Log truck driver ready to put pedal to metal
Enzo Ferrari once said, “What’s behind you doesn’t matter.” Behind one could be a trailer stacked 13 feet high with fresh cut timber twisting down a dirt road or it could be patch of rubber being laid on concrete. Both require skill and experience.
This year as local log truck drivers try to estimate when the spring break up will occur, lifelong St. Regis resident and long time timber hauler, Jim Burr is looking forward to a new kind of driving. After 45 years of transporting thousands of loads of lumber, Burr finds himself daydreaming about much shorter drives; a quarter mile to be exact.
Instead of sitting high up in a Mack truck semi he’s riding low profile in his sleek black 2011 SS Chevy Camaro. Last September, Burr brought his car over to the drag strip at the Spokane County Raceway. Burr reminisced, “As we are signing up for racing, you go over the rules and liability,” he said, “The old guy getting us registered said, you sure you wanna do this?
I gotta warn you, you’re gonna get hooked.” Now he is. It’s apparent that, for some, driving runs through their veins.
But that’s not how Burr started out. In October Burr delivered his last load of logs for Bill Hereford Trucking out of Missoula. He drove for this logging outfit for only five years of his impressive career that formed on a whim in his early 20s.
Although unable to finish out his high school academics, Burr set out to make a living and was hired on at 17 with the Diamond Match Mill in Superior. The work was seasonal so he tried his hand at logging. He set chokers.
He operated a D7 Cat. He learned how to fall trees. All of it was arduous and dangerous.
“One day I was sitting on a pile of logs taking a break, and I saw a log truck go by, I thought…I should try that out,” Burr remembered. So Burr went to work for Jimmy Harris. “Some buddies of mine broke me in hauling logs, one friend owned his own truck,” he said. “Dick Ward taught me how to drive.
Start empty. Then try with a load.” His first time making a delivery was in the dead of winter on snow-covered roads up Cold Creek outside of St.
Regis. “I missed a gear coming out on the county road and got real stuck. My boss did me a favor and laid me off,” Burr recalled.
So much of driving truck on mountain roads with 45,000 pounds of timber on board is feeling. Burr explained, “You got to come off in the right gear, use the Jake and a little bit of brake.” As the miles get logged mishaps are part of the process.
Burr noted, “I’ve tipped over several loads, we’ve all done it. It’s just a learning experience.” On an average day Burr could haul up to a dozen loads if it was within Mineral County.
On other shifts he could travel close to 500 miles bringing a stack from forests near Lost Trail Pass in the Bitterroot and dropping the load in Seeley Lake before heading home for the day. To keep him company on long drives Burr has had some loyal co-pilots over time. His first of two cocker spaniels, aptly named Hooker, rode along with him for 14 years.
“When I was driving my hand would be on the shifter and he’d rest his head on my hand,” Burr said. His newest dog got a name to match his owners, Timber. Burr can recall working 16-hour days, this was taxing on the body physically and mentally.
Down time for a driver is sparse. Even as a new load is being stacked on a trailer, drivers must watch carefully in their cab mirrors to ensure the logs are positioned forward enough. “A good loader can bang it on in 15 to 30 minutes, it can get a bit rough though,” Burr laughed, describing how it felt from inside the cab of his truck.
Without a customary lunch break Burr squeezed in sustenance when he could. “Usually I’d eat a Grandma’s cookie after three hours in with some coffee,” he said. “I’ve put on ten pounds since I stopped driving,” Burr said.
A driver could easily rack up 75,000 miles a year, which entail hairpin corners on steep mountain roads, washboards, as well as highway travel. For Burr those hauls have brought him to New Mexico, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. For nearly 20 years he worked for RPJ Inc. out of Plains, Montana.
He was also contracted with Plum Creek Mill in the Flathead for several years. Driving seems to simply be part of Burr’s makeup. He plans to work a bit this spring running dump truck.
Soon he will pursue his school bus endorsement, and then work in the summer for the St. Regis Fire Department operating a water tanker. All of these will be side gigs however so that Burr can focus on his favorite kind of driving.
“Part time action will free me up to race more,” he said. As the drag racing season cranks up in Spokane this spring Burr is anxious to put his Camaro’s new modifications to the test. With a new Cam, headers, and line lock brakes installed by Dark Horse Customs out of Bozeman, Burr’s fastest quarter mile time last year was 13.2 seconds flying at about 110 miles per hour.
So after decades of employing gears and shifting to slow him down, he’s reversing that knowledge now to slap through his six speeds to go as fast as he can.
Burr’s first time on the drag strip this year is April 25 that is a race day that is open to the public.
Once his new racing slicks arrive for his car in March, he’ll have to go warm them up a bit, just no dirt roads for this ride.
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