Answering the Call: Gordon Enterprises LLC Bucoda, Washington
Rob Gordon is adept at putting out a lot of different fires. As the co-owner and sole operator of Gordon Enterprises, he hauls logs and rock with a long logger and self-loader and dirt and aggregate with a dump truck. When the call comes, he also drives a fire truck or ambulance as a volunteer firefighter.
Gordon Enterprises was started by Rob’s father, Robert C. Gordon as a sole proprietorship with a dump truck back in 1985. Before passing away unexpectedly from a brain tumor in 2006, Robert hauled rock for the Centralia Mining Company, and a variety of local logging and construction contractors. He also was a volunteer fire fighter.
After his passing, Robert’s sons Rob, Ryan and Jon looked at their options, and rather than breaking up the equipment that was left, which included two dump trucks, pup trailer, tilt deck trailer and a Cat, they opted to form a company of their own. Rob works full-time as a forester for Long View Timber, and the Jon has a full-time job for Holbrook Logging in the Tacoma log yard. Rob took on the responsibility of running the show. During the summers, the brothers will do some little logging jobs and Rob will be hauling the wood.
Rob had gotten his CDL when he was 16, but trucking wasn’t so much in his future plans. After graduation, he enrolled at Washington State University to study engineering. His goal was to eventually get into transportation, roadway projects. The only problem was the math requirement.
While at WSU, Rob also drove truck on a farm outside of Colton, Washington. His dad had offered to let him drive one of the dump trucks, but he decided to stay where the money was instead.
“When my dad passed away I looked at what I enjoyed doing, and at the time that was driving truck and farming,” Rob says. “I thought that trucking might be my calling, and I felt that if that was something I was going to do, this was going to be my best opportunity because we already had the equipment as well as the contracts and the support of the contractors.”
Rob came back to the Lewis Country and picked up where his dad had left off. One of the first things he did was to completely rebuild Robert’s dump truck to make it more reliable. A sticker on the hood reads, “In memory of my dad” for a project that Robert always intended to do.
“When I began driving the truck, I went into the rock pit and the lady in the office pretty much fell off her chair because I sounded so much like my dad on the radio,” he recalls.
In the spring of 2009, Rob bought a used Weyerhaeuser truck at auction. When he bought the truck, the brothers contemplated making it into another dump truck.
“At that time, it was very hard for log truckers to make any money and find jobs,” Rob says. “The price of wood was down, and a lot of trucks were just parked. The ones for sale were going very cheap.”
The first thing that Rob did was to paint the truck, to hide the Weyerhaeuser yellow. He got really busy over the summer, and by the time he got around to messing with the truck in the fall, he happened across a used self-loader to put on the truck. It seemed like it would be a good fit to help with some of the little logging jobs the brothers were doing from time to time.
“We’d hire self-loaders to come and get the wood, but we found that they were making more money out of the job than we were,” Rob says. “We didn’t have any intention of running our own self-loader full-time, but we figured that just running it occasionally, it would pay for itself.”
The ironic thing, though, was that about the time Rob got the log truck up and running, people started calling him to haul their wood. He did that through the winter, and come springtime, he was still at it.
It was about that time that construction work flattened out, so Rob just parked the dump truck and kept hauling logs. For the last three years, he figures he’s averaged 400 loads a year with the self-loader.
“There had been a lot of self-loaders around, but in 2007-2009 timeframe, a lot of guys took them off their truck and sold them because there was no work for them,” he explains. “I stepped into it at the right time by accident and it has worked out very well.”
Eager Beaver Cutting, out of Grand Mound, and M&M Logging, out of Curtis are two of Gordon’s main customers. Rob not only hauls logs with the self-loader, but also moves equipment with the dump truck and tilt deck, and also rocks logging roads and landings.
During this past winter, Rob also put together a long logger. “We bought the truck out of Port Angeles, and it was the same truck that I used to drive when I was going to WSU. A year ago, I was with my former boss, at a Ritchie Bros. auction, and he told me that they were going to be selling it for scrap because they’d blown the engine and weren’t interested in fixing it because it was an old 1977 model. He told me if I wanted it to come and get it,” Rob recalls.
The truck was missing its engine and transmission. Rob had already started building a new engine the previous summer knowing he would be getting the truck. He also decided to make it into a fifth-wheel for the times that he might want to hook up to a flatbed or lowboy trailer.
As it happened, one of the contractors that Rob was working for bought a loader and wasn’t going to be needing the services of the self-loader any more. He still needed the logs hauled though, and he offered the job to Rob who set his truck up as a quick-change so he could easily switch it from fifth-wheel to long logger.
“I don’t really have the intentions of going out and hauling for a lot of different people with the long logger; I just want to keep the customers that I have going happy,” Rob says.
“It’s always a task of juggling loads,” he adds. “I have a difficult time turning down work. I try to keep everybody caught up and pleased, but sometimes that’s not completely possible. In the last year, construction has started to come back and I’ve actually turned down some of that work because the rates haven’t come back.
“I’ve got work that I can be doing (with log hauling), and I’d just as well see people who aren’t working try and get back on their feet, so I tend to step out a little more.”
“One of the nice things about hauling for my two logging contractors, is that they understand that at times I can make more money with my dump truck, and they are willing to keep me on when I do other jobs.”
Even with all the options, Rob says the realities of the different industries can be frustrating because he can see in his books that he can make the same amount of money with the dump truck in a seven to eight month period as he does working all year long with the self-loader.
Rob’s ultimate goal is to be more self-sufficient. “There’s no way to completely get away with that, but as some of the contractors get older, you’re not sure who’s going to replace them – it might be larger contractors that don’t need to hire trucks,” he says. “Having the variety of trucks gives me options to go and find work if the industries are in a low. The nice thing about our equipment is, while it might be older, it’s all paid for.”
At times, Rob says it can be a challenge being a one-man show. But over juggling jobs and maintenance chores, is the frustration of keeping up with all the rules and regulations. “Every time I turn around, I find something new or that I’ve never heard about in the 10 years I’ve been driving a truck,” he says.
As if he wasn’t busy enough, Rob serves as the assistant Chief of the Bucoda Fire Department and the Maintenance Officer for Gibson Valley overseeing the maintenance program for three fire trucks, water tender, three ambulances, two brush trucks and a pair of command vehicles.
Luckily, while trucking is busiest during the summertime, fire calls seem to be more prevalent during the middle of the winter with downed power lines, car wrecks on icy roads, and chimney and house fires. Ninety percent of the calls to which the fire department responds are medically related. Rob often drives the ambulance, fire truck and water tender.
As for a similarity between driving dump trucks and log trucks and emergency vehicles, Rob says the pumper truck at Gibson Valley is a Kenworth T800 pumper-tender carrying 2,500 gallons of water and is just like driving any other heavily loaded vehicle. The water in the tank is baffled to prevent it from shifting.
“Even though it’s an emergency vehicle, you still have to treat it as a commercial vehicle,” adds Rob, who has also been tasked with teaching other volunteers to drive the equipment, “and you need to follow the typical driving safety rules.
The majority of the emergency vehicles are automatics. A good thing as many of the new volunteers are high school and college age or retirees looking for something to keep them active. Many of the younger kids, especially, have never driven anything larger than a Honda. “We do spend a lot of time with them making sure that they are safe in the vehicles and are making appropriate decisions,” Rob says. “The fire guys, who do wreck, are those with a lack of experience or comfort in the vehicle because they are not getting as much seat time as a regular commercial driver.”
“I’ve never had any desire to do the fire service as a career,” Rob says, “But I do like helping the community. What drove that was the mechanical side; I just like trucks.”
Rob feels a positive commitment to serving the community. He also sees a solid future in log and rock hauling.
“I don’t see us getting out of the trucking,” he says, “But it’s hard to say which truck I’ll be in more. We’ll likely just go more to where the industry climate takes us.”
“ I think dad would be excited to see what we’ve got going on now, and that we’re staying afloat in the trucking industry, whether it be logging or dump trucking,” Rob adds. “He’d probably think we were crazy, though, with four trucks.”