The Driver’s Seat: Chris Chavez • Chehalis, Washington

Chris Chavez is one of those truck drivers who came into the job somewhat blindly, having never been behind the wheel before, and now there’s no place he’d rather be.

Chavez drives for Harvey Mullins Trucking of Napavine, Washington. He was previously an auto painter, and followed that with a job in the tire department at Wal-Mart in Chehalis. At the same time, a friend who owned a logging truck, and was thinking about adding another, offered to teach him how to drive and give him a job hauling logs. Now, the thing is, Chavez had never driven a truck before in his life, nor had he really thought about it as a career. “

A lot of my friends have been truck drivers and my dad was a truck driver and my brother is a trucker. I didn’t really want to be a truck driver, but I didn’t mind being a log truck driver - it’s a totally different thing.”

After about six months of training, Chavez, 43, got his CDL and was ready to work. But that’s when his friend’s wife decided they were going to move to Montana and weren’t going to be buying that second truck. Chavez had already quit at Wal-Mart, and with CDL in hand, went looking for a haul; his first place of employment was with Ernie Cook, and then he moved onto Donny Steel Trucking. Another friend from school offered to teach him about driving flatbed, and he went to work for the company hauling lumber. He quickly found that the job didn’t earn him enough money, so he bought a 2001 Volvo from a friend who’s primary job was hauling wine bottles from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay area. The plan was to pay the truck off within a year, but after about eight months life on the road got to be too hard on Chavez never getting to see his family. Luckily, he friend was nice enough to take the truck back, no strings attached. Chavez was only out of work for about a week when he heard that Harvey Mullins was looking for a log truck driver.

“I didn’t know him, but I knew a couple of guys that drive for him. I gave him a call, and he said if everything checked out that he’d put me in a truck,” says Chavez, who started with Mullins in the spring of 2013. “So far, it’s been a really good job. Harvey pretty much hauls for Weyerhaeuser off the Vail tree farm, so we’re always really busy.”

Chavez drives a 1996 Kenworth W900L for Mullins. The conventional logging truck is equipped with a 13-speed transmission, double lockers and a N14 Cummins motor.

“If I was ever going to run the highway again, I’d buy a Volvo. There was so much room in it that it was like a house. I love Kenworth and would buy one in a minute, but I paid $30,000 for my Volvo and the same year Kenworth would be like $60,000,” Chavez says. “As far as running in the woods, I’d take a Kenworth over anything else any day. I like the way they handle. I’ve always driven a T800, and this is the first long nose I’ve driven up in the woods. Everybody was telling me that I was going to have a hard time backing up and bopping aroud corners, but I’ve never had a problem yet.”

Since Chavez has experience as an owner-operator (almost anyway), does he have thoughts about going back in that direction? Not with all the headaches involved, he says.

“I’d rather just drive for somebody else and let them deal with the fuel, the maintenance and the tires,” he says.

“If you take care of the equipment and do your job, your employer is going to keep you around.”

“Log trucking isn’t as easy as everyone thinks it is. I’ve never seen the job as being dangerous though. The only time I’ve ever had anything happen is when I slipped on the ice on the chain deck and fell off the truck and hurt my back.”

For those thinking about hiring on with a trucking fleet, Chavez’s advice is to do your research on the companies in your area. One of the best ways to get the lowdown is simply by talking with other drivers; they’ll be the first to tell you good or bad.

“I’ve never really had a hard time getting a job, but I’ve quit a few times because I thought the grass was greener on the other side,” Chavez admits. “What I found is that the grass isn’t always the same color when you get on the other side of the fence.”

“When I’m doing the job, I like doing it. I’m not driving up and down the freeway with all the people cutting you off; I’m up in the woods and pretty much everybody with whom I haul with is like family.”

by Darin Burt