Rock ‘N Roll With It

River City
Rock Products, Inc.
Estacada, Oregon

by Darin Burt

It’s not uncommon for Sonny Myrick to get a call asking if he has rock for sale. It’s a valid assumption being that the name on the doors of his trucks is ‘River City Rock Products’ but the only thing the trucks are hauling these days is timber.

Over the years, Sonny’s companies – no matter the name - have hauled a variety of products from aggregate to logs to garbage. ‘Rock Products’ is simply a holdover from when he operated a local quarry – and as the old adage goes, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?

“Trucking is trucking once you know what to buy and what to fix,” says Sonny, who started out at the wheel when he got out of the NAVY in February 1962 and set to hauling logs for various outfits around Estacada, Oregon. He worked as a hired driver for a couple of years, and then bought his own truck – actually he bought one back that had originally been owned by his dad Oscar Myrick.

“Dad died in February of 1961 while I was still in the NAVY; in the meantime, my mother had sold the truck to a friend of the family,” Sonny recalls. “One Sunday morning there was a knock on the door, and it was the guy who had bought my dad’s truck. I figured he wanted me to drive for him, but he said, no, he wanted to sell me the truck. I was living from hand-to-mouth and I couldn’t buy anything, but he told me that he was going to set me up.”

Sonny trucked logs all the way up to 1978, building up a fleet of, at one time, eight trucks, that went under the name AJ Myrick Trucking, and hauled primarily for Crown Zellerbach.

“We had some good jobs and made a good living,” he says.

“Everybody started out with one; my brother-in-law and one of my best friends had trucks, and pretty soon we were bumping shoulders. It was hurting friendships, and I had a chance to go out on the highway with my friend, so I sold my log trucks and hauled flatbed for two years. We were supposed to be buying the company, but that didn’t work out, so I went to work for a year with Mitchell Bros. until I lost control of the dispatch.”

Over the years, Sonny had been a customer at Dick’s Logging Supply, which had been in business in Estacada since the 1950s. He liked the place so well, that he’d offered to buy it a few times. But the answer was always ‘No’ because the owner was going to keep it in the family.

Then one day, Sonny walked into the store on a Saturday on his way to take a flatbed load to Los Angeles, and Dick handed him his business card, and said that he wanted Sonny to buy the business.

“He couldn’t have picked a worse time - I’d been losing my butt in trucking. When it was all said and done, I went on to Los Angeles where I had to sit waiting for my load. I called my wife and told her I wouldn’t be home when I expected, and she said, ‘You’d better get your butt home . . . I just bought Dick’s Logging Supply.’”

Sonny took over Dick’s Logging Supply in 1980. But the name stayed the same, because it was an established business in the community. “You wouldn’t ever find a more honest man to do business with than Dick,” Sonny says.

Sonny sold his trucks to help fund the new venture, put some in the bank, and bought a logging outfit with the rest. He and a buddy logged for a couple of years for Publishers Paper, but pulled the plug when they decided they weren’t making the profits they’d expected.

Sonny devoted the next decade to the logging supply business until he was approached by the owner of a local rock pit to lease out the property. Knowing a good opportunity, Sonny went into the rock business, buying equipment and trucks for the operation. He had a fleet of three dump trucks – heavily spec’d with 18-speed transmissions, 525 CAT engines, 46,000-lb double locker rears, drop axles, and 20,000-lb axles. “I bought ‘dump trucks’ and had them rigged up right,” Sonny says. “Most of the dump trucks you see running on the highway are lightweight and not made to hold up. I wanted my trucks to last.”

River City Rock Products supplied aggregate to a booming construction market, and as Sonny points out, “I never made so much money so quickly in my life.” He was doing do well, in fact, that he was using up the rock pit faster than the owner had expected –he’d almost mined the pit out within six years. Sonny decided to sell out his trucks and equipment, and once again change directions. In the meantime, he’d purchased a garbage company, located in Lakeview, Oregon, in the Southeastern high desert portion of the state near the border of Nevada.
“They had run an ad in the Oregonian for a ‘Garage’ sale and of course it was a misprint. I checked it out, and negotiated with the wife of the owner was sick, and bought it,” Sonny recalls. Lakeview Sanitation has the contract for garbage hauling in the city. Sonny expanded his refuse holdings with Arrowhead Waste, servicing Fort Rock, Christmas Valley and Silverlake, Oregon. Merging the two companies into Lakeview Sanitation North and South, the fleet runs half a dozen garbage trucks; they’ve since expanded into commercial drop boxes for construction debris, septic tank pumping, and porta-potty rental and service with more than 200 units.

“I didn’t know anything about the garbage business at the time, but I knew trucks . . . it was a no brainer . . .there’s always going to be garbage to be picked up and septic tanks that need pumping. . .nobody owes you very much, but everybody owes you a little,” Sonny says.

Sonny’s businesses aren’t all centered on forest products, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet, so to speak. After leaving the rock business, he needed a way to beat the taxman on the sale of the dump trucks, so he invested in a logging truck. That one truck went to work and never missed a day, and so as typically happens, he added another and another until now – nearly two years later, he has a fleet of nine log haulers. The trucks work for Pacific Forest Contractors, Mike Bryant Logging, Chandler Burke Logging, and Wayne Stone Logging.

Whatever the undertaking, Sonny says ‘devotion’ is the key to success.

“When I started out in the trucking business, I only had one truck. I had big shoulders and a small hat – I’m not very smart but I’ve got a lot of ambition,” Sonny says. “I knew that I was going to outwork anybody else, and if I take on a job, I’m going to make it work one way or another.”
Another factor is has been his ability to take on jobs that were outside his comfort zone.

“There are some people I call ‘home guards’ who will stay close to home and work for nothing regardless of what the job pays. I stay home now, but when I was younger, I would haul in Burns and John Day and Baker, and that’s how I ran across the garbage company. By broadening horizons I was able to expand my opportunities,” Sonny says.

“You’re never going to get rich trucking, but you can make a good living with it if you pay attention,” he adds. “I like putting the pieces together and making everything work.”