By Tony Anthony/Special for the Journal
The Ukiah Daily Journal
March 19, 2004

The sun is just appearing over the mountaintops, lighting up the forest for the first time that day. Logging trucker Morgan Baynham points to a spot, hardly visible from our side of the valley, where the trees were cut. It is a beautiful scene overall, with birds chirping and a hawk circling in the warming air above. The three drivers who have arrived at the landing chat over their morning coffee in what is their outdoor "office."

"I've got the best job in the world," Baynham smiles. "I work with a group of guys who love what they're doing and who help each other succeed."

Frank Pickrell, a third-generation logger with a gray beard and a winning smile, drinks his coffee and agrees. Frank, like most loggers, has a story to tell. Leaning against the steps of his truck, Frank proudly explains that the aluminum hard hat he wears had been his father's. "You can't get one like this anymore the new ones are plastic," he grins.

Morgan Baynham, now in his 50s, was born in Maryland of Welsh heritage.

He was an English and psychology major at Wilmington College, a Quaker school in Ohio. When he hitchhiked to the Ukiah area one summer during college for a volunteer job at a school for disabled children, he fell in love with Ukiah and the surrounding area. After college, with all his savings in his pocket, he returned to Boonville but had no idea how he was going to support himself. "Driving a log truck was the best job in town at the time. So I took it."

Asked how long it took him to learn the trade, he smiles again saying, "I'm still learning. There's a lot to learn about like the new equipment. The computerized trucks now have things like on-board weight scales. Most of the repairs are made by the owner, so we have to learn a lot about a lot of different things."

With the mention of new trucks, Pickrell releases the latches on the hood of his gleaming blue Kenworth to show, not the engine, but the computer from which several dozen color-coded wires lead in all directions of the truck. "The computers run the trucks nowadays, and they are very smart," he explains.

As Morgan climbs in his cab for the long ride down to Ukiah to the Mendocino Redwood Company mill, he takes a breath of the pungent air filled with the strong aroma of fresh sawn logs. His load today is a combination of 12 fir and redwood logs. "It's a good load," he confesses. "Nice timber." Down at the mill he knows the logs are graded not only by width but by quality.

The slow drive to the mill begins with a climb up a hill so steep he locks the rear wheel differential to improve traction. The tractor pulls its heavy load slowly but without complaint. "She's a bear," Morgan relates proudly. You get the feeling these trucks can handle just about any hill.

Once he's out of the forest and onto the county road, the going is almost as slow. Because the route is downhill, he uses the engine to break the heavy load. There's a prominent red knob on the dash called the "Jake brake" that uses the exhaust system to slow down the engine. The big Cummins groans with that rumbling sound truckers seem so proud of.

In constant communication

Baynham is now on the CB almost constantly, having short but necessary communications with the other drivers coming up the hill. It is evident that it would not be an easy thing to stop this truck with its full load of timber, so knowing who's coming toward them is critical. The language, practiced over almost decades of driving these roads, includes knowledge of every inch of the way. Also, the drivers know every bump and dip on the way down. "Easy, Girl, easy Girl," Morgan beseeches his truck when her load begins to bounce, sending shudders through the cab. The tremendous weight behind him is very tangible during this drive. Morgan looks back at his load in the mirrors continually.

He speaks quickly into the CB handset to a truck coming up, "I'm on the narrow," then seconds later, "on the curve;" obviously both drivers know exactly what curve they are talking about. He reads out the number of the next mile marker so the other driver will know where the two will meet. When Morgan does meet the empty truck coming up, it is at a place where the two pass safely and it is not by mistake.

"Morning, Morgan," a new voice crackles from the speaker. Morgan extends a greeting, "Hey, Dennis." The voice is that of Dennis McFarland, head of McFarland Trucking, the company that has hired Morgan. Dennis is driving up to check on progress at the landing site. McFarland asks, "Are you dropping your passenger on this run?" "That's a roger,'" Baynham replies, then he looks over, "Dennis, wants to meet the reporter.'"

Only seconds after Morgan pulls off to the side of the road, a clean white pickup pulls up and out steps Dennis McFarland, a rugged middle-aged man with silver hair and a beard. After a quick introduction, without missing a beat, he says, "These log haulers are the most skilled drivers in the world. After this, they can drive anything," he says proudly and in a way that shows that he means it.

"It's guys like Dennis who keep us going," Morgan says, happy and proud of being part of an operation that does a tough job well. "Dennis is one of the best in the business," he adds.

Down at the mill, Morgan's truck is guided like he's a pilot landing a jumbo jet, by hand signals from a yardman. He pulls the truck around and between huge piles of logs the size of office buildings. A gargantuan yellow vehicle on tracks called a la Tourneau, with an arm that stretches as far as a truck is long, pulls up to the truck and plucks all the logs off the trailer with one bite of its metal jaws. The operator arranges the logs on the ground in a neat row where another man measures the girth of each one.

It seems anti-climactic for the driver, who is already thinking of getting back up to the landing site for his next load. It's now lunchtime and Morgan Baynham has already been working for seven hours. Asked where he eats, anyone can guess the answer: "in my truck," he laughs then adds, "probably on an easy stretch up the Boonville Road."

I'm guessing this is where all logging truckers eat lunch in their office, on the road, and most likely with a smile on their face. After all, they're survivors, doing a job they actually like doing and a job they can be proud of.

Recalling what Morgan had said earlier while driving down the scenic Boonville Road, "I've got the best commute in the world," -- that doesn't sound like someone who's complaining.