CLASS OF '62
John Howe Trucking
Red Bluff, California
John Howe hauled his first load of logs when he was just 10 years old. Even more impressive than that is the fact that the 1962 Kenworth he drives today is the one he used to accompish the job.
“This is how the story goes,” says Howe, 40, owner of John Howe Trucking, out of Red Bluff, California. “I’d been moving the trucks around the yard and washing them when I was that young. My ‘uncle’ Charlie Scheckla was a log truck driver all of his life, and he was also a heavy drinker. He took me with him on the job one morning and told me that he was too drunk to drive, so since I knew how to work the sticks he wanted me to drive the truck into the woods while he sobered up.
“He passed out and we couldn’t get him awake. So we got the trailer down, got it loaded and the guys helped me get the load wrapped up and tied down. I took it all the way to Burney Forest Products in Burney, California some 40 miles and went back into the woods and started out for the mill again. Halfway there, my uncle decided to wake up, and that’s when he realized that I’d already hauled two loads of logs.”
\“I’d actually been riding in that truck since before I could talk. The truck has a small cab so I didn’t have any problem seeing or reaching the pedals. That’s when everybody realized that I had some talent as a truck driver,” Howe says. “That was back in the late 1970s when you could still get away with that stuff.”
Four years later, when Howe was 14, he grabbed one of the logging trucks belonging to Scheckla Trucking and drove it all the way to Redding and back on a bet. That was enough to prove he could handle a truck, so they put him to work during the summer on the water truck.
After graduating from high school, Howe enlisted into the United States Marine Corps where he saw action in Dessert Storm and Desert Shield and was deployed in hot zones such as Afghanistan and Somalia. After 23 years of service, he decided to return to what he calls, a love affair with trucking.
The 1962 Kenworth narrow nose conventional is equipped with a 335 Cummins with a compression release starter, 5-4 transmission and a 1961 Peerless sliding reach conventional log trailer. The truck is original down to the still operational Wagner Sangamo Tachograph on the dash. The stakes on the trailer are still collapsible, and Howe still has the original cheese blocks that we’re used in the early days to stabilize the load. The engine has been overhauled several times, but in total this is a truck that’s been going strong for more than 10 million miles.
Scheckla bought the truck at Roberts Motor Company in Portland, Oregon in 1962 for $13,000. Howe is the second owner and he put it back to work this past season after it sat retired for seven years It had been destined for the scrap yard, but after a coat of paint it was ready for action. With the compression release, he was able to turn the key to start it up and drive it home. A little grease, oil change and new rear ends, wheel seals and turbo and it was set to haul logs again.
So why would Howe want to spends his days hauling logs in a 50 year old truck rather than a newer one that is better equipped with modern components and is obviously going to be more comfortable to operate even though Howe was smart enough to add an air driver seat.
“It’s paid for so I don’t have to make a boocoo amount of payments on it,” Howe says. “With all the emissions requirements for California’s smog law coming up, I just didn’t want to buy a brand new truck.”
Recently, when a piston seized during a trip to Shasta Lake, a rod started knocking about halfway up the climb, but Howe still took the truck another 50 miles and delivered his load of logs then drove it another 40 miles to home.
“It still starts right now with a busted rod and five cylinders,” he says. “You couldn’t do that with the modern stuff today.”
Other than an engine that now needs to be rebuilt, Howe reports that the truck is in perfect condition. The aluminum frame has gone its life without so much as a single crack. Howe has changed out the rear ends, as well as swapped the tube tires with split rims or tubeless.
Howe proudly points out that the truck and trailer and a full tank of fuel only weighs 23,000 pounds - 5,000 pounds lighter than a modern T800 logging truck.
“I was theonly guy around here in the woods this year who didn’t break a suspension or ruin a rear end, and I hauled out of steeper roads because with the brownie transmission, I can get to a lower gear than most trucks,” Howe says. “My old truck has had to tow a handful of brand new trucks out of the woods because they were broke down.”
From the factory, the truck had a lightweight torsion bar suspension under it, which made it unstable when it was loaded and caused it to tip over if the driver wasn’t careful on a corner. “It wouldn’t hurt nothing other than ruin the air cleaner or exhaust pipe. . . and twenty minutes later you had it back on its feet and were headed to the mill,” Howe recalls. The truck was originally #23 when it was new, but after about it’s fifth or sixth time on its side it was renamed #32 to try and change its luck. At some point during its life, the truck got a walking beam suspension and it’s never been tipped over again.
Howe’s ’62 KW is certainly a classic example of a day gone by. There are no modern conveniences; no air conditioning other than open windows and no power steering.
“I get all kinds of comments from ‘How can you drive that?’ to ‘That’s the coolest truck I’ve ever seen.’ I’ve had guys open the door and look at the two sticks and say that they doubt they could even move the truck out of the driveway,” Howe says.
“I hear a lot of guys tell me that they remember their dad or grandfather driving a truck like mine. As far as drivers go, it sets me apart from the mundane and makes me a true driver.”
“The challenge is that you’ve got to be on your game and really know how to drive a truck. Trucks today pretty much drive themselves; they’ve got electric scales that give the weight to the ounce, compensators where all you have to do is flip a lever, and cruise control for running up and down the road,” Howe continues.
“This truck separates the men from the boys.”
By Darin Burt