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
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.”
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
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.
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
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.”