Taking pride in your ride is more than just a motto – it’s a lifestyle and attitude choice for many truck drivers and owners – but these days, not enough of them. Gary Ross, a driver at Joel Olson Trucking out of Vancouver, Washington, is one of those few hard-working and dedicated company drivers that treat his rig like it is his own. Joel Olson has a long and steady history of running one of the coolest and most diverse fleets of equipment in the Pacific Northwest for over five decades. Anyone who has spent any time out west has surely seen one of their bright red beauties out on the road (or maybe even off the road), and Gary couldn’t be happier to be a part of this family-owned and operated outfit.
Joel Olson Trucking started back in 1962 when Joel married Carole and they purchased a 1957 Ford dump truck for $4,700. His first job was with Longview Fiber Company, hauling rock in the now-extinct town of Valsetz, Oregon (an unincorporated community and timber company town in Polk County). All the miles Joel drove were off-road, and he often repaired his tubeless tires with a patch-kit alongside the potholed road leading in and out of Valsetz. Back then, fuel was a reasonable commodity, costing a mere 11 cents per gallon. In 1968 Joel began to diversify when he bought four log trucks from David Bruijn and began hauling logs for L. Jepson and Sons.
Joel and Carole had two sons, Darin and Craig, and lived in Lincoln City, Oregon until 1977 when they moved to Clatskanie, Oregon to work in the Longview Fiber Sorting Yard. As the work presented itself, the company grew to include chip trucks, flatbeds, box trucks, curtain vans, end dumps, a lowboy and some heavy equipment used in the woods. Darin spent the later years of his childhood working alongside his dad in the shop maintaining trucks. He later went on to college and drove his own truck to cover his expenses. In what seemed a natural progression, Darin came on-board to help manage the growing company in the early 90s. Craig completed his degree at Oregon State University and now works for Longview Timber as a forest engineer.
Decades later, Joel Olson Trucking, Inc. is still a family owned and operated business. Having grown to fit the needs of the community, it now presents itself as a diversified company with more than 85 trucks on the road (they have more than that, but can’t find good drivers to put in them). They currently have three operating locations – a home office in Clatskanie, Oregon; an administrative office in Vancouver, Washington; and their newest yard in Longview, Washington. The Vancouver and Longview locations each include a full-service shop where they maintain their trucks and do all of their own fabrication, as well as rebuild engines, transmissions, rear-ends and more. With the ability to haul just about anything, Joel Olson Trucking employs enough people and equipment to get any job done.
The company that began by serving one customer has grown to serve over a thousand. Their primary service area includes the I-5 corridor from northern Washington to southern Oregon, but they also travel to California, Idaho and several other western states. Both their on- and off-road divisions consist of well-maintained Kenworths and Peterbilts, all painted in that signature bright red color. Their on-highway units include reefers, vans, curtain vans, B-trains, 48’ and 53’ flats, step-decks, and live floor trailers. Their off-road fleet of trucks and equipment consists of chip vans, end dumps, box trucks, log trucks, short loggers, hay racks, lowboys, log loaders, excavators and bulldozers. From delivering product in a safe and timely manner to hiring quality drivers, Joel Olson Trucking strives to satisfy at every level possible.
Caring and conscientious drivers are hard to come by these days, but the company hit a home run when they hired Gary Ross (46). Born in Redwood City, California in 1970, his family moved to Artesia (in southern California) not long after that. Gary’s parents ran as a team for Best Way out of Los Angeles, pulling doubles every other night from L.A. to Phoenix, with a 2-axle Kenworth cabover. Spending his summers in the truck with his folks, Gary loved riding in the truck – and did it whenever he could. In 1978, his parents leased on with Gordon Fast Freight and moved to Napavine, Washington. Gary’s folks, Butch “Butcher Boy” and Diann Ross, ran as a team with Gordon for almost 20 years until his dad got sick and died of cancer in 1998.
Growing up in Washington, after high school, Gary headed to diesel school. While attending school in the day, he worked nights at Gordon Fast Freight, greasing and washing trucks. After diesel school he got a job at Valley Freightliner as a mechanic and foreman. After his father passed away, Gary went and got his CDL and joined his mom in the truck. Running as a team for Gordon, they hauled Conway freight between Washington and Los Angeles, doing two rounds a week, for the next seven years. In 2007, feeling tired and burned-out, Gary went to work at Joel Olson Trucking… and has been there ever since.
Throughout Gary’s ten years at Olson, he has had four different trucks. Being one of Olson’s four drivers that go to California on a regular basis, he runs a 3-axle tractor with a spread-axle covered flatbed. Most of the other road trucks, which do not go into California, have multiple axle setups and/or drop axles, which aren’t allowed in California. His first rig was a red 2002 Peterbilt 379 with a small 36-inch sleeper, but the rest since then have had larger 63-inch bunks. His latest bright red rig, which you can see on our cover and centerfold this month (and on these pages), was officially put into service in September of 2015.
Gary’s current ride is a 2016 Peterbilt 389 with a 63-inch flattop sleeper that is powered by a 500-hp PACCAR engine, routed through an 18-speed transmission and 3.70 rear gears. Featuring a 290-inch wheelbase, the truck has been customized with the typical “Joel Olson” cool accessories – plus a bunch of extra stuff. Liking that older look, Olson always changes the headlights on their newer 389s to the classic setup of double-round 359 lights on Double JJ brackets. Some of the other updates include additional grill bars, 8-inch straight pipes, a tapered Valley Chrome bumper, a polished drop visor, extra cab lights, a bagged front end, and polished Hogebuilt half-fenders, hung on custom brackets made by Olson.
Some extra items that were done to Gary’s ride include custom painted 10-inch drop panels, custom “Joel Olson Trucking” step plates (made by 12 Ga. Customs), real gold leaf accent stripes and lettering (done by Paul Comeau of Comeau Lettering and Pinstriping in Vancouver, WA), and a polished stainless steel deck plate. The guys in the Olson shop also fabricated a steel light bar on the back of the truck, complete with recessed connections. The truck is also covered with many extra lights, including nine cab lights, air cleaner light panels, small LEDs lining the bottom of the drop panels, and lights on the lower corners of the front bumper, as well as in front of the rear fenders. The interior features all of the bells and whistles, as well as a custom wood and billet steering wheel and billet aluminum pedals.
Dragging behind this bright red beauty is a matching 2007 East aluminum 48-foot spread-axle flatbed trailer with a Western roll-top that was just installed last year. With polished frame rails, a polished front end and a painted (red) nose cone, this trailer looks great behind Gary’s tractor. Featuring a painted enclosure with lights covering the trailer’s front axle, made by our friend Bruce Gieg in Medford, Oregon, the trailer also has polished half-fenders and polished stainless boxes between the axles, a swing plate on the back that says, “Joel Olson Trucking – Often Imitated Never Duplicated” (a slogan they have used for decades), and the coolest custom winches, made by Randy Cort of Cort Fabrication & Machining in Grants Pass, OR, which have been polished and painted (red and silver) and personalized with “Joel Olson” engraved into them and hand-painted.
Hauling mostly building materials south and food and other miscellaneous freight north, Gary runs down I-5 through northern California, across I-80 to Reno, Nevada, and then Highway 395 north back to Oregon and Washington, on a dedicated weekly route. With no wife or kids, Gary just likes to hang out with his friends and relax when he gets home (but he does spend a lot of time cleaning on his truck, too). Hanging out with cool veterans like Norm Butler, Gary is enjoying going to a few truck shows a year, but nothing too serious. Work always comes first – in fact, when we came to do the photo shoot, Gary was not even there – he was out working!
Piloting Gary’s truck all day during the photo shoot was Pat Balch. Pat was a driver with Olson for years, but was recently moved up to the general manager of their Longview facility. We were told that he has done it all at Olson, and is a jack-of-all-trades. He certainly got that truck anywhere we asked him to put it, and he doesn’t like to make u-turns – he’ll back up for a mile on a curved road before he tries to turn that combo around, even if he has the space! We would like to thank Pat for all of his help. It was a long day that started in the dark and ended well after the sun set – and we drove a few miles, too.
Along with Pat, Darin Olson spent the day with us, as well. We had a great time! After attempting to find good spots on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge (which we did find a few), we headed to the tall timbers near the majestic snow-covered peak of Mt. Hood. What we found was an amazing location to take most of our pictures – a large paved parking lot with no lines and a spectacular view of the mountain close behind. What we realized later was that this exact location was featured in a previous cover picture from way back in December 1995.
Back in the old days, we didn’t always use our own pictures for the cover – sometimes, people sent us photos and we would use theirs (we had no centerfold back then). So, 21 years ago, we used a picture sent to us by Gary & Lisa Pons of their beautiful black 1981 Peterbilt, with a 310-inch wheelbase, hooked to the prototype “black chrome” Utility reefer trailer the company was going to make to help celebrate their 80th anniversary (this unique trailer also featured the first LED lights made by Panelite – 102 of them). Utility had promo pictures taken by a professional for a calendar, and Gary was kind enough to send us a few of them. We ended up using one of them for the cover. It was later, when back at the office, we realized it was the same spot.
After it got too dark to take any more pics, we headed to the historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood for an amazing dinner with Darin and Pat. This hotel was built in the 1930s and was used, among many other things, as the exterior shots of the fictitious Overlook Hotel in the 1980 movie “The Shining” written by Stephen King and starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. Although the movie was pretty scary, the hotel was not – in fact, it was quite amazing. We would like to thank Darin and Pat for treating us to not only a fantastic dinner, but great conversation, as well. All of us “truck people” were tired, dirty, and feeling a little out of place in this ultra-fancy restaurant that featured food we could not even pronounce, but, thankfully, we all found some terrific steak and potatoes to enjoy.
Gary always thought it would be cool to have a truck with his name on the door, like his mom and dad had, but being a company driver has its perks, too – especially if you drive for a great outfit like Joel Olson Trucking. Because Gary takes such good care of his equipment and treats it like it was his own, Olson takes great care of him. Because of this, he currently has no desire to own his own truck. Gary would like to thank his parents for everything they taught him about trucking, and the entire Olson family for allowing him to drive such an awesome rig – and for treating him like he’s part of the family.
After 55 years, Joel Olson Trucking is still run by Joel and his wife Carole, while their son Darin (52), is the Vice President, poised to one day take over. But Joel isn’t looking to retire any time soon, as he still comes into the office every day and is still very involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. We really enjoyed our time with these folks, and thank them for allowing us to put one of their fine trucks “out-of-service” for a day or two. Taking pride in your ride is more than just a catchy motto – it is a lifestyle and attitude choice – and one that both driver Gary Ross and everyone at Joel Olson Trucking proudly live by each and every day.