By Barbara Coyner

How would you like to work 14-hour days, and still be working those long days when you’re 80? To Jack McCall, that’s reality. The Emmett, Idaho log truck driver celebrates his 80th birthday in November, and he’s still trucking.                       

But don’t picture Jack as some hunched-over old guy relying on a walker to get to his truck. If you didn’t know his age, you’d think McCall was much younger. With over 60 years of log hauling to his credit, he’s seen plenty of changes.

Big Changes Over the Decades
“The biggest change in trucking is the trucks,” says Jack, who drives about 500 miles each day. “Trucks from the 50’s had no power steering, insulation, or air conditioning. You couldn’t drive that long in those old trucks.” Jack concedes that getting into today’s trucks and logging equipment is more like getting into a car, with the cushy cabs, and all the bells and whistles. “There’s not really much manual labor left in the woods these days.”                       

According to McCall, the equipment improvements have also changed work schedules in the woods. “The worst thing that happened to logging was when they started putting lights on the loaders and trailers,” he says. “You used to work from sunup to sundown, but when they got the lights, you started working midnight to midnight.”

Today’s Rig
McCall currently drives a 1990 Peterbilt he bought from At almost 80, Jack McCall still puts in 14-hour days a bankruptcy auction. He’d previously run a 1993 Western Star, purchased new, and when he moved to Emmett 14 years ago, he and the truck went on the payroll for Brown Brothers. Although he had already started collecting his Social Security at age 62, he kept on driving, thinking he was too young to retire. When Brown Brothers made some changes to the trucking routine, however, McCall figured maybe it was time to fi- nally retire and sell the truck. “I said I was done trucking and was getting tired of staying away from home,” he recalls. As Brown Brothers went to gypos, they wanted to keep Jack on board, but the Western Star had already been sold. So McCall scrambled to find a replacement, settling for the Peterbilt. “The truck was in pretty rough shape,” he admits. “You know bankruptcy sales.” Thanks to a broad background in mechanics,                       

McCall rehabbed the rig, and says it can now haul almost as much as a drop-axle. That computes into a savings in tires and licenses, he points out. “I can haul 24,000 pounds empty.” Jack’s current runs are usually between southern Idaho and mills at La Grande or Elgin, Ore. The narrow mountain roads in the area give him enough heartburn, but on a recent run, he got the added excitement of losing traction, sliding straight down a steep embankment toward a reservoir. It seems that earlier in the spring, state road crews had tried to improve the road surface and had moved some new soil in over the rocky road. But an unexpected rain had turned the road to mush. “It’s been a long time since I had a ride like that,” Jack admits.

Long History with Logs
Born in Colfax, Wash., McCall was 13 when he started driving with his dad, “Blackie” McCall, who was based in Winona, Wash. When the family moved to Pierce, Idaho in 1932, and then to Weippe in 1936, timber was king, with mills, loggers, and log trucks everywhere. At age 14, Jack earned his Christmas money waiting tables and doing dishes in the cook shack at Camp 55. Later, he worked at a Weippe sawmill, riding carriage, and hauling lumber between the mill and drying area.                                   

Curtailing formal education at eighth grade, he started working with his dad driving log trucks. They hauled out of places as remote as Headquarters, Idaho, frequently bundling up against 30-degrees-below-zero temperatures. Jack’s dad had him driving a 1936 International in those early years, and the wide-bunked truck hauled short logs. In 1944, his dad laid out the cash for a Mack, and Jack recalls, “It was the first self-loading trailer in the Clearwater Valley.”                                   

Doing a stint in the military from 1946 to 1947, Jack got out and settled at Kooskia, sawing and skidding for Potlatch Corporation. He met Rose, his bride of 57 years, at that point, too. “We courted on a motorcycle,” Jack laughs. Going back to working with his dad in trucking, he bought his first brand new truck, a 1951 Mack short logger. Later in the 50’s, he hauled his first long logs for Baker Trucking out of Grangeville.

Jack and his supplortive wife, Rose, have seen it all.

Frightening Moments
Jack gets up before the chickens, usually around 3:30 am, so he knows the trucking lifestyle well. He’s also experienced his share of hair-raising moments driving forest roads and dealing with the elements. Once, he was driving a little too fast for conditions and barely squeezed between two other log trucks near the middle fork of the Clearwater River. Narrowly missing both trucks, he tipped the bunks, and the load flipped up against a power pole, just missing transmission lines. Too close for comfort, Jack agrees, wincing at the memory.                                   

Another time, a loader operator at Konkolville Lumber in Orofino didn’t quite get the grapple around the entire log load as it was being removed. When Jack pulled the wrapper, some of the logs came right at him, and “it about peeled the bark right off my shoulder,” he says.

Staying in the Game
For Jack and Rose, the timber-based life has been predictably unpredictable. The couple raised five kids, Mitch, Tim, Anne Marie, Mike, and Dan, and danced to the tune of the lumber markets around the Clearwater region for many years. In 1955, Jack got a chance to get more into the mechanics side of things, working first at changing brakes and tires, and greasing. When the mill at Kooskia faltered and lumber markets tanked, Jack relied on his expertise in mechanics work to pay the bills. Troubleshooting cats and trucks is still some of his favorite work, and Rose says that when he isn’t driving, he’s always tinkering with his truck and washing it. In 1960, the markets and mills straightened out enough that Jack went back to log hauling full-time, while Rose collected the $200 per week paycheck in person at the Grangeville mill.                                   

From 1972 to 1993, she took on part ownership of the Syringa Café on remote Highway 12, near the Montana-Idaho border. While Rose balanced home chores and the café business, Jack trucked. And when trucking grew slack, he sometimes turned to mechanics, rock crushing, and work at Prudoe Bay in Alaska. Since arriving in Emmett, he’s enjoyed the steady work with Brown Brothers and finds them a quality outfit to work with. “I’ve done this all my life,” McCall says of his rigorous trucking schedule. “I drove for myself for all but five years. What’s kept me going is that I really like being in the woods.”   

 

Click here to download a PDF of this article.