Logging Trucks are Rolling

Editor’s Note: This story written in 1985 by the extraordinarily gifted writer, Mary Matzek, and published in the Calaveras Enterprise documents a day’s ride by Mary with Robin Inks. Robin’s career as a log truck driver lasted until the end of the 2011 season. Robin, partly because of his long tenure, and partly because he was and is such a character, seems to have been a particularly good choice for the story. It’s interesting that as I write this note in 2012, that this story talks about the industry recovering from a bad recession at that time.

Logging Trucks Are Rolling

By Mary Matzek

Brightly colored “Big Rigs” are rolling on Calaveras County highways and to many watchers the big rigs are a signal of prosperity. Not only prosperity for the working driver but Calaveras County’s own economic indicator that somewhere in the nation, the building industry is getting back on track.

Robin Inks started out in the woods as an 18-year-old and quit to follow the American dream of college and a high paying job. But, he missed the woods and came back to Calaveras County to work ten to twelve hour days on a big rig.

A trucker’s day typically begins when it’s light enough to get into the woods but the drivers rotate for position. The first man out of the woods in the morning will have time to make three runs while the last man out will make two. Today, Robin picks up this reporter at 6:15 in Murphys. He drives for Linebaugh and his rig is a bright orange $130,000 monster that is fuel efficient at 5 miles to the gallon on a 60 gallon fill-up.

The modern cab is roomy with a comfortable cushioned chair that mitigates the bone jarring ride over rough, gouged logging roads.

“I’m at Avery Hotel,” Robin informs the other drivers as he leaves the highway at Moran Road headed for the cutting site. The big rig seems to take up the entire width of Moran Road and Robin slows to accommodate oncoming traffic.

The shortened “piggy back” rig leaves the public road and turns into the woods, “I’m at the Black Top Switch Road, “he calls into the CB radio. Other drivers are loaded and headed out of the woods on the rough, one-way road and an answering call informs Robin, “I’m at Dust Bowl, I’ll pull out at the Cedar Stack.” And so it goes, each truck connected by a radio, arranging safe passage at widened spots on the bulldozed road.

Finally, we’re near the landing site which is a rough clearing that holds stacks of moss covered logs. Robin backs into the loading area and quickly removes the chain from his trailer. The loader lifts the back dolly off, Robin drives forward and the loader sets the back dolly down. Robin connects the two halves while the loader quickly picks up the first five thousand pound log. One of the crew “brands” the end of one log with a huge steel sledge. This mark identifies the load at the mill. The men are a practiced team and the entire process is smooth and fast.

The trucks have scales and Robin checks the weight as each log shudders down on the sturdy bunker. He is responsible for the weight he carries and must see that it doesn’t exceed 45,000 pounds (about 7 thousand board feet).  Surprisingly, the huge logs with their older, dryer core weigh less than the younger, thinner logs. During the loading, another truck backs into position, waiting for Robin to depart. On the hillside behind the loader, the falling team works, bucking up the logs and skidding them to the landing site.

Robin hand signals a full load over the noise of the machinery and quickly wraps a chain binder around the logs and moves off the landing site to make way for the waiting truck. He drives a short distance to a wide stopping area and throws a series of chains over the heavy load and cinches them down with a huge metal “cheater pipe”.

Now the goliath machinery creaks and groans under its heavy load. The uneven gouges in the “goat” road pit metal parts against each other as the heavily laden back end dips into a chuckhole while the cab rides high. It gives this reporter the sensation that the whole load might tumble down the mountainside, but Robin is relaxed and cheerfully waves to the water truck driver who quickly maneuvers his smaller rig up an embankment to let us pass.

Once on the highway, Robin uses his scudding “Jake” brake on the steep grades. The Jacob Brake is a musical sound among truckers because it reduces the risk of a heavily loaded big rig losing braking power and going out of control, endangering everyone in its path.

On this day, Robin is taking his load to Snyder Lumber at Wallace and he explains the intricate economics of the logging operation.

The property owner contracts a falling team to cut his timber. A forester surveys the property and paints the trees that can be cut. The forester is there to prevent strip cutting and insure the citizens of California a productive future forest. The owner also arranges for a private trucking company (or several trucking outfits if the demand is there) to haul his logs to a mill that buys Douglas Fir and Pine for the building trades or, if they are cutting cedar, to a mill that buys pencil stock. The mill pays for the logs by the board foot which is figured by the length and girth of each log. The loggers are paid by the number of board feet they fall and buck up. The equipment operators in the woods are paid by the hour. The trucking company is paid for the number of board feet hauled and they pay their drivers by the hour. The trucking company takes the biggest profit risk because their profit is dependent on how far the logs must be hauled to the mill.

At Snyder, Robin pulls in and his load is immediately removed and stacked in a holding area. He places his trip ticket on the last log off the truck and in that way as each successive load of logs comes in, a trip ticket separates and identifies the loads. Robin immediately drives under the electric lift to double up for the return trip to the woods.

The operation at Snyder is clean. Gone are the old sawdust burners and holding ponds that were once the standby of the sawmill. Now the logs are sprinkled to keep the wood from turning an undesirable blue and the sawdust and chips are sold. There are no lines of drivers waiting to have their load measured. The truckers fought to have the scalers measure the board feet from the holding area so they could get back on the road as quickly as possible. (A Linebaugh rig pulled into the mill yard before Robin was out of the lift.)

Robin averages three runs a day when the haul is as close as Snyder’s Mill. He doesn’t stop for lunch, he munches a sandwich and drinks a cup of coffee during the loading process and gets back on the road.

He had this reporter back in Murphys after the first run by 10:30 a.m.

S.C. Linebaugh started running logging trucks in 1926 and now sons, Glen and Bruce, have an average of 10 trucks working in the county along with other truckers Tom Martin, Snyder, Jack Fray, L&R, Mike Airola, Squeak Ercoli, Layne Smith, Joe Martin, Steve Ziehlke, Greg DeAnda and Brad Sutton.

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