Pride in the Ride

Smoke Oakley Trucking
Yreka, ­California

Schoolwork was the priority for young Shane Oakley, but when the bell rang he’d head for the Smoke Oakley truck shop, helping to grease and wash the trucks. He even worked on brakes, and did his first rebuild on a B-model Cat motor when he was just 12. His dad Smoke, the owner of the company, helped him see the head, but other than that, Shane buttoned it all up on his own.

“When I was just a little kid, my dad was hauling logs and lowboying for different loggers in the area. He bought his first truck when I was three, and he progressed from there,” Shane says. “He started building a fleet, adding a truck about every year around the time I was about 10 years old. At one point, he was running 13 trucks.”

The first truck that Shane piloted for the family business was a 1991 Freightliner. He hauled logs with it for three months right after he turned 18 and was legal to drive. He continued to work under the company name from 2003 to 2005, but there came a point when he itched to be on his own.

“I asked him if he’d buy me a Peterbilt 359 – which was the truck of my dreams ever since I was a little kid, and he said let’s go for it. We went down that next weekend and bought it from a company in Redding that had been using it as a dirt hauler. We converted it into a log truck and I’ve driving it up until just recently.”

“Dad wanted to make sure that I had my wings underneath me first before I just took off,” Shane says. “He stressed to me about taking care of equipment, and that the bills are the number one priority – some months are good and some aren’t; that’s just the way it is.”

Shane’s brother in-law Trevor Ayres also runs a log truck under the Smoke Oakley name. Smoke sold off the fleet of trucks some years back because it was becoming harder to find competent drivers and the headaches were mounting. Now it’s just him and his sons on the road together, hauling primarily for Del Logging, out of Redding.

“Dad wants us to go out on our own and experience it for ourselves,” Shane says. “We’re all going to continue to truck together and use the same shop, but he wants us to be ready to step up and take it over someday.”

Assuming that day ever comes. “Dad’s the kind of guy who will probably never retire,” Shane says. “He’d rather be in his truck than sitting in a coffee shop.”

“As age comes on, I’m progressing that way too,” he adds.

The truck that Shane started out in was a 1986 Peterbilt 359 equipped with a 15-speed transmission, B-model Cat motor, air-leaf suspension, Eaton 4:04 rearends and a Miller conventional log trailer. He just retired the truck and upgraded to a 2001 Peterbilt 379 with Whit-log gear – it’s so new, that when we did the story it was still awaiting a paint job, stacks, visor and other accessories to make it shine. 

One of the reasons for the upgrade was the need to be compatible with California’s EPA regulations (although the actual word Shane used to describe the CA law has been edited for a family audience). “With the electronic motor, it’s going to be a lot easier to pass the emissions test,” he says. “All I have to do is buy the special muffler – the cheapest of which I’ve found is $14,500.”

“Pretty much, California is forcing all of us loggers into Oregon,” he says. “I’m looking at moving to Southern Oregon; it’s probably going to happen within the next year because it’s just not feasible to haul logs down here any more. Our fuel prices down here are ridiculously high compared to just across the boarder in Oregon. Start up costs are also lower in Oregon.”

No matter where the trucks are running, Smoke Oakley is a company that’s known for having pride in their rides. “I’m not driving it if it doesn’t have a big bumper, big visor, nice pipes and lots of chrome,” Shane says. “We spend A LOT of time polishing.”

“It’s definitely worth it. Especially when you walk out in the morning, look at the truck and go, ‘Heck Yea! I get to drive that today!’”

It’s not just about looks. The guys are very particular about maintenance, and if something – even something minor, doesn’t feel right or needs fixing, it gets taken care of immediately. 

Smoke Oakley is also known for sporting big power under their hoods. Smoke’s 3406E Cat motor is churning out about 1,000 hp and Shane’s tops out right about 800 hp. 

“It’s not necessarily to go fast. We can pull up a hill at 55 miles an hour, where a stock truck might only be going 25 mph,” Shane says. 

“A lot of the mills down here have us in such a crunch too because they aren’t open very many hours – they might open at 7am and close at 3pm,” he adds. 

Ups and downs and annoyances aside, Shane makes the point that he wants to thank his dad for getting him into an industry that he is sure is going to make it. “Everybody says that logging is dying, but if you are in it, you know that it’s not. I kind of feel that only the strongest survive,” he says. “I’d rather be doing this than working for 10 bucks an hour and being stuck in some cubicle.”

“I might be kind of a young guy, and some people might say that this doesn’t really fit me, but when the sun is coming up in the morning and you’re coming over the hill with a load of logs, it’s amazing and we get to do it every single day.”

by Darin Burt