Earning a Name for Himself Austin Hatley La Grande, Oregon
Austin Hatley is new to log hauling. He’s 22 years old and a first-generation log trucker. Still, he’s already earning a name for himself. But we’ll get back to that in a bit.
Hatley drives for Gunnels Brothers Logging, which operates a Cat and yarder side and runs three logging trucks. He is second in seniority after being with the company for one season. He pulls a conventional long logger during the winter and a short logger set up during the summer months.
After high school, Hatley learned heavy equipment operator skills at West Coast Training in Woodland, Washington. He got his commercial drivers license at the same time.
This isn’t his first trucking job though. He’s driven concrete truck, belly dump and also hauled scrap metal. When he heard the Gunnels Brothers needed somebody to drive log truck, he jumped at the opportunity. “I grew up around it. My dad always worked on logging equipment and trucks,” he says. “I’ve lived in La Grande my whole life and I have a lot of friends who are log truckers. A buddy of mine, Bobby Stidham, works for a gypo contractor in town and he got me into it. He taught me a lot.”
Hatley’s initial enthusiasm for being a log trucker waned just a bit when his alarm clock went off the first morning on the job - you might say it was a rude awakening.
“The first week or so I thought, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be a heck of a job because of the hours we have to work.’ We were hauling out of Cle Elum and getting up around midnight to go to work. I was used to getting up at seven or eight in the morning and going to work. It was a real life change,” Hatley says. “It was hard to get used to getting up and starting my day at an hour when other people are just going home from the bars. We’ve got more done by 10 o’clock in the morning than most people do all day.”
Hatley drives a 1996 Kenworth W900B for Gunnels Brothers. The truck features a 340C Cat 425hp engine, 18-speed transmission, 40,000lb two speed rears and a Peerless trailer. The short log trailer is outfitted with Better-Weigh bunks. Lots of people recognize Hatley’s truck by its distinct number on the hood - OU812. Not only is that the name of a Van Halen album, but it’s also is the license plate on the red Ferrari that Cheech and Chong drive in one of their movies.
In the short time that Hatley has been hauling logs, he’s already learned one of the job’s most valuable lessons - never get too comfortable and let your guard down because anything can go wrong . . . and usually does sooner or later.
“The very first day we had to be dragged backwards up the hill to the loader because the road was so muddy. I left the loader, nervous of course, having never really pulled a log trailer before. We had to make a sharp left corner around this big pine tree; I started to swing wide and it was so muddy that I just slid off the road. There I sat,” Hatley says. “I remember the boss coming down the road and telling me, “Just drive the truck and trust me, the trailer will be there because if it’s not, you’ll be the first one to know.”
Hatley also got a quick lesson in driving the short logger. “The pup has a tendency to want to drag you all over the highway and the truck will rock back and forth because of the load . . .it took some getting used to that,” he says.
“A lot of guys say it’s easier short logging, but I prefer long logging there’s less to worry about,” he adds.
So far, Hatley has found log hauling to be the best job he’s ever held. Better than working in a steel warehouse, building fence, pumping gas or spraying mosquitoes for the county.
“I can honestly say that I love going to work in the morning . . . even though I go get up early,” he says. “When you’re in the truck you’re your own boss. I figure that if the truck is making money, then the company is making money and I’m making good money for myself.”
“I like driving for Gunnels because I know that I’m always guaranteed a load of logs. Everybody at Gunnels gets along really well and it’s a tight knit group. I enjoy the heck out of working with them . . . there’s never a dull moment.
“It’s crossed my mind (about becoming an owner-operator), but from talking to guys, it’s getting harder and harder to pay the bills and deal with the fuel costs and the haul rates. When I get in my truck for Gunnels, I treat it like it’s mine in how I drive it and take care of it. As long as my truck runs five days a week, everybody’s happy.”
Oh, back to Hatley’s newly earned nickname. Welcome to the world of log hauling, Big Sexy.