Still Rolling: Goin’ Broke Trucking, Colville, WA

Article by Darin Burt

At the time when most kids are thinking about getting their first car, Ryan Johnson was already working on fixing up his first log truck.

“Ever since I was really small I’ve always loved trucks, especially log trucks. Anytime anybody asked me what I wanted to be, I said I wanted to drive log trucks,” says the 23-year-old co-owner of Colville, Washington’s Goin’ Broke Trucking.

Ryan got his CDL shortly after he turned 18 with the plan of going to work as a hired driver. But the reality was that nobody was willing to take a gamble on such a young kid or pay the high premiums that go along with insuring somebody his age. He settled for operating a log processor, but it was hard to see the trucks leaving the landing and me being stuck in a machine.

Bob Johnson, Ryan’s dad, has been employed by Boise Cascade as a log truck driver for the past thirty-five years. He’d always had a dream to have a truck of his own, but at the same time, didn’t want to leave the security of his long-standing job. Ryan, on the other hand, was eager to become a log hauler, and so father and son formed a partnership.

Before Ryan even had his CDL, they had already purchased a 1984 GMC General and set Ryan up as the driver.

Ryan’s first steady hauls were for Barry Beardslee Logging out of Kettle Falls. After than, he hauled for a number of area contractors, including Blanchard Logging, until the fall of 2011 when he found his latest steady gig with Marshall Forestry of Kettle Falls.

The General is still around as a spare truck, and Ryan’s brother Ritchy will drive it part-time if there is a load or two to get on the weekend. Along the way, Ryan’s also had a 1977 Peterbilt and even a ’77 Pete self-loader that he tried out for six months or so, but not being much work for it, he threw on a turkey rack and hauled short logs. Ryan’s current daily-driver is a 1999 Peterbilt 379 – which he purchased from Western Peterbilt in Liberty Lake, Washington - equipped with a 550 e-model Cat engine, 13-speed transmission, 40,000-lb Eaton rear ends, Peterbilt Air-Leaf suspension and a 1984 Miller conventional log trailer.

“The e-model Cat pulls good and is an all-around good motor. About the only thing I would change on my truck is to have an 18-speed, and different suspension and rear ends – I’d like to have 46,000 pound Rockwells with double lockers and Hendrickson extended leaf suspension.

There are a lot of rough roads and steep ground and mud and snow over here. All the old timers and my dad have always told me that the spring-over is the all-around best suspension for logging – it rides good loaded and it gets around a lot better than other types of suspensions.”
Ryan may be a fairly new owner-operator, but growing up around the industry, he didn’t have much of a learning curve when it came time to go ahead with the job.

“Even as a kid, I rode with my dad as much as I could during the summers, paid attention to him and listened to what he had to say. I definitely have a lot of respect for him because he’s been doing it so long and knows what he’s doing,” he says.

“When I first started out, he made sure that he went with me the first time I went over Sherman Pass and showed me what gear to come down in and what I should and shouldn’t do. He’s always just a phone call away and is pretty good at explaining how to do things.”

One thing for certain is that Ryan isn’t lacking enthusiasm. One of the benefits of being a young driver, he says, is the ability to, “Go, go, go.”
“I’ll be around as long as there are logs to haul,” he says.

Looking down the road, Ryan says he’d like to keep his business to no more than two trucks with the possibility of it being he and his brother at the wheels. “I don’t want to hire anybody else except for family members,” he says. “It’s nice to know who’s driving your truck and being able to trust them.” Ryan plans to have his truck paid off this spring and the next big step is building a shop for it. Most of the repairs he handles himself, with the help of family members, but on occasion, he’ll take work to Gopher’s Diesel Repair in Colville.

Ryan’s mom Betty takes care of the company bookwork. His wife KaLelia lends a hand with the repairs, maintenance and truck cleaning; in fact Ryan says she’s a pretty good electrician. “She fixes my tail lights. Whenever I get frustrated and walk away, by the time I come back, she’s got ‘em fixed because she’s patient and figures it out pretty quickly.”

There have been a few bumps along the way already, such as a recent engine rebuild, but Ryan has been smart and not let any unexpected hiccups put his business at risk.

“I just don’t give up and just keep going,” he says.

“There are a lot of trucks that you used to see running all the time, but since the fuel prices shot up, those guys have given up and aren’t in it any longer. Really, all that did was open up more work for guys like me who enjoy what they’re doing and don’t want to give up just yet. I’m definitely one of the small guys and I’m still rolling.”