By Rick Stedman
ASTORIA, OREGON – Gedenberg Log Trucking has had an established presence in the greater Astoria, Oregon, area since the 1970s. The company was initially started by Jim and Sheri Gedenberg, with Jim driving the truck and Sheri doing the books. During that time, the couple was also busy raising four children, some of whom now play a significant role in running the company.
“I quit hauling logs full-time about 15 years ago,” said Jim, “but I continued filling in when needed for the next decade or so.” Now 81, Jim is happy to make parts runs and rekindle friendships at Papé Kenworth. As far as outright retirement, there is no official plan for when that will happen.
If the ‘R’ word ever creeps into Jim’s vocabulary, his offspring are already primed to take over the operation. When Sheri retired more than a decade ago, their daughter, Shelly Gedenberg-Solum, took over the bookkeeping duties after working as a local emergency medical technician for 20 years. Shelly now runs the day-to-day business as the office manager while Sheri enjoys her mom and grandmother status.
While the couple’s other daughter, Laurie, kept busy running a restaurant, their sons, Bob and Mike, eventually played roles in the business. In the early days, Jim had two trucks rigged with a quick-change option that allowed him to haul chips as well as logs. With that option, Bob was able to haul chips with his father in the evenings while he was a high school senior.
“They would follow each other from the Crown Zellerbach sort/chipping yard in Warrenton to the mill in Wauna,” said Shelly. “After Bob graduated from high school, he worked full-time driving Gedenberg log trucks for 33 years!”
Mike also started driving log trucks with his dad right out of high school. He eventually went out on his own while still in his early twenties in 1992. Today, Mike owns six trucks.
Gedenberg Log Trucking currently owns and operates 10 trucks. Since purchasing his first Kenworth in 1975, Jim has bought 36 Kenworth vehicles. He only keeps 10 trucks in his rotation, though. The much-anticipated newest addition arrived in late July. “Our newest truck, number 36, is a 2023 Kenworth W900L, with a 2023 Van Raden trailer,” said Shelly.
Jim has been a lifelong devotee to Kenworth products. Shelly noted, “Jim doesn’t run anything but Kenworth long loggers. In fact, he has been known to say on more than one occasion, ‘There is no other truck than a Kenworth!’ ”
The Gedenberg fleet includes Kenworth models from 2023, 2021, 2020, 2017, 2013, 2009, 2008, and 2006. “Each long logger is a six-axle truck that is able to haul up to 88,000 pounds,” said Shelly. The company also has a 2011 Ford mechanic truck.
Driving and taking care of those vehicles are the jobs of eight full-time drivers and a part-time mechanic who is Shelly’s son-in-law. Astoria is the home base for all Gedenberg drivers, and the trucks haul loads within 150 air miles, so drivers are home every night. “Because of our local haul, we aren’t required to use the electronic log system that’s required of many over-the-road truckers,” noted Shelly.
From its base in Astoria, Gedenberg Log Trucking serves logging contractors and mills in southwest Washington and northwest Oregon. It hauls wood for Gustafson Logging, Weyerhaeuser tree farms, Bighorn Logging, JM Browning Logging, and Teevin Bros. The company delivers logs to mills for Stimson Lumber Co., Weyerhaeuser, Hampton Lumber Co., Boise Cascade, and Western Forest Products and to a log yard for Teevin Bros.
The logging industry has long been under the environmental microscope. A few years ago, the Oregon legislature introduced a cap-and-trade bill calling for a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Gedenberg truck driver Jeff Leavy viewed the legislation as writing on the wall. At the same time, Jeff became aware that one of Stimson Lumber’s seven mills was closing. He immediately called Shelly.
“When Jeff called me that night, he was definitely hot and worried about other jobs and mills going away,” recalled Shelly. “He was worried about the potential domino effect within the timber industry.”
Jeff felt he needed to do something to help save the jobs of fellow loggers and truckers. “I told him this was bigger than us, and he should contact a state senator,” said Shelly.
At the time, Betsy Johnson was a Democratic state senator representing the North Coast region of Astoria. (She was an independent candidate for governor in the November election.) “When Jeff contacted the senator, she invited him to the Capitol to discuss the issue,” said Shelly.
“While in Salem for a week, I learned all about the bills that could potentially end or sharply diminish the logging industry as we know it,” said Jeff. “I asked a few friends as well as Shelly to help me form a group to fight back.”
The battle cry of Timber Unity (#Timberunity) was born. Seemingly within a few days it took off quicker than lightning.
After Jeff’s initial meeting with Johnson, he began reaching out to anybody and everybody, especially other drivers. While continuing his grassroots campaign, Jeff also started a Facebook page with the tagline #Timberunity. Before long, the Facebook page had a following of more than 60,000 people.
Shelly helped him design a #Timberunity sticker that became omnipresent in the trucking industry. Jeff handed them out every time he visited the Capitol. “Soon, there wasn’t a truck in sight that didn’t carry the #Timberunity sticker,” he said.
Fast forward to the present, and Timber Unity is but a memory for Jeff. Its lasting impact, however, is still very much felt throughout the timber industry. While it began as a grassroots campaign inspired by truck drivers, farmers, and loggers, it morphed into a political circus of sorts. Currently, politics and political action committees have overtaken the original purity of #Timberunity.
Jeff is still fighting the good fight. After resigning a few years ago as a Timber Unity board member, he now represents a group of 10,000-plus called Oregon Natural Resource Industries (ONRI). The new organization is taking up where Timber Unity left off, according to Shelly. “They are basically watching out for bad legislation, not only for logging, but fishing, mining, farming, and other industries, too,” she said.
Timber Unity got the attention of the public, especially in rural areas. In addition to climate change, which is always at the top of the mind in the logging industry, other issues are a concern. Shelly noted, “Loggers replant three trees for every one they harvest, and log trucks are using Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) systems, which decrease exhaust carbon output. This is why so many of us in this industry are angry over constantly being called the bad guy. America needs truckers!”
While the electric truck is a nice piece of equipment, it isn’t a reality for Gedenberg Log Trucking today. “We had the chance to see an EV truck recently at Portland Papé Kenworth,” said Shelly. “Though they are nice in many ways, they cost nearly four times more than our last new truck purchase.”
Working in the timber industry is not without roadblocks or challenges. But over the years, the Gedenberg family has proven that things work well when the family works together. That philosophy also holds true for the extended logging family throughout Oregon and the country.
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