Levi is making sure that the truck keeps working.

“Over the years of logging and trucking I’ve met a lot of great people,” TJ remarks. “It’s a hard life . . . but it’s no different than anything else.” 

by / Darin Burt